TIRUCHY: By-elections are a good indicator of a ruling government’s popularity. The current 15th Assembly of Tamil Nadu has seen five rounds of by-polls during its tenure. The Election Commission of India (ECI) notified seven bypolls in the last five years, the highest within a single term in the State’s electoral history.
The first set of vacancies arose in May 2016, even before the elected AIADMK government took the oath of office. Thiruparakundram MLA SM Seenivel died soon after the elections. ECI announced the first by-election in October 2016, to be held along with polls to Aravakurichi and Thanjavur segments where polling was deferred following cash-for-votes complaints.
The polling happened in November 2016, and AIADMK won all three seats. Barely 10 days after the results were announced, Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa passed away, leaving the RK Nagar seat vacant. Elections to the segment were notified in April 2017, but cancelled following allegations of malpractice.
Eventually, the poll panel announced by-elections in December 2017, which TTV Dhinakaran won. Even before this happened, 18 seats fell vacant as so many legislators were disqualified for supporting a rival faction of the ruling party. A legal battle ensued over the disqualification over the next year, and meanwhile, three more seats fell vacant — Hosur, Tiruvarur and Thiruparakundram.
Hosur MLA P Balakrishna Reddy resigned following his conviction in a riot case. Thiruparakundram’s new legislator AK Bose died leaving the seat vacant again. For Tiruvarur, the death of DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi resulted in the seat falling vacant. By the end of October 2016, the number of vacancies in the Assembly rose to 21.
The poll panel announced by-elections to 18 of these 21 seats along with the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Polls to three more seats Thiruparakundram, Aravakurichi and Ottapidaram, where legal issues were pending and Sulur (where the sitting MLA passed away), were held on May 19, which was the fourth round of by-elections being notified.
It was a battle of high stakes. The ruling party needed four seats to secure a majority in the House, but it comfortably won nine. Even as the Assembly regained its full strength, H Vasanthkumar resigned from his MLA seat following his election to the Lok Sabha. The death of Vikkiravandi MLA K Rathamani in June 2019 added yet another twist to the tale.
The AIADMK won both the seats in the polls held on October 21, giving much-needed boost to Edappadi K Palaniswami’s leadership. Then came the pandemic and its share of misery. The year 2020 saw three more seats fall vacant as Gudiyatham MLA S Kathavarayan, Tiruvottiyur MLA KPP Samy and Chepauk MLA J Anbalagan fell victims to the viral outbreak. Bypolls announced for the seventh time for two of these constituencies were cancelled due to the pandemic itself.