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Mizoram: Will ZPM Break the Pattern of Governments Changing After Two Terms?

Led by Zoramthanga, the MNF faces rising anti-incumbency due to unemployment and poor implementation of the SEDP.

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Since 1989, the northeastern state of Mizoram has been witnessing a unique tradition of the incumbent government changing after two terms with power oscillating between the Congress party and the Mizo National Front (MNF).

The ruling MNF, which came to power in 2018 after remaining in the Opposition for 10 years, is hopeful that history will repeat and it’s going to return to power to the state.

However, this time, the main Opposition party, the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM), is posing a real threat to break this three-decades-old tradition.

The northeastern state will go to polls on 7 November. The MNF, the ZPM, and the Congress are all contesting 40 assembly seats.
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Anti-incumbency and the ZPM

After being in power for the last five years, the MNF government led by Chief Minister Zoramthanga faces rising anti-incumbency as a result of rising unemployment, poor conditions of roads and infrastructure, and the poor implementation of the Socio-Economic Development Programme, which promises to provide financial assistance to families up to Rs 3 lakh.

In the last elections, the MNF had promised to implement SEDP after coming to power. According to veteran MNF leader and Deputy Chief Minister Tawnluia, some 60,000 families were assisted with Rs 50,000 each and another 60,000 families were given assistance of Rs 25,000 each in the second phase through the SEDP.

The MNF is clearly admitting that no family in the last five years got Rs 3 lakh. It has to be mentioned that during the last elections, the MNF promised to provide Rs 3 lakh each to the selected families — and it was this election promise that played a major role in bringing the MNF to power after a gap of 10 years.

Although the government is blaming the pandemic for not being able to provide financial assistance in the third phase, the MNF’s failure to properly implement its flagship scheme is clearly visible — and this is likely to affect its prospects in the polls.

Adding to more worries to the MNF is the rise of the ZPM, which emerged as the main Opposition party in the last elections by winning 8 seats, breaking the three decades of the MNF and Congress binary in the northeastern state.

Since the last elections, the ZPM led by Lalduhoma has been rising.

This has been evident in the Lunglei Municipal Elections held this year where the party swept all the 11 seats of the council polling a percentage of 49.31 percent while the MNF failed to win a seat and secured 29.4 percent votes.

Notably, the four assembly seats falling under the LMC were won by the MNF last time. The ZPM’s victory in the LMC polls shows its expansion in the state as the council falls in the South region, where the party didn’t win any seat in the last elections.

Last time, its strength was primarily concentrated in the Aizawl region, where it won 6 seats. The other two seats of the party came from the North region. The South region has 12 seats while both the North and Aizawl have 14 seats each.

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Mizo Nationalism, Rural Areas: What Will Work for ZPM?

Realising the threat of rising dissent against its own government and the rise of the ZPM, the ruling party has been banking on more than 50,000 Chin-Kuki-Zomi refugees from Myanmar, Bangladesh and Manipur staying in the state. Chin-Kuki-Zomi are ethnically related to the majority of Mizos and all belong to the same Zo group.

This refugee issue, stemming particularly the Manipur violence, has provided a golden opportunity for the MNF to raise its own old slogan of Mizo nationalism to deflect the attention of dominant Mizos through emotional issues.

However, this tactic isn’t likely to give the boost the party is expecting as all the parties, including the BJP, are united on the Manipur issue in the state.

Not only this, the MNF allied with the Hmar People’s Convention (Reformation) to gain the support of the ethnic Hmar minority votes. There are three Hmar-dominated seats — Tuivawl, Serlui and Chalfilh. HPC(R) wouldn’t put any candidates and would support the MNF.

This strategy of the ruling party after the decision of the ZPM to ally with the HPC led by Rohringa to gain the Hmar votes. The MNF allying with the HPC(R) after the ZPM allied with the HPC shows that the former is worried about these Hmar-dominated seats, despite the fact these are its winning seats.

Rural areas, however, remain a worry for the ZPM.

In the last elections, of the 8 winning seats, 7 were urban seats. The only rural seat the party won was the Tuirial assembly seat. The party was runner-up in 9 seats — of these, 4 were rural seats.

Of the total 40 assembly constituencies, there are 19 rural seats in the state while the rest 21 are urban seats.

Last time, the MNF had won 12 rural seats. This played a major role in bringing the party to power. That’s the reason the ZPM is talking about giving top priority to the farmer issue if it comes to power.

This is an attempt to woo the rural voters. Last time, all the five seats the Congress won were rural seats indicating that it is still a force in the rural areas. For the ZPM, it has to fight a two-sided battle against the MNF and the Congress in rural areas.

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What About the Congress and the BJP?

After being relegated to the third spot, the Congress, left with no option, is banking on anti-BJP sentiments generated in the state after the violence between Meiteis and Kuki-Zomis in the neighbouring state of Manipur.

With Kuki-Zomis ethnically related to the Mizos, the Manipur violence has become an important talking point in the state and the grand old party is attempting to utilise this issue to show how BJP is “dangerous” for the state.

The grand old party has allied with two minor Mizo-based parties, the Zoram Nationalist Party and the People's Conference Party. However, this alliance with these two parties is unlikely to help significantly in the Mizo-based areas.

So, it is busy playing the Christian religious card to paint both the MNF and the ZPM as agents of the BJP and the RSS before the Mizos, who are mostly religiously practising Christians. This tactic is adopted by the party in its desperation to anyhow gain its lost ground from the MNF and the ZPM.

Apart from this, the Congress is also banking on the ethnic minority areas. All the five seats it had won were from the areas where ethnic minorities have an influence.

The saffron party, which opened its account last time for the first time, is contesting only 23 seats this time and its focus is primarily on the seats where ethnic minorities have an influence. In the South region, the party is focusing on the five seats — Palak, Siaha, Thorang, West Tuipui and Tuichawng.

Of these, Palak and Siaha are Mara-dominated seats and the saffron party is hoping to do well this time based on its impressive performance in the Village Council polls of the Mara Autonomous District Council. It has given a ticket to former MNF minister K Beichhua from Siaha.

While West Tuipui and Tuichawng are Buddhist Chakma-dominated seats, Thorang has 30 percent Buddhist Chakma voters. In both Tuichawng and Thorang seats, the party has given tickets to Chakma candidates.

In the North region, the saffron party’s focus is on the three seats of the Mamit district — Hachhek, Dampa and Mamit, where the saffron party has given to former state assembly speaker Lalrinliana Sailo. The district has sizeable votes of minority Brus and Chakmas giving hope to the BJP. The Chakmas account for around 15 percent of the district's total population.

But winning seats isn’t going to be easy for the saffron party in the Mamit district. After the permanent settlement of Brus in Tripura, their population in the state has reduced. 14,000 Bru voters have been deleted from the state’s electoral list.

For the party to win in the district, it would need the Mizo votes — but the shadow of Manipur violence is making the scenario more difficult for the saffron party. That’s the reason it is banking on turncoats from MNF like Sailo, who is a heavyweight leader.

On the other hand, the party’s chances appear bleak in the seats, five of them, dominated by ethnic minorities like Hmars and Lais.

(Sagarneel Sinha is a political commentator. He tweets @SagarneelSinha. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the authors' own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Topics:  Mizoram elections 

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