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 ...

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