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Mizoram Elections 2023: Will Ethnic Clashes in Manipur Be a Poll Issue?

Mizoram is set to witness a close competition between ruling MNF, the ZPM, and the Congress.

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Mizoram is set to witness a close competition between ruling Mizo National Front (MNF), the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) and the Congress, according to surveys. The state is casting its votes for the 40-member Mizoram Assembly in a single phase today, 7 November.

Click here for the voting live updates.

The Quint gives a lowdown of the main parties contesting in the elections and the key poll issues.

Mizoram Elections 2023: Will Ethnic Clashes in Manipur Be a Poll Issue?

  1. 1. What are the Major Parties?

    A total of 174 candidates are in the fray for the Mizoram Assembly polls. The ruling MNF, the ZPM, which is the main opposition party, and the Congress have fielded 40 candidates each.

    The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which contested in 39 seats in the 2018 elections and won only one seat (which was its first win in the Christian-majority state), has nominated 23 candidates this time. In fact, Mizoram is the only state in the northeast where the saffron party is not leading a government or is a part of the ruling coalition. However, the ruling MNF is part of the NDA at the national level.

    However, expressing his optimism, BJP Mizoram president Vanlalhmuaka had told Hindustan Times recently, "We have an upper hand in at least six-seven seats. I am very sure that we will be part of the next government.”

    The saffron party has promised 33 percent reservation for women in government jobs and a solution to the long-standing border dispute with Assam, among others.

    Meanwhile, Congress state president Lalsawta has claimed that his party will form the next government in Mizoram. He asserted that the party will create jobs for 1 lakh people if voted to power. It has also promised to provide health insurance of Rs 15 lakh to each family provided they do not have a member who is a regular government employee.

    In the 2018 elections, the MNF had secured a majority by winning 26 seats, while the Congress had remained the second largest party in the state in terms of vote share as it clinched five seats. The ZPM candidates, meanwhile, contested as independents and got eight seats.

    J Doungel, a professor of political science at Mizoram University, told The Quint that although the state will witness a close race between the ZPM and MNF, voters are reluctant to support the BJP as a majority of the population are Christians. He also argued that the Congress' foothold has considerably weakened in the state.

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  2. 2. What are the Key Issues?

    Doungel explained that there are two main issues in the polls this time around – the ethnic clashes in Manipur and unemployment.

    "The Manipur violence has had a tremendous impact on Mizoram as the state has been hosting thousands of those who fled from there. This is in addition to the refugees from Myanmar who have been fleeing the country since the miliary crackdown in 2021. This is creating a strain on the government's resources and is bound to be a poll issue," explained Doungel.

    According to a Hindustan Times report, the state is currently hosting around 72,000 refugees (12,600 Kukis from Manipur and around 60,000 from Myanmar).

    In September 2022, Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga refused to follow the Centre's directive to push back refugees from Myanmar.

    Then, last month, he ignored another directive from Delhi directing Mizoram to collect biometric details of Myamarese nationals residing in the state.

    “Collection of biometric and biographic data of Myanmar refugees would amount to discrimination against people who are our blood and kindred brothers and sisters,” the chief minister said in September 2023.

    In an interview with BBC earlier this month, the chief minister even said that he would not share the stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi if he campaigned in Mizoram, aggrieved at the violence in Manipur, which is ruled by the BJP.

    This is despite the fact that the MNF is part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre and the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) in the region. The BJP, however, is not part of the MNF government in Mizoram, and there is no alliance ahead of the upcoming polls.

    “To have sympathy with the BJP at this time will be a big minus point for my party,” Zoramthanga said in the BBC interview.

    TT Haokip, a professor of political science at the North Eastern Hill University in Shillong, told The Quint that in Mizoram, with all the Opposition parties, church bodies, and even civil society groups being favour of supporting the refugees, the issue will likely hurt the BJP the most.

    “The saffron party is in power both in Manipur and the Centre, and there is resentment in Mizoram on the crisis in that state as the BJP is seen as doing nothing to solve it. The party, therefore, may not be able to garner much support in this election,” Haokip said.

    The other major poll issue, Doungel added, is unemployment.

    "It is ironic that even though the state has the second-highest literacy rate in the country, unemployment is high among youths. There are no private industries here to employ these graduates," he added.

    As per the Periodic Labour Force Survey for 2022-23, the youth unemployment rate in Mizoram is at 16.4 percent.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

What are the Major Parties?

A total of 174 candidates are in the fray for the Mizoram Assembly polls. The ruling MNF, the ZPM, which is the main opposition party, and the Congress have fielded 40 candidates each.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which contested in 39 seats in the 2018 elections and won only one seat (which was its first win in the Christian-majority state), has nominated 23 candidates this time. In fact, Mizoram is the only state in the northeast where the saffron party is not leading a government or is a part of the ruling coalition. However, the ruling MNF is part of the NDA at the national level.

However, expressing his optimism, BJP Mizoram president Vanlalhmuaka had told Hindustan Times recently, "We have an upper hand in at least six-seven seats. I am very sure that we will be part of the next government.”

The saffron party has promised 33 percent reservation for women in government jobs and a solution to the long-standing border dispute with Assam, among others.

Meanwhile, Congress state president Lalsawta has claimed that his party will form the next government in Mizoram. He asserted that the party will create jobs for 1 lakh people if voted to power. It has also promised to provide health insurance of Rs 15 lakh to each family provided they do not have a member who is a regular government employee.

In the 2018 elections, the MNF had secured a majority by winning 26 seats, while the Congress had remained the second largest party in the state in terms of vote share as it clinched five seats. The ZPM candidates, meanwhile, contested as independents and got eight seats.

J Doungel, a professor of political science at Mizoram University, told The Quint that although the state will witness a close race between the ZPM and MNF, voters are reluctant to support the BJP as a majority of the population are Christians. He also argued that the Congress' foothold has considerably weakened in the state.

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What are the Key Issues?

Doungel explained that there are two main issues in the polls this time around – the ethnic clashes in Manipur and unemployment.

"The Manipur violence has had a tremendous impact on Mizoram as the state has been hosting thousands of those who fled from there. This is in addition to the refugees from Myanmar who have been fleeing the country since the miliary crackdown in 2021. This is creating a strain on the government's resources and is bound to be a poll issue," explained Doungel.

According to a Hindustan Times report, the state is currently hosting around 72,000 refugees (12,600 Kukis from Manipur and around 60,000 from Myanmar).

In September 2022, Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga refused to follow the Centre's directive to push back refugees from Myanmar.

Then, last month, he ignored another directive from Delhi directing Mizoram to collect biometric details of Myamarese nationals residing in the state.

“Collection of biometric and biographic data of Myanmar refugees would amount to discrimination against people who are our blood and kindred brothers and sisters,” the chief minister said in September 2023.

In an interview with BBC earlier this month, the chief minister even said that he would not share the stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi if he campaigned in Mizoram, aggrieved at the violence in Manipur, which is ruled by the BJP.

This is despite the fact that the MNF is part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre and the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) in the region. The BJP, however, is not part of the MNF government in Mizoram, and there is no alliance ahead of the upcoming polls.

“To have sympathy with the BJP at this time will be a big minus point for my party,” Zoramthanga said in the BBC interview.

TT Haokip, a professor of political science at the North Eastern Hill University in Shillong, told The Quint that in Mizoram, with all the Opposition parties, church bodies, and even civil society groups being favour of supporting the refugees, the issue will likely hurt the BJP the most.

“The saffron party is in power both in Manipur and the Centre, and there is resentment in Mizoram on the crisis in that state as the BJP is seen as doing nothing to solve it. The party, therefore, may not be able to garner much support in this election,” Haokip said.

The other major poll issue, Doungel added, is unemployment.

"It is ironic that even though the state has the second-highest literacy rate in the country, unemployment is high among youths. There are no private industries here to employ these graduates," he added.

As per the Periodic Labour Force Survey for 2022-23, the youth unemployment rate in Mizoram is at 16.4 percent.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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