SIKKIM Assembly elections

SKM ends Chamling’s 25-year rule

Print edition : June 07, 2019

Prem Singh Golay, who steered the SKM to victory. Photo: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

After five consecutive terms in power, the seemingly invincible Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF), led by the country’s longest-serving Chief Minister Pawan Chamling, suffered a dramatic defeat at the hands of the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) led by Prem Singh Golay, a former SDF strongman and one-time close aide of Chamling. In a nail-biting finish, the SKM, riding on a “parivartan” (change) wave, won 17 of the 32 Assembly seats, including the Sangha seat (reserved for the monks and nuns of Sikkim’s monasteries), and the SDF secured 15 seats. The SKM also won the lone Lok Sabha seat in the State, with its candidate, Indra Hang Subba, beating his SDF rival, Dek Bahadur Katwal, by 12,433 votes. The SDF’s vote share, at 47.63 per cent, was marginally higher than the SKM’s, which stood at 47.03 per cent.

“After 25 years of suppression, people are now free in Sikkim, and they will reap the true fruit of democracy. This is a victory of the people, victory of democracy. This election was fought for the total transformation of Sikkim and to bring an end to the 25 years of misrule in Sikkim,” said SKM acting president Kunga Lima Lepcha, who not only retained his Shiyari seat but also won the prestigious Gangtok seat. Pawan Chamling, too, won from two seats, his traditional seat of Namchi-Singhithang and Poklok-Kamrang.

Welcoming the decision of the electorate, the SDF promised to play the “role of a constructive and responsible opposition”. “This time, the people gave a balanced verdict and placed us in the unique position of the largest opposition possible in the Assembly. The SDF will strongly raise the issues of the people in the Assembly and act as a sentry for the rights and interests of the Sikkimese people,” said SDF spokesperson Bhim Dahal.

It was a closely fought elections that could have gone either way, but it was the SKM’s successful foray into the SDF’s strongholds of West Sikkim and South Sikkim districts that ultimately won it the day. Of the eight constituencies in West Sikkim, the SKM won six, and of the seven in South Sikkim, it won three.

However, the SKM’s victory margins throughout the State were narrow, and in as many as six seats it was particularly slender. In Soreng Chakung, it won by 208 votes; in Barfung by 97 votes; in Salghari-Zoom by 93 votes; in Yoksam-Tashiding by 79 votes; in Martam-Rumtek by 73 votes; and in Yangthang by 47 votes.

While the SDF’s election plank was peace, stability and development in the last 25 years, the SKM focussed on the rising anti-incumbency sentiment and allegations of corruption and nepotism against the ruling party. Explaining the possible reasons for losing, senior SDF leader and former Lok Sabha member Prem Das Rai told Frontline: “There was a strong narrative for change, and there was a lag in our understanding and reaching out to the young generation, who did not understand the changes that the SDF brought about through development. There were also some inherent problems within the party. Ours is an old party and probably needs to adapt more quickly to the changing times in its style of functioning.”

In the meanwhile, an interesting conundrum has come up over the question of Golay’s aspiration to be the next Chief Minister (as of May 25). Golay could not contest in the Assembly election as he was recently convicted in a corruption case. The SKM, however, is still insisting that he be the next Chief Minister. Golay, who was once considered the second most powerful man in the Cabinet after Chamling, quit the SDF and formed the SKM in 2013. In a year’s time, he emerged as the strongest opposition to the SDF. In the 2014 elections, the SKM surprised everyone by winning 10 of the 32 seats. Keeping in mind that in the 2004 and 2009 elections, the SDF won 31 and 32 seats respectively, the SKM’s result was a cause for concern for the SDF.

However, defection reduced the SKM’s strength finally to just three in the State Assembly. But the writing was on the wall, as it became clear that the wheels of “parivartan” had begun rolling as far as the electorate was concerned.

 

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