Thiruvananthapuram: As many as 269 candidates are in the fray in the 20 Lok Sabha constituencies in Kerala where over 2.42 crore voters are expected to head to polling booths Thursday.
Talking to reporters here on Wednesday, Kerala Chief Electoral Officer Nalini Netto has said all arrangements have been made for the smooth functioning of the Lok Sabha polls in the State.
A record number of 27 women candidates, including two each from mainstream parties like Congress, CPI-M and BJP, are among the candidates. Out of the total electorate of 2,42,51,942 in the state, 1,25,70,439 are women.
Last minute preparations are afoot across the state for enabling the voters to exercise their franchise in a peaceful manner. Voting will take place in 21424 polling stations.
The open campaign that ended at 6 p.m on Tuesday had remained peaceful, barring charges and counter charges by rivals in the field.
Though the sound and fury of electioneering subsided, workers of various parties are continuing their squad work and door-to-door canvassing.
Besides national themes like secularism, national security, corruption and inflation, local issues, including the performance of the three-year-old UDF ministry headed by Ommen Chandy figured prominently in the run-up.
Reports from across the state said the contest between UDF and LDF is too close in most seats, making predictions tough.
Apart from purely political factors and organisational might of parties, caste and community factors are also decisive factors in many seats.
The Congress, which was the biggest gainer in 2009 lifting 13 of 17 seats contested, has candidates in 15 seats this time, leaving two seats to key ally IUML and one each to Kerala Congress, Socialist Janata Democratic (SJD) and RSP.
RSP had crossed over to UDF when just a few days were left for the filing of nominations, pulling out of the LDF over denial of a seat to it.
UDF aspirants back in the fray include six Union Ministers - Shashi Tharoor, Kodikunnil Suresh, K C Venugopal, K V Thomas, Mullapally Ramachandran (all Congress) and E Ahamed (IUML).
Sitting MPs of CPI(M) - A Sampath, M B Rajesh, P K Biju and P Karunakaran - are seeking a fresh mandate from the same constituencies that they won in 2009.
High profile UDF contestants include former Union Minister M P Veerendrakumar, battling against Rajesh in the CPI(M) bastion in Palakkad.
Prominent LDF candidates seeking their electoral fortunes include CPI(M) politbureau member and former state minister M A Baby, taking on N K Premachandran of the RSP in Kollam.
LDF has fielded five independents, including veteran cine actor Innocent in Chalakkudi, pitted against Congress heavyweight P C Chacko, who headed the JPC on 2G spectrum allocation.
BJP has put its best hope on former union minister O Rajagopal, who is giving a fight to Shashi Tharoor of Congress and Bennet Abraham of the CPI in Thiruvananthapuram.
Though a persistent loser in Kerala, BJP has entered the fray in all the seats. Top national leaders had raised the battle to a feverish pitch in the final lap. BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and party stalwart L K Advani addressed meetings in northernmost Kasargode and the state capital in down south on the final day, as the party is trying hard to make the 'Lotus' bloom in the state.