Gangtok: The by-elections for Linkey Ward in the Linkey Parakha Gram Panchayat Unit, Pakyong district, recorded a high voter turnout of 78 per cent on April 20.
During the panchayat elections held in November 2022, the ward boycotted the polls.
This was in response to the decision to replace the Scheduled Tribe reservation category with OBC reservation for the Bhutia Lepcha community, which has a dominant population in the area.
Out of the 462 eligible voters in the ward, 95 per cent belong to the Bhutia Lepcha (BL) community, while the remaining 5 per cent are from the OBC category.
In the election held on Thursday, 360 voters turned up to cast their votes for two candidates, Hari Maya Sharma and Rupa Devi Chettri.
Hari Maya Sharma, one of the two candidates in the by-election for Linkey Ward, hails from a neighbouring ward and has served as a panchayat for two terms, even becoming the Panchayat President.
Speaking to the media, she mentioned that she was invited to contest in the November elections when the controversy regarding reservation for Linkey Ward took place. However, as the public feared the loss of the ST seat, they urged her to support their candidate instead. Sharma supported the public demand at that time and did not contest it.
However, when they couldn’t find their own candidate, they requested her to contest due to her experience. Sharma’s vision is to unite people and avoid future conflicts, and she hopes to take public concerns ahead even more effectively if she is elected.
She said, “When they liked my work and execution, they urged me to contest. My goal is to ensure that there will be no fights between the public, and all of us can move forward together.”
Rupa Devi Chettri, the other candidate from Linkey Ward, aims to serve the public of Linkey if elected. She comes from a poor family and is contesting for the first time. Chettri said, “I am not considering myself a winning candidate, but the support I have received so far is satisfactory. I am aware of the poor road conditions and other public concerns in this area, and I will try to address them if I am elected.”
Chettri had supported the reservation of the Bhutia Lepcha seat during the panchayat elections last year and did not contest at that time. However, when the reservation was given to the OBC community, she got the chance to contest in the current by-election. Initially, there was no other candidate from Linkey Ward, but another candidate later entered the race, making it a contested election. Chettri expressed her satisfaction at getting the opportunity to contest but noted that the public is not satisfied with the reservation decision.
A local voter from Linkey Ward shared their perspective, stating that previously, whether or not the panchayat election was held was not a problem. However, in the last election, the candidates were reserved for Bhutia Lepcha. To their surprise, this time, the candidate being floated was from the OBC community, leading to a boycott of the election by the public.
The senior citizens in the area ultimately made the decision to vote for an OBC candidate, and two candidates ultimately contested the election. While one of the candidates had previously contested but had not done so in recent elections, they were initially sent as an uncontested candidate, leading to rumours. The public did not agree, and a candidate from a different ward within the same GPU is now contesting in Linkey Ward.
The voter expressed satisfaction with the current candidates.
Another local resident of Linkey shared their perspective, stating that when the reservation decision was made, the public collectively boycotted the election. They expressed concern over how a ward with 95 per cent ST voters ended up being reserved for OBC. Despite six months passing since the decision was made, the reservation remained OBC.
The resident explained that continuously boycotting the election may be seen as opposing the government and the election commission.
However, since the government issued a notification for the election to take place, they are abiding by it. The resident emphasized that the public is not satisfied with what has happened, as it is seen as an injustice to the reservation of the people.
Despite the dissatisfaction, the election is happening, as not holding the election may be seen as opposing the government and the election department.
State Election Commissioner KC Lepcha, along with election observers and other officials, visited the polling station in Linkey and expressed happiness at the voter turnout.
He stated, “As of mid-afternoon, there have been 307 voters out of the 462 eligible voters, which is a good response. Regarding the reservation issue, we have followed the constitutional mandate and cannot overlook these matters. There is a system of rotation that we have to follow, and we have to conduct the election without any changes. We understand the sentiments of the people. They are peace-loving people who need progress, and because of the election, they have stepped back in development by six months. Now, they can regain their loss.”
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The by-elections were also held for three other constituencies: Lower Gagyong ward in Namchi District, which had three candidates contesting and saw a 77.02 per cent voter turnout; Upper Tshalamthang ward, also in Namchi District, which had two candidates and saw a 66.91 per cent turnout; and Namok-Swayem territorial constituency in Mangan district, which had two candidates and saw a 78.44 per cent voter turnout.
However, the Gairee ward in Mangan district and Lower Tikjya ward in Geyzing district went uncontested in the scheduled by-election.
The counting of votes for the contested wards and territorial constituencies will take place tomorrow in their respective counting centres.
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