It is a clear edge for the UDF Independent candidate in the just-concluded Pala by-election, according to the exit poll conducted by regional TV channel Asianet News immediately after the election on Monday.
Counting will be on September 28, exactly a year after the Supreme Court verdict allowing young women to worship at Sabarimala.
A Kerala Congress stronghold held by party founder late KM Mani since 1965 till his death in April 2019, Pala cannot expect a change this time, according to exit poll survey jointly conducted by Asianet and AZ Research Partners.
UDF candidate Jose Tom denied a party symbol as a result of bickering in the party is expected to win with 48 per cent votes. LDF candidate Mani C Kappan will be in second place with 32 per cent votes. BJP candidate N Hari is expected to muster just 19 per cent votes.
The survey says UDF is expected to increase its votes from 46 per cent in 2016 when the LDF will see a decline of 7 per cent votes.
The election caused by sitting MLA Mani's death was seen as an opportunity for the LDF to take advantage of the schism in the Kerala Congress. Mani, hit by the bar scam, had scraped through in 2016 with a low margin of just over 4,000 votes.
This perhaps forced Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who addressed at least nine rallies in Pala, to say that it would be a verdict on the Government performance.
While the Sabarimala young women entry issue had subsided and the CPIM had hinted at a sort of relook at how the verdict could be implemented, Pinarayi raked up the issue during the campaign saying his Government had not changed its stance. This surely would not have gone well with the Hindu community that accounts for a share of over 50 per cent voters in Pala.
However, like during the recent Lok Sabha election where the BJP failed to cash in on the Sabarimala sentiments and voters turned to the UDF, the situation is unlikely to be different this time.
Also, the expectation of the flag of rebellion raised by Kerala Congress (M) working chairman PJ Joseph and his group would turn in favour of the LDF, appeared far-fetched as the Joseph group does not have a strong presence in Pala.
The LDF Government performance too was not reason enough for indecisive voters to vote for Kappen. As an LDF activist said, the performance has been such as to seek a vote in favour of the UDF. Worse still, a defeat in Pala could dim the Left Democratic Front's prospects in the next five by-elections next month.