Sixth round of Kashmir polls ends peacefully with 63 percent vote (Intro Roundup)

December 17th, 2008 - 10:09 pm ICT by IANS  

Srinagar/Jammu, Dec 17 (IANS) The sixth and penultimate round of balloting to pick a new 87-member assembly in Jammu and Kashmir ended peacefully Wednesday with about 63 percent of the electorate turning out to vote despite below freezing point temperature and threats from separatist groups.The Election Commission 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 the Jammu region. Stray protests against the elections were reported in both regions, however.

Chief Electoral Officer B.R. Sharma told reporters in Jammu an estimated 63 percent of the 1.16 million voters cast ballot Wednesday, again defying calls from separatist groups to boycott the polls.

Kashmir Divisional Commissioner Masud Samoon said in Srinagar that the election was “incident-free in the state except for some stray anti-poll protests which were small and insignificant”.

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 during the 2002 assembly elections.

Some noisy anti-election protests broke out in the south Kashmir constituencies of Anantnag and Kulgam, where a remarkable number of voters turned out to exercise their right to ballot. There were also clashes between the supporters of political parties.

The south Kashmir districts were once known as the stronghold of pro-Pakistan Hizbul Mujahideen militant group.

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.

Bhaderwah, from where former chief minister and Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad is seeking re-election, recorded 65 percent polling. Azad faces a competition from National Conference’s Mohammed Aslam Goni and the BJP’s Daya Krishan Kotwal.

Chief Electoral Officer Sharma said the maximum polling percentage was recorded in the Kishtwar constituency of Kishtwar district and the lowest stood at 38 percent in Anantnag constituency, where another former chief minister and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) patron Mufti Muhammad Sayeed is contesting against Mirza Mehboob Beigh, provincial president of the National Conference who is seeking reelection.

The officials said the turnout in Anantnag was “a huge change” over 2002 when only 7.8 percent of the electorate voted.

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

The highest polling percentage in the Kashmir Valley was recorded in Noorabad where 72 percent of electorate voted. PDP leader and former minister Abdul Aziz Zargar faces a serious challenge from Sakina Itoo of the National Conference there.

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 Bhaderwah constituency when a small group of separatists raised anti-eletion slogans. The police dispersed them with canes, injuring a dozen.

Sharma termed 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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