Shillong, Feb. 9: Altogether 345 candidates, the highest so far for any Assembly election in Meghalaya, will vie for 60 seats on February 23.
The final figure of 345 candidates, of which 25 are women, was released this evening, after the period of withdrawal of candidature came to a close. In the 2008 elections, there were a total of 338 candidates.
The Meghalaya electorate, consisting of 14,90,015 voters, of whom 7,53,307 are women, will decide the fate of the 345 candidates under 2,485 polling stations in 11 districts. This will be the ninth Assembly election since Meghalaya attained statehood in 1972.
From the 345 candidates, 122 are Independents while the Congress is the only party to have fielded candidates in all the 60 seats.
Hill State People's Democratic Party (HSPDP) chief Hoping Stone Lyngdoh is the oldest candidate in the fray. At 84, Lyngdoh will be seeking re-election for the eighth time from Nongstoin constituency under West Khasi Hills.
Star campaigner: Lok Sabha MP Priya Dutt today said it was the Congress alone, which can provide stability through inclusive growth and development. The Congress parliamentarian from Mumbai was here to campaign for party candidates in some of the constituencies in and around Shillong.
Dutt said, "It is the Congress alone which can provide stability. Although we have seen several ups and downs and various corruption charges in the last few years, one should realise it is the Congress, which really gave power to the people."
Turning her attention to the youth, she said, "A lot of young people are feeling disconnected from politics and politicians. I think that needs to change. They should be part of the political process if they want to bring change in the country. It will eventually be the younger generation which will take over."
She asked the youth to start voting to be part of the political process. "It is the basic right and the first thing the youth must do to bring change."
On the inconspicuous participation of women in electoral politics, she said, "Women constitute 50 per cent of the population and I think it is time we take the rightful step forward, especially in Meghalaya, which is a matrilineal society."
Dutt expressed hope that her party would garner the largest number of seats. She was, however, quick to point out that "elections are very unpredictable as you never really know what exactly happens at the ground level".
"Whatever feedback I have been getting, we are pretty hopeful. There is a young chief minister already in place and I think it would be great if a young person takes this work further," the Lok Sabha MP said.
When pointed out that Meghalaya is infamous for political instability, she shot back, "I think it is people who will bring stability. It is not the government. Once people see the delivery, it is they who will give stability. The focus of the Congress is to deliver and provide stability through development and growth."