Jammu and Kashmir polls next month, parties welcome announcement (Roundup)

October 19th, 2008 - 7:54 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi/Srinagar, Oct 19 (IANS) Finally ending the uncertainty over the poll schedule in Jammu and Kashmir, the Election Commission Sunday announced a seven-phased assembly election for the troubled border state. The polls begin Nov 17, end Dec 24 and counting will be held Dec 28.The decision comes nearly a week after the poll panel announced dates for the five states of Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram and Rajasthan.

Differences reportedly cropped up between Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami and Election Commissioners Navin Chawla and S.Y. Qureshi on the poll preparedness of the state and if sufficient security personnel could be positioned during the election.

The polls will be held in 87 assembly constituencies. Seven of the seats are reserved for Scheduled Castes.

According to the revised electoral rolls, the state has 6,538,111 voters. Voter identity cards have been issued to 68 percent of the electorate and the rest of the electorate has been asked to get their id cards, the poll panel said.

The state has been under governor’s rule since July 11, when the former Congress-led coalition government was toppled and the assembly dissolved after coalition partner Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) withdrew its support to then chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad. The six months of the governor’s rule are to end Jan 10.

The last election to the state assembly was held in 2002 when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was in power in New Delhi. The Congress-PDP coalition won handsomely defeating the National Conference (NC).

The announcement of the much-awaited poll dates was welcomed by most political parties.

NC president Omar Abdullah hailed it saying “any form of democracy was better than the governor’s rule”.

“I am concerned about the voter turnout, especially in cities and towns where it would be less than adequate. But there is no guarantee that the situation would be any better if we had waited up to March or April next year (for the polls),” said Abdullah.

“Yes, a seven-phase poll schedule is unprecedented, but winter elections have been held here in the past as well and there is nothing unusual about that,” he said.

Congress leader and Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz said the party was “fully prepared” for the elections while the BJP vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi felt the poll was staggered but nevertheless welcomed the decision.

Predictably, separatists said they would boycott the election this time as well.

“We don’t have any reason to contest because we think that the issue (of Kashmir’s ‘liberation’) needs to be resolved first,” said Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) leader Yasin Malik.

Security has always been of paramount concern during Jammu and Kashmir elections because of boycott calls by separatists and violence by militants. In 2002, besides the sporadic elections that erupted in many pockets of the state, Mushtaq Ahmad Lone, the former law minister of the state, died in election related violence.

The central government has assured the poll panel of adequate central police forces to ensure free and fair polls and the security of electors and candidates.

Apart from central police forces, armed police from other states will also be requisitioned. The Election Commission will also deploy observers to monitor the poll process.

The 10 assembly constituencies going to polls in Phase-I Nov 17 are: Gurez, Bandipora, Sonawari, Nobra, Leh, Kargil, Zanskar, Surankote, Mendhar, Poonch-Haveli.

The six constituencies going to polls in Phase-II Nov 23 are: Kangan, Ganderbal, Nowshara, Darhal, Rajouri, Kalakote.

The five assembly constituencies going to polls in Phase-III Nov 30 are: Karnah, Kupwara, Lolab, Handwara, Langate.

The 18 constituencies going to polls in Phase-IV Dec 7 are: Uri, Rafiabad, Sopore, Sangrama, Baramulla, Gulmarg, Pattan, Chadoora, Badgam, Beerwah, Khansahib, Chrar-i-Sharief, Gulabgarh, Reasi, Gool Arnas, Udhampur, Chenani SC, Ramnagar.

The 11 constituencies going to polls in Phase-V Dec 13 are: Tral, Pampore, Pulwama, Rajpora, Wachi, Shopian, Bani, Basohli, Kathua, Billawar, Hiranagar SC.

The 16 seats going to polls in Phase-VI Dec 17 are: Noorabad, Kulgam, Home-shalibugh, Anantnag, Devsar, Doru, Kokernag, Shangus, Bijbehara, Pahalgam, Kishtwar, Inderwal, Doda, Bhaderwah, Ramban SC, Banihal.

In the last phase, the 21 constituencies going to polls on Dec 24 are: Hazratbal, Zadibal, Idgah, Khanyar, Habbakada, Amirakadal, Sonawar, Batamaloo, - all in Srinagar; Samba SC, Vijaypur, Nagrota, Gandhinagar, Jammu East, Jammu West, Bishnah, R.S.Pura SC, Suchetgarh, Marh, Raipur Domana SC, Akhnoor, Chhamb SC.

There are 8,109 polling stations in the state, many that are located in far-flung interiors that have been described as “sensitive.”

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