Sixth round of Kashmir polling ends — 63 percent vote (Roundup)

December 17th, 2008 - 8:34 pm ICT by IANS  

Srinagar/Jammu, Dec 17 (IANS) The sixth and penultimate round of balloting to pick a new assembly in Jammu and Kashmir ended peacefully Wednesday with about 63 percent of the electorate turning out to vote despite winter chill and threats from separatist groups.The authorities said the 10-hour exercise went off without trouble in Anantnag and Kulgam districts in the Kashmir Valley and in the districts of Ramban, Doda and Kishtwar in Jammu region. Stray protests against the elections were reported in both regions, however.

Election Commission officials said an estimated 63 percent of the 1.16 million voters voted Wednesday, again defying calls from separatist groups to boycott the polls.

Kashmir Divisional Commissioner Masud Samoon told reporters in Srinagar that the election was “peaceful” in the Kashmir Valley “except for stray incidents” in Anantnag.

Long queues of enthusiastic voters were seen in most towns across the Jammu region. Although the region is Hindu dominated, even Muslim majority areas saw brisk voting, with women in burqa crowding the polling centres in Doda, Kishtwar and Banihal.

A total of 65 percent voted in Jammu region, at least five percent more than the assembly elections in 2002. The overall percentage for the state was put at 63 percent.

Some noisy anti-election protests broke out in the south Kashmir constituencies of Anantnag and Kulgam. There were also clashes between the supporters of political parties.

Although the areas that went to the polls Wednesday received nightlong rains and were reeling under bitter winter chill, voting picked up quickly by midday after starting on a dull note.

In Anantnag, former chief minister and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) patron Mufti Muhammad Sayeed is contesting against Mirza Mehboob Beigh, state president of the National Conference who is seeking reelection.

Anantnag saw only 38 percent polling. But officials said this was “a huge change” over 2002 when only 7.8 percent of the electorate voted.

In Dooru, where former Congress minister Ghulam Ahmad Mir is seeking re-election, there was brisk polling throughout the day.

The highest polling percentage of 72 percent was recorded in Noorabad.

PDP leader and former minister Abdul Aziz Zargar faces a serious challenge from Sakina Itoo of the National Conference in Noorabad.

Anti-election protesters took to the streets in some localities of the Anantnag constituency but were quickly chased away by the security forces.

The authorities imposed restrictions in Srinagar to prevent anti-election protests but in contrast to the previous occasions these were far less stringent.

There was also an attempt to disrupt polling in Jammu region’s Bhaderwah constituency — where former Congress chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad is favoured to win — when a small group of separatists raised anti-eletion slogans. The police dispersed them with canes, injuring a dozen.

Chief Electoral Officer B.R. Sharma term this as an aberration. “Overall, the polling in all 16 constituencies in the state passed off peacefully.”

The chances of the PDP staking claim to power in the state or seeking an alliance with other political parties largely depend on its performance in the south Kashmir elections.

Jammu and Kashmir’s staggered elections began Nov 17, and every round has seen heavy turnout of voters, surprising most Kashmir watchers. The final phase of the polling is due Dec 24, and all the votes will be counted Dec 28.

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