Electoral politics in Mizoram is an example of a binary model. Voters usually change the government every two terms and a two-party system—has evolved in the State since it gained statehood in 1987, with the Congress and the Mizo National Front (MNF) as the two parties. In the 2023 Assembly election, the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) has replaced the Congress as the principal opposition and the MNF is seeking a second term.
In terms of vote share, the Congress remains the second largest party in Mizoram. “Mizoram is an example of binary politics, mainly a two-party system and, so far, security of two tenures of a party’s government. This time also, it will work,” said V. Nunthara, a part-time schoolteacher.
The MNF is encouraging ethno-nationalism and Zo-ethnic unity, and is confident of returning to power. Pu Zoramthanga, Chief Minister and MNF president, said: “It is a privilege that we have Mizoram, the most peaceful State in the world, which can provide refuge to our brethren seeking peace and shelter.” Some rural voters, however, have a poor opinion of the MNF government’s performance. Veronica Lalfangkimi Hmar, of Tanhril village in Aizawl district, said: “The MNF government did not do anything good in the name of development and there is no single poll promise to see on the ground.”
The ZPM is focussing on changing the system. Professor Lalnilawma, the ZPM candidate from Tawi constituency, is very confident about his party’s prospects. He said, “Most young and new voters are now looking for a change in the political system in the State. The political consciousness of the youth is stronger this time than in previous elections.” He believes that the ZPM has emerged as an alternative for young voters in urban areas, particularly in Aizawl City and Serchhip Town. However, the party has struggled in rural areas, where the Congress has its core constituency. In fact, the ZPM has put up new faces as candidates in more than half the seats. So has the Congress, which is emphasising secular politics. The Congress has formed an alliance with two like-minded parties—the People’s Conference and Zoram Nationalist Party, originally a ZPM faction—and two civil society organisations. The two parties support the Congress but are not contesting the election separately.
Meanwhile, the ruling MNF government has been making all the right moves while successfully managing Mizoram’s displaced Chin-Kuki people who came from Manipur, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. It decided that it would not collect biometric data of Myanmar refugees, ignoring a directive from the Centre. Chief Minister Zoramthanga said that such data collection would be “discrimination against people who are of our blood and kindred brothers and sisters”. The MNF has used the refugee issue as a trump card in elections; in parliamentary elections, the MNF has an advantage over other parties on this issue. However, there is an all-party consensus, supported by the churches, on the issue of displaced people from Manipur and Myanmar in the State. “The ruling MNF has successfully resolved the Manipur issue in its favour and the party has an advantage over other parties on this issue,” said Professor J. Doungel of Mizoram University. “The Chin-Kuki displaced people in Manipur and Myanmar are the central agenda and strategy of the MNF for this election.”
All but three of the 28 incumbent MNF MLAs are on the list of candidates for the 2023 election. Current Speaker Lalrinliana Sailo, Home Minister Lalchamliana, and former Minister Dr K. Beichhua have not been given the ticket. Speaker Sailo suggested his party join or merge with the BJP when he was in the US a few months ago. He also made a serious allegation against Deputy Chief Minister Tawnluia; he said that more than 100 lakh rupees went missing from one of the departments under Tawnluia’s control. The Home Minister did not want to run for re-election this time. Dr Beichhua joined the BJP after he was expelled from the MNF and will contest the election on the BJP ticket.
The MNF, ZPM, and the Congress have announced candidates for all 40 constituencies. The BJP will release its list of 40 candidates after the Election Commission of India announces the election date. Mizoram BJP president Vanlalhmuaka said the party would contest all 40 seats and has the list of candidates ready. The BJP has historically had more women candidates than the other three parties.
In 2018, the Congress and the MNF contested all 40 seats. The MNF won 28 and the Congress 5. The BJP contested 39 seats and won 1. The ZPM candidates contested as independents, and it has 6 seats.
- Mizoram voters usually change the government every two terms and a two-party system—has evolved in the State since it gained statehood in 1987, with the Congress and the Mizo National Front (MNF) as the two parties.
- In the 2023 Assembly election, the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) has replaced the Congress as the principal opposition and the MNF is seeking a second term.
- The MNF is encouraging ethno-nationalism and Zo-ethnic unity, and is confident of returning to power. The Uniform Civil Code and the protection of minority rights are crucial issues in the election.
Uniform Civil Code and minority rights
The Uniform Civil Code and the protection of minority rights are crucial issues in the election. The Assembly has already rejected the Uniform Civil Code and passed a resolution on it. On the electoral front, for more than 25 years, the Bru, or Reang, community has not been able to get its own MLA even though it is the second-largest minority in the State. The Chakma community, the largest minority population, has two MLAs.
In Mizoram, a candidate’s personality, socio-religious profile, and social service attributes, are more important than the issues of development, governance, and administration. This is the main reason why more than 50 per cent of election candidates have a socio-religious profile as church elders, former officers of the Young Mizo Association NGO, and student unions.
The Congress candidate for the Champhai South constituency, Dr Lallianchhunga, said, “Churchgoing Mizos are scared of the BJP’s hidden agenda. It is an open secret that the BJP is the political instrument of the Sangh Parivar to make India a Hindu Rashtra. The Mizos would never accept such a brutal political agenda. We all want India to remain a secular state. The Mizos look forward to the Congress-led INDIA alliance defeating the NDA so that the principle of secularism is restored in India.”
Two non-political entities—the Church and the Mizoram People’s Forum (MPF)—play significant roles in the State’s politics. Both invisible forces do not let political parties and contesting candidates engage in the politics of money and malpractices in elections. The Mizoram Synod, the administrative body for the Presbyterian Church, did not allow political parties and leaders to play politics on the issue of displaced people from Manipur and Myanmar in the State. Similarly, the churches backed the MPF, a non-political watchdog, to monitor the activities of political parties and candidates during elections.
The MPF releases guidelines for political parties and candidates to follow during campaigning. The State has two separate model codes of conduct, one of the Election Commission and the other of the MPF. The MPF’s model has earned a good reputation for its role in keeping elections free from crime, violence, and the use of money, machinery and muscle power. The MPF, however, is not very active in southern Mizoram and in the three Autonomous District Councils. In these places, Mizoram in India, a non-political civil society forum, monitors the elections like a government election agency. “People take it seriously and want its role more in the State’s electoral politics,” said Professor Lalrintluanga of Mizoram University. “It makes our elections unique and more free, fair, and less expensive compared to other states.”
Patriarchy against women in politics
Mizoram has a sex ratio in favour of females. Women also outnumber men among registered voters. Though women are in the majority in the population, there are only six women among the 120 candidates from the three major parties. The MNF, the ZPM, and the Congress all have two women candidates each. In Mizoram’s patriarchal society, women are not considered suitable for political seats of power. Even women voters do not vote for women candidates. Only reservation for women in the Assembly can offer hope to women in Mizo politics. There has also been a lukewarm response from Mizo society to the Women’s Reservation Bill passed by Parliament. “Women can make space in politics only through reservation,” suggested Professor Lalneihzovi of Mizoram University. “The Church, political parties, and male-dominated civil society organisations are not vocal for women’s rights.”
Mizoram shares a 772-km international border with Myanmar and Bangladesh, with a population of 11 lakh, as per the 2011 Census. The total number of registered voters is 8.3 lakh and there will be 75,000 more voters in 2023 than 2018. Aizawl East-I is the only unreserved seat; the other 39 are reserved.
Suwa Lal Jangu is a Political Science faculty member at Mizoram University.