Aizawl, Mizoram, India., Dec. 3 - The ruling Mizo National Front (MNF) pulled off a dramatic last minute finish Monday and is all set to form the government for a second consecutive term in the northeastern state of Mizoram.
Of the 37 results declared, the MNF won 20 seats and the opposition Congress won 12.
Smaller regional parties like the Mizo People's Conference (MPC) and the Zoram Nationalist Party (ZNP) won two seats each, while the Mara Democratic Front (MDF) managed to win one seat.
Counting of votes began Tuesday morning in 39 of the 40 assembly constituencies in which elections were held on November 20. The Election Commission is yet to take a decision on when counting would begin in the Suangpuilawn constituency in eastern Mizoram where no voters turned up in one polling booth.
Three candidates in the constituency were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen on poll eve and were released on polling day, sparking off protests that led to the boycott of the elections.
Political experts were surprised by the late swing in favour of the MNF and so was the ruling party, with many of its top leaders till Tuesday afternoon talking of a hung assembly and working out strategies to woo smaller parties in the event of a fractured mandate.
"Frankly I am surprised to see my party winning comfortably. It is a victory for peace and development and we thank the people of Mizoram for reposing faith in the MNF once again," said Chief Minister Zoramthanga.
"We hope some other regional parties would support our government and we assure to provide another five years of stable and transparent government in the state."
The Congress accepted defeat and said it would play the role of a constructive opposition.
"We accept the verdict of the people and would remain in the opposition," former chief minister and Congress leader Lalthanhawla said.
"We just could not cope with the money power of the MNF-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine. I am surprised to see many of the traditional Congress seats going to the MNF."
The BJP had put up candidates in eight constituencies during the polls but the party was yet to open its account.
The Congress, however, improved on its 1998 performance, when it had won just six seats. The MNF had then won 21 seats while its ally, the Mizo People's Conference, won 12 seats. The two had since parted ways.
The MNF, a former tribal separatist group, entered Mizoram's politics in 1986 after coming over ground following a peace accord with New Delhi to end more than 20 years of violent insurgency in the region.
Zoramthanga, the rebels' former second-in-command, became chief minister in 1998. Zoramthanga was considered as one of the best sharpshooters during his underground days with his colleagues saying he never missed a target.
The Congress's attempt at staging a comeback was stunted with the party embroiled in a series of corruption charges levelled against Lalthanhawla on the eve of the polls.
"The Congress suffered because of the corruption-tainted image of Lalthanhawla. People in Mizoram were guided by the diktats of the powerful church that asked voters not to elect corrupt candidates and those not having a clean image," said a senior Congress leader who did not wish to be identified.
Mizoram, wedged between Myanmar and Bangladesh, is predominantly Christian with 95 percent of its total population of 900,000 being followers of Christianity.
An impressive 78 percent of Mizoram's 532,462 voters cast their ballots in the elections.