First phase vote percentage sets tone for panchayat polls

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by: Shams Irfan

In a turn of events Kashmir witnessed brisk polling during the first phase of Panchayat elections – 2018, as 64.50 percent votes were cast in six poll bound districts of valley on Saturday. This time it was five blocks in Kupwara that took the lead and helped Kashmir improve its final poll percentage in the first phase of elections.

According to official data 70 percent votes were cast in Kupwara at the end of the polling day. After Kupwara, it was Baramulla’s five blocks that saw massive voting as final percentage was 69.10, followed by Bandipora where 56.20 percent votes were cast. However in Budgam (30.14 percent) and Srinagar (21.80 percent) the poll percent was relatively modest, given the overall situation.

Paramilitary troopers stand guard outside a polling station Balahama on Srinagar outskirts on November 17, 2018
KL image by Bilal Bahadur

Amid near complete shutdown across Kashmir valley the first phase of Panchayat Elections 2018, took place in 47 blocks (16 in Kashmir, 21 in Jammu and 10 in Ladakh) of Panchayti halqas in fifteen districts of Jammu and Kashmir.

All business establishments in Srinagar and other parts of Kashmir valley were shut to protest against Panchayat elections. Interestingly, two main regional political parties, National Conference (NC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are out of polls fray, boycotting the process to safeguard Kashmir’s special status and Article 35 (A). With NC and PDP out of the contest, it is Congress and BJP who are in the fighting it out in Kashmir valley.

However, despite boycott call, the first of the nine phase election saw relatively higher participation of voters compared to last month’s Urban Local Bodies (ULB) elections.

Policemen frisk voters as they arrive at a polling station during the first phase of Panchayat polls at Gund, north of Srinagar, on November 17, 2018. KL image by Bilal Bahadur

According to official data, in the first phase of the Panchayat polls 427 candidates are in the fray for 536 Sarpanch Halqas and 5,951 candidates for 4,048 Panch wards.

Till 11 am, after the voting started at 8 am, around 33 percent votes were cast in five blocks of Kupwara including Keran, Teetwal and Tangdar. By 2 pm, the frontier district of Kupwara saw massive turnout of voters as 66.46 percentage votes were cast in the five blocks that went to polls today. This was the highest percent in Kashmir.

In Khanmoh area of Srinagar, around 21 percent votes were cast as out of 1555 registered voters in Balhama village, 339 cast their votes till 2 pm today. Interestingly, during last month’s ULB elections Srinagar saw less than five percent of polling.

Security Measures

Paramilitary troopers stand guard outside a polling station Balahama on Srinagar outskirts on November 17,  2018. KL image by Bilal Bahadur

In order to ensure event free elections, security has been tightened across Kashmir valley as mobile bunkers and check-points were erected on all major entry and exit points in poll bound areas. A large contingent of police and CRPF personnels were deployed at Panth Chowk area on city outskirts to check the movement of vehicles entering Srinagar. Also, the speed of mobile internet services were curtailed to 2G in poll bound districts of Budgam, Baramulla and Bandipora districts, while the data service was completely blocked in Kupwara district.

In view of Joint Resistance Leadership’s (JRL) shutdown call against Panchayat elections train service on Budgam-Srinagar-Islamabad-Qazigund in south Kashmir to Banihal in Jammu region routes was suspended by the authorities.

Accusations

Yawar Hussain Rather, a resident of Jaibal village in Dooru, Islamabad, told reporters that a few days back a local boy came to his house and asked him for his election card and adhaar card, promising him work under NAREGA. “I gave him my cards thinking I will get a job card soon,” Rather told reporters. A few days later, to Rather’s surprise his name was listed among BJP’s candidates for Panchayat elections. “I almost froze when I learned about my candidature,” he told media.

Another youth named Farooq Ahmad Dar, also a resident of Jaibal village, told reporters that he too has been duped by a local boy who promised him work under NAREGA and took his adhar and voter identification cards. “I too came to know that I am contesting Panchayat elections on a BJP ticket,” said Dar. “I am not contesting elections.”

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