Electoral Participation: An Overview of 2003 and 2008 Assembly Elections to Meghalaya legislative Assembly

Kailash Chandra Das

Abstract Elections in Meghalaya
Introduction Seventh and Eighth Assembly Elections
Conceptual Frame Work of Electoral Participation Performance of National Parties as against Regional Parties

The election system is the pillar of democracy. Election is a contrivance through which a modern state creates amongst its citizens a sense of involvement and participation in public affairs. The study of election in the greatest democracy of the world has been found to be of great importance. Electoral participation as a key segment of political participation also appears to be a vibrant theme in the realm of election studies. Meghalaya, one of the small states in the country has an interesting historical background of elections. Since its inception, barring the first general election to Legislative Assembly, Meghalaya has experienced fractured mandate and fewer activities from voters’ side except on voting day. There is almost nil involvement in other political activities. But this paper aims at showing how there is a significant increase in voters’ turn out in both 2003 and 2008 elections. More interestingly in 2008 election the voters’ turnout was highest ever. An attempt has been made by the researcher to study different factors influencing voting behaviour and performance of different political parties in both the elections. The fractured mandate in almost all elections made the state of Meghalaya to experience over the year coalition politics. It may also be noted that since the demographic condition of the state varies across different ethnic and tribal population, the electoral success by a particular party is difficult to be achieved. The increase in voters’ turnout, notwithstanding, in both the elections the performance of regional parties was less significant as compared to the previous elections. Though regional parties had played ethnic card to protect the tribal identity and gain votes in the election, the national parties performed much better, and increased their seats remarkably in both the elections. Indian National congress, which was termed as a foreign party by the regional parties during the initial year of elections, was able to claim its stand to form governments in both the terms.
Key words: Electoral participation, mandate, political behaviour, voters’ turn out, national parties, regional parties, ethnic card, tribal population, Legislative Assembly, Meghalaya .

1. Introduction:
   The purpose of this study is to find out the level of electoral participation in Meghalaya in reference to 2003 and 2008 Assembly Elections. Electoral participation is one of the significant aspects of the broad idea of political participation. The connotation of participation is understood both in the form of activity and spirit. Voting is the inalienable feature of electoral participation, which serves as an index of the political maturity of the people.

   This article is an attempt to have an insight in to the degree of electoral participation in 2003 and 2008 assembly elections to Meghalaya Legislative Assembly. The emphasis, here is largely on voters’ turn out in both the general elections. Since its inception the state of Meghalaya had witnessed eight general elections to its Legislative Assembly. But the voting behaviour of electorate of Meghalaya appears to be very typical one. Major works on electoral politics of the country did not include thoroughly the electoral studies of these small states in northeast regions. ( Barua and Dev, 2006). The political history of Meghalaya shows that the pattern of electoral politics in Meghalaya is widely different from the mainstream India. The available literature (Barua and Dev, 2006; Dutta, 1986;Chube, 1985) on electoral politics in the northeast states, which are a few in number fail to deal with all aspects of electoral politics in Meghalaya. In this paper the objective is to measure the degree of involvement of electorate in electoral process in Meghalaya, and to present a comparative picture of electoral participation in both 2003 and 2008 elections to Meghalaya Legislative Assembly. The present study, therefore, is an empirical study of the nature and extent of electoral participation of the electorate in Meghalaya, where the voter’s turn out in both the elections and the party wise performance in 2003 and 2008 elections are highlighted and analysed.

2. Conceptual Frame Work of Electoral Participation:
   Conceptualisation of electoral participation has been found to be a very difficult task in the realm of election studies. Participation in electoral politics is not a fully voluntary act. Suffrage rules regulate who can participate while institutional arrangements shape the consequence of the voting act. (Grover, 1997, p.413). The subsequent increase of electoral participation in the world during the past two centuries was largely due to extensions of suffrage. (Yadav, 1999). The relation between voting and electing as manifested in institution arrangements had a strong effect on individual.

   Electoral participation may refer to a wide spectrum of political activities and commitments that include the simple act of voting, which may in itself indicate little or extensive involvement in the political process. (M.Bhubaneswaran 2009). Electoral participation refers to those voluntary activities by which members of a society have a share in the selection of rulers directly or indirectly and also have a role in the formation of public policy. These activities include voting, seeking information, discussion, attending public meetings, contributing financially and communicating with representatives. The more active forms of participation include formal enrolment in a political party, canvassing and registering voters, speech writing and speech making, working in campaigns and competing for public and party offices.

3. Elections in Meghalaya:
   Meghalaya’s electoral history is marked by fractured mandates, coalitional politics and significant role of regional parties. In the first Assembly election held in 1972, Indian National Congress contested in 12 seats and won 9 seats, CPI contested 2 seats and could not win any seat whereas regional parties like All Party Hills Leaders Conference (APHLC) that contested in 49 seats could win 32 seats, and Hill States Democratic Party (HSDP) that contested on 29 seats, won 8 seats. Thus in 1972 election the regional parties (APHLC and HSDP), which sponsored the separate Hill State movement, got 40 of 60 seats and APHLC on its own formed the government, which lasted almost for the whole term. (Data collected from office of the Chief Electoral Officer, Meghalaya 1972-2009) The influence of the APHLC, however, began to wane after the 1972 election because of its lack of concrete programme as against Congress, and division created within its own ranks. The outstanding political event in Meghalaya took place since 1976 with the split of APHLC. (Chube, 1985) In the elections held in 1978 and 1983 the Congress could come out with larger number of seats than truncated APHLC. During 1978 election, as a part of the main plank of ‘Protection of Tribal Identity’, –a demand for ‘Quit Outsiders’ (raised mainly by the student and youth leaders headed by H.S. Shylla) was accepted as main election slogan of all the regional parties. Congress was attacked as the ‘Outsider’s Party’ and was publicised by opponents as a party not willing or capable of ‘Preserving Tribal Identity of the state. Yet Congress got the highest number of seats 20, whereas the regional party APHLC got 16 and independent including Peoples’ Demand Implementation Convention (PDIC) 10. Thus no party got majority in 1978 election to be able to form a ministry on its own. The Congress, however with the highest number of seats, was expected to form the ministry by winning some members from the other regional parties, which could not succeed because of the pressure from the tribal students and youth movement on the regional leaders. The APHLC led by D. D. Pugh did not favour any coalition with the Congress. But B. B. Lyngdoh with majority of APHLC M.L.As formed a forum with the Congress on the understanding that B. B. Lyngdoh would be Chief Minister for two years, Capt. W. Sangma would be chairman of the State Planning Board, and after this arrangement would be changed. So the pattern, which evolved by manoeuvring did not actually reflect the opinion of the electorate.(Dutta, 1986).

   In 1983, Assembly Election, no party placed any concrete Election Manifesto before the Electorate and depended on individual propaganda, as they liked. The congress however, circulated their All India Manifesto, which actually did not count much during the election campaign and varied according to the composition of the particular electorate. After the election, the APHLC and HSPDP formed a coalition (MUPP) with B. B. Lyngodh as the leader and H. S. Lyngdoh as the Deputy Chief Minister but the ministry could not last more than a month because of the floor-crossing engineered by the Congress (I) and to which a considerable number of APHLC and HSPDP members in the Assembly fell prey. Thus under the leadership of the Congress a new type of coalition was formed with the defectors from the APHLC and HSPDP assuming the name of Meghalaya Democratic Front (MDF), but without any Programmatic Unity. In the 4th Assembly Election to Meghalaya Legislative Assembly that took place in the year 1988, the Indian National Congress (INC) got 22 seats and regional parties like Hill Peoples Demand ( HPD), Hill Peoples Union (HPU), Public Demand Convention ( PDC) and All Hill Leaders (AHL (A) won respectively 6,19,2 and 2 seats. But in next Assembly election in 1992, INC won 24 seats, AHLC won only 03 seats, HSPDP got 8 seats HPU won 11 seats and MPP bagged only 2 seats. (Data collected from office of the Chief Electoral Officer, Meghalaya 1972-2009) It shows no party was able to get simple majority in those two elections, though INC continued to improve its strength in every successive election.

   In the 6th general election to the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly held on 16.02.1998.One of the national parties BJP which has been persistently trying to do well since 1993, finally was able to make its appearance for the first time by getting 3 seats in this election. Total 41924 votes were polled (data collected from the Office of Chief Electoral officer shillong) in favour of BJP and that was 5.01% of total votes polled, whereas the congress could bag 35.03% of votes by getting a total 2993346 vote. In the same line the performance of regional parties remained poor as Hill People’s Democratic Party (HPDP) could just mange with 3 seats and Peoples’ Democratic Movement (PDM) 3 seats.(Table-1). The United Democratic Party (UDP) did comparatively better by capturing 20 seats. The UDP could get 26.99% of votes. Total five independent candidates got elected to the Meghalaya legislative Assembly. In this election a total number of 837383 votes were polled and 308 candidates contested in the election fray (Election commission of India,1998). However, the two registered unrecognized parties’ viz. Garo National Council (GNC) and Hill State Party (HSP) contested in 16 and 3 seats respectively could not do well as GNC just manage to open its account by securing only one seat and HSP completely failed to appear in the electoral scenario of result. (Table-1) It is also seen from the above table that CPI as usual could not find a comfortable place in the electoral history of Meghalaya since its first general election to the Meghalaya legislative assembly.

   If we analyse the result of 1998 election it had once again produced no majority. As compare to the 5th general election to Meghalaya legislative Assembly this time Congress (I) increased its strength by gaining one more seats and got 25 votes.(Table-1) After the election, the congress (I) formed the government led by S.C Marak. However, it lasted for only 12 days thereby creating a history of the shortest tenure in the Meghalaya politics. It may be noted that Meghalaya had the distinction of having a lottery government and a 50:50 sharing of power. In fact the state continuously had coalition government of one national party i.e. Congress and number of regional parties’ rather local parties or its combinations.( Barua and Dev,2006) The congress had always manage to survive and in spite of the local pressure group whose slogan was the preservation of tribal identity and development of their customs and culture, urge to have a regional party in power, no strong regional party of the khasi could emerge.

3.1 Seventh and Eighth Assembly Elections:
   The Seventh and eighth Assembly elections in Meghalaya held respectively, on 26th February 2003 and 3rd March 2008 resulted in fractured verdict. The seventh assembly election caused some major upsets because 28 sitting MLAs and two former chief ministers lost. A comparison of results of assembly elections of 1998 and 2003 would make one wonder (Table-1) whether the support structure of parties and political equations, in terms of regional and national, in the state had undergone radical changes. In 1998 United Democratic Party (UDP) a regional party with 20 seats and the Indian National Congress a national party with 25 seats were the major players in the post election scenario. But in 2003 the major players were two national parties viz., the Indian National Congress (INC) with 22 seats and National Congress Party (NCP) with 14 seats. The largest number of seats that a regional party could win in 2003 assembly election was only nine, won by the UDP, whereas all other regional parties put together could win only seven seats suggesting the beginning of the decline in regionalism (Barua, 2003). This was for the first time that the regional parties were so marginalized. The other interesting development of this election was that in an assembly of 60 members the INC won 22 seats which was less than in 1998 election. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) a new entrant in Meghalaya electoral politics captured 14 seats, BJP got two seats, and UDP won nine seats. A breakaway group of UDP christened as Meghalaya Democratic Party (MDP) with strong pro-khasi sentiments managed two seats and Khun Hynniewtrep National Awakening Movement (KHNAM) won two seats.

   But in the 8th general election to Meghalaya Legislative Assembly, the INC contested in 59 seats and captured 25 seats with 32.88% of votes in its bag (Table-2). The congress was the only party in the state that was evenly spread across all three regions- Khasi Hills, Jaintia Hills and Garo Hills. BJP secured only one seat by getting only 7.04% votes in its account. The NCP could be able to capture 14 seats by gaining 24.32% votes, and maintained the number of seats that it had gained in 2003 election. However, the NCP could not spread beyond Garo Hills. The regional parties of Meghalaya could not do well barring one party that is UDP, which captured 11 seats although it contested in 53 seats. MDP one of the regional parties though contested in 18 seats but failed to open its account. Two registered but unrecognized parties like HPDP and KHNAM, though contested in 15 and 16 seats respectively, seats they could win respectively were 2 and 1. There were 73 independent candidates in the fray but only five could win but had garnered 25.22% of votes cast in the contested seats. (Election Commission of India,2008)

3.2 Performance of National Parties as against Regional Parties:
   It is interesting to observe (Table-4) that till 1998 the regional parties together had successively polled larger percentage of votes than the national parties polled together, which suggests that Meghalaya politics remained dominated by the regional forces. It was only in 2003 and 2008 the trend was found reversed, the national parties polled larger percentage of votes than the regional parties. In fact in those two elections, the percentage of votes garnered by the national parties exceeded 50%, whereas the regional parties are found to have exceeded this percentage only in 1983 election. It is also interesting to find that Independent candidates together polled votes exceeding this percentage only in the first election i.e., 1972 election. But the percentage of votes polled by Independents largely showed a steady decline, except in the 1988 and 2008 elections, when a marginal increase was observed compared to the 1983 and 2003 elections. Despite the dominance of regional forces in the elections from 1972 to 1998, except after the first general election, no regional party could form government on its own. Amongst national parties, the Indian National Congress had shown a steady increase in its strength except a marginal decline in 1988 and 2003 elections; in 1972 its strength was 9 and in 2008 it reached 25. As against such performance of INC, Bharatiya Janata Party,( BJP) which appeared in electoral scene in 1993 but could not open account in this election, exhibited a steady decline in its strength in assembly, from 3 in 1998 election to 1 in 2008 election. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) that made its debut in 2003 election, maintained the same strength of 14 both in 2003 and 2008 elections, whereas Communist Party of India (CPI), which has been in the election fray since 1972, could not open its account in any of the elections. (Table-1).

   From Table-1, it is clear that of regional parties in election fray, the only regional party that maintained its presence throughout (1972-2008) was Hill States Peoples’ Democratic Party (HSPDP).Peoples’ Demands Implementation Conventions (PDIC) did not survive after 1993 election; AHL, HPD, PDC and APHLC did not survive after 1983 election though a splinter group of APHLC as APHLC (a) appeared in the electoral scene in 1988 and 1993 elections to wither away thereafter. In these two elections another new regional party viz., Hills Peoples’ Union( HPU) was found to be in fray and thereafter disappeared. The regional parties like UDP, MDP, GNC, and KHNAM, which appeared for the first time in 1998 elections did continue till 2008, whereas PDM, which also appeared in 1998, was not in the election fray in 2008 election. Meghalaya Peoples’ Party ( MPP) appeared in electoral scene once and that is in 1993, and then after disappeared. Another interesting observation is that when many regional parties in one election or another have failed to open their accounts, never the House was bereft of Independent members. Such proliferation of regional parties, their split and frequent defections from them explains as to why despite their polling together larger percentage of votes than the national parties in the first six general elections to Meghalaya Assembly, none of them, on its own, could form government after first general election in 1972. Further these regional parties never came to any understanding amongst them to facilitate formation of a government. Rather these regional parties found themselves more comfortable to share power with the Congress party. It is therefore that after the first government of Meghalaya being formed exclusively by the regional party APHLC, which bagged 32 seats in 60 had seated Meghalaya Assembly; all successive governments were formed with the help of Congress party.

   It may be observed that the voter turnout percentage, which never fell below fifty-one percent, has progressively increased in every successive election except in the election 2003 (Table-3). It is quite significant to find that in Meghalaya Assembly elections, the number of female voters turned out to vote was almost comparable with that of male voters.

   On reading Table-3 along with Table-4, it may be observed that while the percentage of voters’ turnout shows increase across the elections from 1972 to 2008, there is seen increase in the percentage of votes polled by the national parties across these elections, except in 1983 election, which implies that acceptability of national parties was growing, and that of regional parties declining. Of these national parties, Indian National Congress, bagging highest number of seats amongst contesting parties since 1978 elections, emerges as the gainer of this increase in voters’ turnout, which is also suggested from the results of 2008 election, when Congress polled 32.88% of votes, highest amongst all other contesting national and regional parties (Table-2)

4. Conclusion
   Thus in Meghalaya Assembly elections, since it was granted statehood in 1972, the participation of electorates has shown almost a steady increase, with almost equal number of males and females casting their votes in every election. With such increase in participation, the percentage of votes polled by national parties showed an increasing trend though till 1998 election; the percentage of votes the regional parties polled together always remained significantly higher than that of the national parties. Yet these regional parties could not forge an understanding among them to form the government and keep the ‘outsider’ national party at bay. In fact this possibility was certainly there from 1978 to 1998, as the number seats won by the regional parties together was greater than that of national parties. It may be this failure on the part of the regional parties that moved the electorates towards the national parties in 2003 election, and they for the first time garnered larger percentage of votes than the regional parties taken together, which increased in 2008 election. Of the national parties, the Congress party by consistently winning more than one third of the Assembly seats from 1978, has established that it has an unwavering support base, the reason for which requires another study.

Table–1: Relative party position in Meghalaya Assembly since 1972

Party 1972 1978 1983 1988 1993 1998 2003 2008
INC 9 20 25 22 24 25 22 25
CPI 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
BJP         0 3 2 1
NCP             14 14
AHL 0 0 15          
HPD 0 0 15          
PDC 0 0 2          
MPP         2      
APHLC 32 16 0          
APHLC(a)       2 3      
UDP           20 9 11
MDP           0 4 0
GNC           1 0 0
HSPDP 8 14 0 6 8 3 2 2
KHNAM           0 2 1
PDM           3 0  
PDIC 0 2 0 2 2      
HPU       19 11      
IND 11 8 3 9 10 5 5 5
TOTAL 60 60 60 60 60 60 60 59

Source: Election Commission of India –State Election to Meghalaya legislative Assembly

Table-2: Party wise performance in 2008 Assembly election to Meghalaya Legislative Assembly.









1. CPI

2. INC

3. BJP

4. NCP


























5. LJP

6. MDP

7. UDP










































11. IND













Source: Election Commission of India –State Election to Meghalaya legislative Assembly

Table-3: Voters Turnout In General Election To Meghalaya Legislative Assembly Since 1972.























































Source: Election Commission of India –State Election to Meghalaya legislative Assembly

Table-4: Valid Votes Polled By Parties and Percentage thereof

Year National parties Regional parties Independents


National parties

Regional parties


































Source: Calculated from Meghalaya election hand book, Election Department.


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