April 18, 2019 will decide not only how Tamil Nadu votes in the Lok Sabha Elections, but whether the AIADMK government in the state will survive. Bye-elections to 18 out of the 21 vacant Assembly constituencies will be held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha polls. The results of the bye-polls, which will be out on May 23, will seal the fate of the Edappadi Palaniswami-led government, which is sitting on a wafer-thin majority.
While the AIADMK and the DMK each have a national ally on their side and could help in the formation of the next government at the Centre given that Tamil Nadu plus Puducherry account for 40 seats, the focus for both the Dravidian parties has always been the bye-elections. This was evident in the seat sharing talks that the DMK and the AIADMK have carried out.
The two parties have put together large coalitions to take on each other, in the hope that the alliance arithmetic will outweigh the opposing side. So, while AIADMK-led alliance in Tamil Nadu has the BJP, the PMK, DMDK, Puthiya Tamilagam, and the New Justice Party, the DMK has teamed up with the Congress, the VCK, MDMK, CPI, CPI(M) and the IJK. The number of Lok Sabha seats the two parties are contesting has dropped significantly since 2014, when AIADMK under Jayalalithaa and DMK under Karunanidhi chose to go it alone. 2019 will see AIADMK contest from at least 21 seats, while the DMK will field 20 candidates.
But while their strength in the Lok Sabha Elections has reduced, the AIADMK and its rival the DMK have both ensured that they contest in all 21 seats of the bye-elections. Not a single Assembly constituency has been yielded to their respective alliance partners.
The two Dravidian parties have also ensured that at the time of inking the poll pacts, their allies have explicitly announced their support for the AIADMK or the DMK for the bye-elections. Even the DMDK, which had been bargaining hard and had reportedly demanded a few seats for the bye-elections, was turned down by the ruling AIADMK.
The stakes, after all, are high, very high if you are Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami. No CM would want the fate of their government to be in the hands of an unreliable ally. Contesting from all vacant Assembly seats, thus, raises the chances of survival for the AIADMK, while for the DMK it gives it an opportunity to not only bring down the EPS government but even stake claim to forming the government.
It’s all about the numbers
The total strength of the Tamil Nadu Assembly is 234. There are 21 vacancies, but only 18 Assembly constituencies will go to bye-elections. So, the strength of the TN Assembly is 231 post the bye-polls. The majority mark or the magic figure is then 116.
The AIADMK’s official strength is 114 excluding the Speaker who votes only in the event of a tie. However, it is unclear whether three independent MLAs – Karunas, U Thaniyarasu, Thamimun Ansari – who had contested on the AIADMK symbol in 2016, would support EPS in the event of a trust vote. Three other AIADMK MLAs – Kalaichelvan, Prabhu, Rathinasabapthy –now support TTV Dhinakaran, who is an independent MLA.
This means that for EPS to survive post May 23, the AIADMK would need to win a minimum of 8 MLAs in the upcoming bye-elections.
But once the vacancies to the remaining 3 seats are also filled, the majority mark in the 234-member strong House increases to 118. This would mean that the AIADMK requires a victory in at least 10 seats to complete its full term.
The DMK-Congress-Muslim League alliance, which has 97 MLAs, will need to sweep all 21 seats for MK Stalin to have a shot at the Chief Minister’s chair.