- Bypolls were held on December 5 for 15 Assembly seats
- The outcome of these bypolls are crucial for the ruling BJP
- They must win at least seven seats to claim a majority in the House
The future of Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa's four-month-old BJP government will be decided today as votes from last week's bypolls are counted. The counting of votes began at 8 am. Bypolls were held on December 5 for 15 Assembly seats left vacant by MLAs who resigned in July, triggering the collapse of the Congress-JDS coalition and paving the way for the BJP to come to power. The outcome of these bypolls are crucial for the ruling BJP - they must win at least seven seats to claim a majority in the House, which will have a strength of 224 after the bypolls (two seats are still vacant). The BJP currently has 105 MLAS (106 including the support of an independent candidate) while the Congress has 66 and the JDS 34.
Twelve of the 15 seats were previously held by the Congress and the remaining three by the Janata Dal-Secular (JDS).
Heavy security has been deployed at counting centres and other places around the state. The government has imposed prohibitory orders and clamped down on activities that could disturb law and order.
The election saw former allies Congress and JDS contest separately. Relations between the two, tenuous at best, broke down after their coalition crashed. However, in a move similar to that which the opposition managed in Maharashtra - where the Shiv Sena, the Congress and the NCP formed an unlikely alternative front - the Congress and JDS may unite, like they did after Assembly elections last year - after results are declared if it means keeping the BJP from power in Karnataka.
The BJP has declared itself confident of winning 13 of the 15 seats on offer. Mr Yediyurappa told reporters: "We will complete our term. Even people have the same expectations from us".
For their part the opposition is optimistic that the ruling BJP will be undone by its support of the MLAs who quit their coalition earlier this year in hugely controversial circumstances.
After a dramatic stand-off that included a showdown at a Mumbai hotel, the MLAs who quit were disqualified by then-Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar and barred from elections till 2023. However, the Supreme Court, while upholding the disqualification, said they could contest.
The Congress's campaign slogan - Defeat The Disqualified - reflected that sentiment. The BJP has fielded 13 of the MLAs who quit, with the Chief Minister describing them as "future ministers".
Should the BJP fail to win the required number of seats, Karnataka could be in for a fresh bout of political drama, particularly if the Congress and the JDS come together once more.
If the BJP does secure a majority then Mr Yediyurappa faces a difficult challenge - to keep his pre-poll promise he will need to accommodate MLAs who won their seats after quitting the Congress-JDS. Many party workers and leaders were unhappy at the decision to field the rebels. Some joined other parties and the son of a sitting BJP MP contested as an independent.
Meanwhile, these bypolls are also crucial for Karnataka Congress Legislature Party leader Siddaramaiah, who faces a possible rebellion in his ranks.
The JDS - the third party in the political picture - believes it will play kingmaker if the BJP falls short of a majority.