Millions vote in Rajasthan to elect new government (Third Lead)

December 4th, 2008 - 6:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Jaipur, Dec 4 (IANS) Millions voted across India’s largest state Rajasthan Thursday to elect a new 200-seat assembly, with political pundits predicting a close finish.Long queues were reported from most of the 42,212 polling centres throughout the day all over the desert state where the Congress is hoping to end five years of rule by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Nine hours of hectic balloting ended at 5 p.m. Hundreds of thousands of police and paramilitary forces kept a tight vigil during the exercise that was marred by minor incidents of violence.

The Election Commission said the turnout was up to 40 percent till 2 p.m. and was expected to cross 60 percent by end of polling. Rajasthan has 36 million voters.

Rajasthan Governor S.K. Singh had to embarrassingly wait for over 25 minutes as the electronic voting machine at his polling centre in Jaipur developed a snag and had to be changed.

Over 36 million people, including 17.2 million women, were eligible to vote. There are 2,193 candidates, including 154 women.

Thursday’s polling will decide the fate of the BJP government of Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. It will also affect the fortunes of former chief minister and Congress leader Ashok Gehlot, state Congress president C.P. Joshi, Gujjar community leader Prahlad Gunjal and Meena leader Kirori Lal Meena.

The Congress is fighting all 200 seats and the BJP in 193 while a confident Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has fielded candidates in all but one constituency.

The BJP, under Raje’s leadership, is expecting another five-year term in office on the strength of what it says are development projects it carried out.

At present, the BJP has 121 legislators and the Congress 53.

This time the contest seems headed for a nail-biting finish as both major parties are plagued by rebels and factionalism.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati’s BSP is also trying to make a dent. The party won only two seats in 2003. But it increased its vote percentage from 2.17 percent in 1998, when it fought for the first time in the state, to 3.98 percent in 2003.

During the campaign, while the BJP harped on development, the Congress attacked the government over corruption. The BJP made a big issue of what it said was the Congress-led central government’s failure to tackle terrorism, including the terror attack in Mumbai that killed 172 people.

Political analysts are divided over the likely outcome.

“No one party seems extremely popular, so it is difficult to predict. The fight will be close with rebels creating problems for both the BJP and the Congress,” said Vijay Sharma, a political analyst.

The BJP might face more problems than the Congress as two of its leaders - Kirori Lal Meena and Vishwendra Singh - have revolted. While Meena is fighting as an independent from two constituencies, Vishwendra Singh has joined the Congress and is fighting from Deeg-Kumher constituency.

Clashes between supporters of political parties and complaints of sluggish election staff were reported from different parts of the state.

Violence erupted in Mahua, Nathdwara and Toda Bhim. “There were incidents of stone pelting in some other parts of the state”, a police officer said.

However, officials insisted that balloting was not disturbed anywhere and people continued to trickle in at a steady pace at most centres.

At some places the electronic voting machines had to be hurriedly replaced after they broke down.

Over 8,400 polling stations were declared “sensitive” — official euphemism to mean these places could see violence.

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