GANGTOK: Sikkim is the only state to have elected regional parties to power in all the assembly polls since 1979, and political leaders attribute it to the "strong" sentiment of people, who are "wary" of national parties.
The regional parties have been dominant in Sikkim ever since it merged with India in 1975 because of the "trust" reposed in them by the indigenous people, for protecting their aspirations and interests, they said.
Sikkim National People's Party (SNPP) president Delay Barfungpa said, "We can't trust national parties to safeguard Article 371(F), which protects the special rights of the Sikkimese people."
Echoing similar views, spokesperson of the ruling SDF K T Gyaltsen said, "Regional parties, particularly the SDF, have been ruling Sikkim for a long time, as they have aligned their ideology and governance with the best interests of the Sikkimese people."
In the first assembly polls held in October 1979, the Sikkim Janata Parishad led by Nar Bahadur Bhandhari had swept to power by a simple majority, winning 16 out of 31 seats which it had contested.
Two other regional parties, the Sikkim Congress (Revolutionary) and the Sikkim Prajatantra Congress (SPC) had won 11 and four seats, respectively.
The SJP subsequently merged with the Congress (INC), but Bhandari fell out with the grand old party and went on to form a new regional party -- the Sikkim Sangram Parishad (SSP).
The SSP then swept the assembly polls held in 1985, winning 30 out of the 32 seats.
Bhandari also went on to win the assembly polls in 1989, as the SSP bagged all 32 seats to become the chief minister for the third term.
His popularity, however, waned in the early 1990s with his one-time protege Pawan Kumar Chamling revolting against Bhandari's leadership and forming his own party, the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF).
The voters continued to repose their trust in regional parties, with Chamling leading the SDF to victory in the 1994 assembly polls by winning 19 seats.
Bhandari's SSP stood second with 10 seats.
The 1999 assembly polls were again dominated by the regional parties with the SDF retaining power for a second successive term with 24 seats, while the SSP maintained its status as the main opposition in the state assembly.
In the 2004 assembly polls, Chamling's SDF steamrolled opposition parties by winning all the 32 seats.
The SDF continued its victorious march in the 2009 assembly polls as well, acquiring all but one seat.
Chamling led his party to a fifth consecutive term in power in the 2014 polls, claiming 22 seats.
The 2014 assembly polls witnessed the emergence of yet another regional party, the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM), formed by Prem Singh Tamang, popularly known as PS Golay.
Despite being a political novice, the SKM won 10 seats in the 2014 assembly polls.
In 2019, simultaneous assembly and Lok Sabha polls will be held in Sikkim on April 11.
In the upcoming assembly polls, the two sworn rivals are once again fighting each other, fielding candidates on all 32 assembly seats.
Other regional parties have also thrown their hat into the fray this time, prominent among them being iconic former India footballer Bhaichung Bhutia's Hamro Sikkim Party (HSP).
Spokesperson of HSP Biraj Adhikari, who is contesting from Rhenock assembly constituency and the lone Lok Sabha seat, said a "stong regional sentiment" runs in Sikkim, as the local people are "wary" of the national parties with regards to protection of their special rights under Article 371(F).
"The Sikkimese people have never trusted the national parties to protect their interests, rights and aspirations and nor will they do so in the future because of sentimental issues," the HSP spokesperson said.