Meghalaya is famous for its matrilineal traditions among the major tribes but the outside world often misinterprets this as meaning that women hold the power.
That is far from the case in politics, where there are just four female MLAs in the outgoing Assembly. That has pretty much been the standard for the state in recent years, though the 2018-23 period saw a regression in one aspect – there was not a single female cabinet minister in the Meghalaya Democratic Alliance government.
So, will Monday’s election change that?
Only 10 percent of the 369 candidates across the 59 constituencies going to the polls (Sohiong’s vote has been postponed after the death of a candidate) are women.
Twenty-four seats have at least one woman candidate but that means that there are 35 without even one. Nongpoh in Ri-Bhoi has the most, with three of the six runners being women.
Of the 36 women running, 75 percent, or 27, are in Khasi-Jaintia Hills, with only a mere seven in Garo Hills. Nearly half (17 of 36) of the seats in Khasi-Jaintia Hills have at least one female candidate but this drops to only seven of the 24 in Garo Hills.
However, of the four female incumbents, three are from Garo Hills and only one – East Shillong’s M Ampareen Lyngdoh – is from Khasi-Jaintia Hills.
All four incumbents are vying to be returned by their constituents who have to get used to their new colours since the last time they were elected.
Ampareen won in 2018 on a Congress Party ticket but is now in the National People’s Party (NPP) camp.
Selsella’s Ferlin CA Sangma won through the NPP in a 2019 by-election (brought about by the death of her predecessor) but was deselected by the party this time and is now contesting under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The mother-daughter duo of Dikkanchi D Shira in Mahendraganj and Miani D Shira in Ampati are now in the Trinamool Congress (TMC) after leaving the Congress in 2021.
Other big names in the running are Sadhiarani M Sangma of the TMC in Gambegre (she is the wife of sitting Rangsakona MLA Zenith Sangma) and former cabinet minister Deborah Marak of the Congress in Williamnagar. A new entrant is Dr Jasmine Lyngdoh of the NPP in Nongthymmai – she is Ampareen’s sister and the daughter and sister of two late politicians and thus has tremendous name recognition.
Meghalaya’s female voters outnumber their male counterparts 10,92,396 to 10,68,801 but have long been underrepresented in the Assembly. The question is whether this will change at all in 2023.
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