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Voter Turnout Near Zero in Nagaland’s Eastern Districts Amid Autonomy Demand

20 Apr. 24

In a striking turn of events during the first phase of Lok Sabha elections in Nagaland, six eastern districts witnessed an almost complete absence of voter participation, attributed to a planned shutdown orchestrated by the Eastern Nagaland People’s Organization (ENPO) advocating for the establishment of ‘Frontier Nagaland Territory’ (FNT).

Despite polling personnel being stationed for nine hours at various booths across these districts, not a single ballot was cast throughout the day. The shutdown, organized by ENPO, effectively halted the electoral process in these areas as the organization continued to press for autonomy under the banner of FNT.

Nagaland’s Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, addressing the situation on April 19, expressed the state government’s support for ENPO’s demand, highlighting that the government had already proposed granting autonomous powers to the region, aligning with ENPO’s objectives. This cooperative stance underscores a shared understanding between the state government and ENPO regarding the territorial issue.

The election for Nagaland’s lone Lok Sabha seat occurred on Friday, featuring candidates from various parties including the NDPP’s Chumben Murry, the Congress’s Supongmeren Jamir, and Independent candidate Hayithung Tungoe Lotha.

Overall voter turnout in Nagaland, when polling concluded, stood at 56%. However, specific figures for the affected districts are still being confirmed. Local reports indicate that no voting occurred in these regions due to the ENPO-led shutdown that began on Thursday evening. In contrast, during the 2019 elections, Nagaland recorded a significantly higher voter turnout at 83.08%.

The six districts in Eastern Nagaland – Kiphire, Longleng, Mon, Noklak, Shamator, and Tuensang – comprise over 30% of the state’s population and account for 20 seats in the Nagaland Legislative Assembly. ENPO’s call to abstain from elections echoes a resolution adopted in February by ENPO and tribal organizations in these districts, stipulating non-participation in central and state elections until the demand for Frontier Nagaland Territory is addressed by the Government of India through the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Amidst these developments, the Nagaland Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) issued a show cause notice to ENPO on April 18, expressing concerns over potential undue influence on the election process due to the shutdown in Eastern Nagaland.

In response, ENPO President Tsapikiu Sangtam clarified that the shutdown was a voluntary initiative driven by the people, emphasizing that ENPO operates solely on voluntary participation and consensus among Eastern Nagaland residents.

The demand for autonomy in these six districts gained traction ahead of last year’s Nagaland Legislative Assembly polls, with ENPO passing a resolution in August 2022 to abstain from participating unless the demand for a separate state was met. However, the boycott call was withdrawn just before the state polls following assurances from the Ministry of Home Affairs regarding a potential resolution post-elections.

Subsequent discussions between ENPO and government representatives, including a tripartite meeting involving Nagaland’s government, centered on a proposed ‘Frontier Naga Territory’ within Nagaland with distinct legislative, executive, and financial powers. Nevertheless, ENPO had been advocating for the formalization of this arrangement before the Lok Sabha elections, underlining the significance of the autonomy demand in Nagaland’s political landscape.

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