Month-long polling ends with 63 percent voting in Kashmir

December 24th, 2008 - 10:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Srinagar, Dec 24 (IANS) The staggered Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly elections concluded peacefully Wednesday with marginally high turnout despite Muslim separatists’ boycott call.The overall voting percentage in the state in the seven phases of voting was 63, poll officials calculated.

Of more than 4.8 million eligible voters, over three million voters cast their ballot, the officials said.

Despite sporadic incidents of violence during the more than one-month-long exercise, the conduct of polls was by and large peaceful in the troubled state, wrought by years of separatist violence since 1989.

The region saw a relative peace during the last six years. But the separatist sentiment was re-infused early this year after mass protests over the bitter Amarnath land row during which some 50 people were killed, mostly in the police and paramilitary firing.

The dispute also led to the fall of the Congress-led coalition government. And conducting polls to pick a new 87-member assembly at a time when separatist movement had almost got revived was held as “suicidal”, with observers predicting low turnout, particularly in the Muslim dominated Kashmir Valley.

However surprising many, the voter percentage in the state has been over 60 percent.

The first phase held Nov 17 saw 64 percent of electorate exercising their franchise. The polling in 10 constituencies in the Muslim dominated Kashmir Valley, the Hindu majority Jammu region and the mainly Buddhist Ladakh proved a turning point for other parts of the region vying for peace and development.

The second round Nov 23 saw even a higher turnout. It was 65 percent in two constituencies of the Kashmir Valley and four in the Jammu region.

In a state that has so often resounded with cries of “freedom”, the sentiment during the elections, analysts say, was one of longing for better quality of life.

“Issues of road connectivity, schools, water and electricity drew voters to the ballot box,” said Bashir Manzar, editor of an English daily here.

The third phase recorded a voting of 62 percent in the five constituencies, which went to polls Nov 30. Fifty-five percent of the electorate voted Dec 7 in the fourth phase of the elections.

The fifth phase Dec 13, which saw some violence and the killing of an anti-poll protester, witnessed 59 percent of the electorate participating in the exercise.

The sixth and penultimate round of balloting Dec 17 ended peacefully with about 63 percent of the electorate turning out to vote.

And in the last phase of elections Wednesday, the people in Jammu and Kashmir again defied Muslim separatists’ boycott call and turned out in large numbers even in Srinagar - the urban hub of the secessionist movement.

At least 52 percent voting was recorded in 21 constituencies that went to polls in the last crucial round of balloting.

The summer capital Srinagar recorded its highest voting percentage of 20 in the last 19 years, officials said.

No Srinagar constituency had recorded even 10 percent voting in any election since 1989 when the separatist campaign began. But the story Wednesday was an absolute contrast.

A voter outside a polling booth in Srinagar summarised the mood for change among thousands of enthusiastic voters.

“I am voting for the first time and my need is a government job. I have no other consideration and I hope my vote helps the candidate who gets me a job after winning the elections,” said Showkat Ahmad, 18. He was standing in a queue outside the Dhobighat polling booth in Hazratbal, Srinagar.

The voting was overshadowed by heightened tension between India and Pakistan after last month’s Mumbai attacks.

But that didn’t deter people from expressing their longing for peace and confidence in democratic process, said Governor N.N. Vohra on the “successful” conclusion of the exercise.

In the border areas of the region as well, people came out in large numbers to vote for “peace” at the time of escalation of tension between two nuclear-armed neighbours.

“We do want strong action against terrorists, but that should not be at our cost,” Ujjagar Singh, a resident of the border village of Satrian, told IANS.

The election results will be declared Dec 28. The main contest is between the National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

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