After an eight-year gap, Chennai and other municipal city corporations in the state of Tamil Nadu will be directly voting in their respective mayors. The state election commission issued notification for direct polls on Sunday. In June this year, the state government issued a notification in the gazette listing all the wards vacant across Chennai and other districts. In September, District Election Officers (DEOs) were asked to appoint Returning Officers for the polls. With these indications that local body polls are to be expected in the state after nearly three years, this means that elected councillors will no longer be voting to pick the mayor.
The order said, “In exercise of the powers conferred by Tamil Nadu Local Bodies Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 2019, the state election commission hereby notifies that the elections for ward members of town panchayats, councillors of municipalities and corporations, the chairmen of town panchayats and municipalities, mayors of corporations, ward members of panchayat unions and district panchayats shall be held on party basis.”
The city has witnessed both the AIADMK and the DMK make u-turns on direct elections to the mayoral post. Chennai city got its first directly-elected mayor in 1996 when the then Chief Minister M Karunanidhi's son MK Stalin was elected after the city had been without a mayor for over two decades, from 1973.
In 2001, then AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa was sworn in as the Chief Minister and with mayoral elections being held the same year, a significant number of ruling party councillors were also elected. Stalin won the Thousand Lights Assembly seat and was also re-elected through direct polls as mayor. However, he was soon forced to give up the mayor's seat in order to remain an MLA, even as the AIADMK passed the controversial one-man-one-post Bill. Perceived as political vindictiveness at the time, Stalin resigned as mayor but did not contest the Madras High Court's ruling in the case.
In 2006, when the DMK came to power, the party introduced indirect elections, reverting to the 1973 poll practice. DMK leader M Subramanian was elected by councillors.
The rules changed once again in 2011 when the AIADMK came to power and switched to direct polls, electing Saidai Duraisamy. However, when the Jayalalithaa-led government was re-elected in 2016, the city corporation returned to indirect elections. However, local body polls were not held to elect councillors who would elect the mayor. With the AIADMK once again opting for direct polls following the death of Jayalalithaa, Chennai is set to get a mayor after nearly three years.