If there is one parameter to judge if voting is free and fair in any election, it is the number of polling booths where the re-poll was conducted. If the recently concluded Assembly elections in Tripura were judged from this parameter, these elections were free and fair as there was no re-poll in any polling booth. The voting was largely peaceful. Yet, what looks obvious sometimes may not necessarily be the reality. Field visits to several places soon after the voting suggested that people did mention a sense of fear in different localities. They were not ready to indicate their political choices openly.
Data from the Lokniti-CSDS post-poll survey also indicated that respondents believed that malpractices increased in the election compared to the previous Assembly election held in 2018. Nearly one in every ten voters did mention that malpractices increased in this election, while four of every ten believed that it had declined (Table 1). One should also note that a little over one thirds (36%) mentioned that it had remained the same. It is not surprising to note that the charges of malpractices having increased in this election was expressed more amongst the Left and Congress voters, and significantly less by the TIPRA Motha voters (Table 2).
The voters of Tripura may be sharing the view that malpractices increased in the 2023 Assembly election, but this was not very unusual as voters of other States also shared similar views when Assembly elections were conducted in their States. Findings from the post-poll survey conducted by Lokniti-CSDS in various other States suggested that voters expressed this concern though in varying degrees (Table 3).
But one issue which seemed specific to the 2023 election in Tripura was an extremely slow voting process in many polling booths. During the fieldwork we came across the peculiar complaint of voting being very slow, with several reasons being attributed to it. Malfunctioning of EVM was one of them and was reported from several places. Still, it is difficult to ascertain the cause of slow voting though the findings of the post-poll survey does give us a clear sense of voting being slow, as large numbers of people had to spend long hours at the polling booth to exercise their franchise (Table 4).
(Sanjay Kumar is Professor and co-director of Lokniti-CSDS)