A prominent Orthodox priest in the southern Indian state of Kerala has failed in his bid to be elected to the state legislative assembly.

Father Mathai Nooranal's electoral campaign annoyed some Christians because he had the support of the state's Communist-led ruling coalition in the election held on May 10. The coalition lost the election.

The priest stood as an "independent" candidate in the constituency of Sultan Bathery in north Kerala, supported by the Communist-led Left Democratic Front (LDF).

Nooranal, who is well known in the region for his social service, gained 45,000 votes, compared to 68,000 votes for N. D. Appachan, a Catholic layman and Congress party leader.

Appachan had been nominated by the opposition United Democratic Front, led by the Congress party. The UDF won 100 seats in Kerala's legislative assembly, while the Communist coalition won only 40, the worst result in Kerala's history. It had 80 seats in the outgoing assembly. Commentators attributed the poor showing to a strong reaction against the incumbent state government.

With a population of 32 million people, almost 20 percent of them Christian, Kerala is divided into 140 constituencies. Christians, 10,000 of them Orthodox, account for more than a third of the 150,000 eligible voters in the Bathery constituency.

"I accept the verdict. People have given their mandate," Nooranal said at his residence at St. Mary's Cathedral in Bathery where he has been vicar since 1951.

A senior Catholic priest in Bathery, who asked not to be named, said Nooranal's defeat showed that "the people do not want priests to enter politics." He added that the "atheist" support for Nooranal had been "strongly disapproved by the people. It seems even Orthodox Christians have not voted for him."

Nooranal is one of three trustees of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, which has up to two million members in India. His church supported his election bid. But soon after the Communist leaders announced their support for Nooranal late March, a lay group within his church, the Malankara Orthodox Almaya Association, organized a press conference to condemn his election bid.

However, Nooranal said the association "had no influence" in Bathery or in his defeat.

A spokesperson for the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, declined to comment on Nooranal's defeat.

Related Elsewhere

Prior to the election, The Times of India reported that Kerala Marxists were fielding a priest to harvest votes.

The Times of India followed up post-election with a run-down of results.

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Christianity Today first covered Nooranal's candidacy in April.

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