GANGTOK, 16 May: It was a long counting day in Sikkim today, but at the end of it all, the results played out to a more or less expected pattern in that although the contest was keener than some recent elections, the SKM challenge was not enough to stop SDF from returning to government for a record fifth consecutive term in Sikkim. SDF, even if it saw its vote-share dip, found its rural stronghold still intact and learned of the fickleness of urban voters, again. Be that as it may, SDF president Pawan Chamling led his party to a record return to office in Sikkim with a convincing 22:10 margin.
As for SKM, its call for “parivartan”, did not gain much currency in State as it blanked out in South and West districts, managed a very slim victory in one seat in North Sikkim and secured a majority of its 10 seats from constituencies in and around the capital, Gangtok. A cluster of six constituencies within and around Gangtok brought SKM to its present stead. Upper Tadong, Arithang, Gangtok, Shyari, Upper Burtuk and Kabi-Lungchuk, all of which border Gangtok went to SKM.
What is welcome for the Legislative Assembly in Sikkim is that after a drought of ten years, it will have more than one Opposition member in the Assembly. The last time this happened was in 1999-2004 when SDF had 24 MLAs, SSP 7 and One Independent.
SKM, though the party has made strategic inroads both into the polity as well as into the Sikkim Assembly with 10 seats, has to accept that the Sikkimese have voted convincingly for peace, stability, development and democracy under SDF’s watch. It will also have to be acknowledged that even in defeat, the SKM managed to unseat and defeat 4 sitting MLAs including 2 ministers and 2 sitting Councillors of the Gangtok Municipality.
As for the day, it began with news of both SKM and SDF going neck to neck with the SDF winning the opening constituencies of West and South and just making it past the finishing line in East with Khamdong Singtam with a slim margin of around 300 votes.
While the opening constituencies of South and West, Barfung and Yuksom – Tashiding, were comfortably won by the SDF it lost Kabi in North Sikkim by 126 votes. Then began the grand road to victory of the SDF with one constituency after another falling into the Mr. Chamling’s kitty with the SKM left wondering where it had gone wrong, especially with Namthang Rateypani, the seat from where PS Tamang [Golay] contested going to the SDF. Another shocker came when Soreng-Chakung also fell to the SDF in the late afternoon. The south and west districts provided more or less comfortable wins for the SDF.
It was in East and North Sikkim that some voting excitement was seen. Upper Tadong went SKM’s way with SKM candidate Timothy William Basnett making it through by a margin of less than 130 votes and Mr. Tamang himself winning Upper Burtuk by just over 500 votes to defeat SDF’s DR Thapa.
Earlier, with the trend of how the numbers would go becoming obvious by 1 pm, even SKM parliamentary constituency candidate TN Dhakal accepted the verdict. “Maybe we failed to convince the people; maybe we could not take our message to the people,” he said.
Another cause for the less than satisfactory performance of the SKM, he said, was the lack of funds with the party.
At the end, it was East District which provided some kind of solace for the SKM and those swayed by the idea of parivartan. SKM entered the Sikkim Assembly with the win of Gopal Bareilly in West Pandam; he defeated SDF’s KK Thatal by around 1600 votes. “This is the first sign of parivartan,” stated Bareilly to the press after his victory. “The win is as expected,” he said.
Bhim Dhungel, a sitting MLA of SDF who lost, was not as gracious in his defeat to Hemendra Adhikari of the SKM by close to a 1000 votes. “This is not a mandate on the performance of the government,” he said after his defeat. “This is a victory of the destructive forces and for those who do not believe in development,” he stated. On the other hand, Mr. Adhikari was all jubilant and stated that for the first time in 40 years Rhenock would have a MLA who was a ‘son of the soil’.
OP Bhandari, former Advisor and an Independent candidate from Rhenock shared that it was not his intention to win but to ensure that Rhenock got a candidate who was a ‘son of the soil’.
Neighbouring Chujachen, in contrast, voted staggeringly in favour of SDF with Bikram Pradhan taking 7,836 votes against 4,425 polled by SKM’s KB Gurung.
Gnathang-Machong also came comfortably to SDF with DT Lepcha coasting through with 5,017 votes, comfortably ahead of the 3,101 votes polled by SKM’s Sonam Dorjee.
Namcheybong was projected to be a touch-and-go affair, but was taken reasonably well by sitting MLA BB Rai of SDF who beat SKM’s Dilip Rai 5,577 to 4,955.
By the time the Namcheybong result was declared, an SDF Government was in place with only the final numbers to be decided. And with it, the cluster of constituencies around Gangtok started getting counted and the SKM set of constituencies came about, starting with neighbouring Shyari where SKM’s Kunga Nima Lepcha, who was the State Congress party president till weeks before the elections, easing past Speaker KT Gyaltsen. Mr. Lepcha locked in 5,324 votes against Mr. Gyaltsen’s 4,588.
The final outcome was however clear by then and Paljor Stadium, the venue for SKM supporters wore a forlorn look for most of the day and by the time news of SKM victories in East started pouring in most supporters had already left.
Next, SKM’s Dr. Mechung Bhutia secured 6,055 votes in Martam-Rumtek to beat SDF’s Menlom Lepcha who polled 5,576.
Then the SKM resurgence picked up with Upper Tadong [Timothy Basnet], Arithang [Shyam Pradhan], Gangtok [Pintso Chopel] and Upper Burtuk [PS Tamang] going to SKM. Of these, only Upper Tadong and Upper Burtuk were close contests and the rest swept strongly by SKM.
And then the Sangha also went to SKM and the final tally of 22-10 tied up in favour of SDF.
At the end it was a victory for the public of Sikkim who had come out in large numbers to vote for the government of their choice. Both the major players were presented before them in the form of the incumbent SDF and the contenders, the SKM party. At the end the people gave a convincing and clear message as to what they want for the next 5 years and that it, seems, will now be what they get in the form of peace and development.