PANAJI: Goa has so far witnessed shifting of power largely between the Congress and the BJP, but poll observers feel that after the February 14 Assembly elections, smaller parties and new entrants are likely to play a crucial role in government formation.
The observers said that the smaller parties may eat into the votes of major players in the fray.
A total of 301 candidates are contesting the election to 40 Assembly constituencies in the state.
Apart from the traditional contenders - BJP and Congress - Aam Aadmi Party, Goa Forward Party (GFP), Trinamool Congress Party (TMC), Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Shiv Sena, Revolutionary Goans Party, Goencho Swabhimaan Party, Jai Mahabharat Party and Sambhaji Brigade are in the fray.
Besides, 68 independent candidates are also in the poll arena.
Most opinion polls have indicated that no single party is likely to get a clear majority.
Since the last four Goa elections - from 2002 - it was only once that any party crossed the magic figure of 21 in the 40-seat assembly.
It was only in 2012 that the BJP managed to achieve that feat.
Any party forming the government had to take help of smaller parties and independents.
In the 2017 elections, the Congress had won 17 seats, while the BJP had bagged 13.
But the BJP had quickly stitched up an alliance with some regional outfits and independents to form government in the state.
This time, the BJP is battling a 10-year anti-incumbency.
This is also the first assembly poll that the BJP is contesting without former chief minister Manohar Parrikar, who died in 2019.
To add to it, the party is facing a rebellion.
Utpal Parrikar, son of Manohar Parrikar is contesting as an independent from Panaji after being denied the ticket from the seat.
So is former chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar from Mandrem.
The Congress is contesting in alliance with the GFP.
While the Congress has fielded 37 candidates, three others are in the fray on ally GFP's ticket.
However, this time the West Bengal-based TMC is also in the fray.
It has taken several Congress and NCP leaders from the state into its fold.
The TMC is contesting the polls in alliance with the MGP, a regional force with pockets of influence in north Goa.
The AAP, which had contested all 40 seats in the 2017 Goa Assembly polls and lost 39, has made determined efforts this time.
It has also wooed the dominant Bhandari community and named a chief ministerial candidate from it.
The Shiv Sena and the NCP have formed an alliance in this state for the first time.
There are regional parties like the Revolutionary Goans Party (RGP).
This youngest party in the state has fielded 38 candidates out of 40 in the state.
Sanjay Kumar of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies said there is a clear four-cornered contest in the state - BJP, Congress, TMC and AAP.
"With multiple parties in this fray, there is likely to be fragmentation of votes in the state.
This is also because the size of Goa's constituencies is very small.
So is the margin of victory," Kumar said, adding that it will be interesting to see who eats whose votes in each constituency.
Sandesh Prabhudesai, researcher-journalist said it is not that Goa is seeing a multi-cornered contest for the first time.
"But this time, there is a strong resentment against two main parties - the BJP and Congress. This is largely due to defections," Prabhudesai said.
So there is likely to be a fractured mandate, he added.
He said that it is necessary to keep a watch on the AAP and RGP as to whose and how much votes these parties will eat into.
Some prominent candidates in the fray include Chief Minister Pramod Sawant (BJP), Leader of the Opposition Digambar Kamat (Congress), former CMs Churchill Alemao (TMC), Ravi Naik (BJP), Laxmikant Parsekar (independent), former deputy CMs Vijai Sardesai (GFP) and Sudin Dhavalikar (MGP), late CM Manohar Parrikar's son Utpal Parrikar and AAP's CM face Amit Paleker.
The counting of votes will take place on March 10.