Imphal, Jan 27 (IANS): A total of 279 candidates, including 14 women, are in the fray for Saturday's polls to the 60-member assembly in Manipur, battling debilitating blockades and dragging insurgency.
A total of 1.7 million people are eligible to vote in 2,357 polling booths in the state. For most, the biggest issues are shutdowns, with an over 120-day blockade last year having created huge hardships.
While the ruling Congress is trying hard to make it to a third consecutive term, opposition parties have formed a five-party alliance to prevent the ruling party from making it a hat-trick.
Five parties -- Manipur People's Party (MPP), Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Nationalist Congress Party, the Janata Dal-United and the Communist Party of India-Marxist -- have forged the People's Democratic Front (PDF).
MPP has also reached an understanding on seats with the Bharatiya Janata Party in constituencies where its partners are not contesting. The Communist Party of India and the Trinamool Congress have decided to go it alone.
Campaigning for the polls ended Thursday evening.
Although confident of a third time victory, the ruling Congress is worried over the "ban" clamped on it by seven major militant outfits.
The militants have also launched a series of grenade and bomb attacks on Congress candidates, leaders and supporters.
The weakness of the opposition parties is evident from the fact that they cannot take on the Congress singlehandedly.
Chief Minister Okram Ibibi Singh is the biggest plus point for the Congress, having changed the politics of Manipur by bringing stability to it.
In 2007, Ibobi Singh became the first chief minister in the state to complete a five-year term in office.
However, there are minus points too. Both terms of Ibobi Singh were marked by widespread protests against the government over the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) after the alleged rape and killing of a woman, Manorama Devi, by Assam Rifles personnel in 2004.
The second term of the Ibobi government also saw allegations of extra-judicial killings by police - the most significant of them being the killing of a reformed militant and a pregnant woman in a staged shootout in the crowded Imphal market in July 2009.
However, the chief minister scored when he prevented National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN)-IM leader Thuingaleng Muivah from entering Manipur in May 2010. People hailed him then as the only leader who could challenge the NSCN-IM, which threatened Manipur's territorial integrity.
Congress leader N. Biren Singh said: "Ibobi Singh is the most powerful leader Manipur has ever produced. He is the one who can and did take the problems of Manipur to Delhi and force the centre to listen to him. Our government has solved all problems although a 100 percent solution is yet to be reached.
However, the opposition in not impressed and is hoping to cash in on the anger of people over the 120-day blockade which created a huge shortage of basic commodities and sent prices sprialling.
Another factor that marks the Manipur elections this time is the entry of the Naga People's Front (NPF) - Nagaland's ruling party - into electoral politics in Manipur. The party has fielded candidates in 12 constituencies that include 11 Naga-dominated constituencies in the hill districts of Senapati, Tamenglong, Ukhrul and Chandel.