The Election Commission on Sunday announced a seven-phase poll schedule for Jammu and Kashmir that could see a new government in place before the first round of the Governor’s rule ends in early January.
The decision comes days after the three election commissioners — divided over the timing of the polls — were able to bridge their differences, largely after the National Conference signalled it was ready to go to polls.
The NC and the the People’s Democratic Party were earlier opposed to early polls. The Congress and the BJP have welcomed the poll announcement. Poll time in J&K. |
“Earlier the two parties were opposed to the polls and one was neither saying ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Now, one party is saying yes, one is saying no and third is neither in favour or against. We think in such a situation elections can be held,” Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami said.
Voting for the first phase will begin on November 17, amid boycott calls from separatist groups like the Hurriyat Conference, and end with the seventh phase on December 24. The results would come on December 28 and the election process end on December 31, almost a week before the Governor's rule ends on January 10.
Gopalaswami said the poll schedule was stretched over seven phases in view of the availability of central security forces. The Union home ministry had promised to spare 600 companies of paramilitary forces for the state.
This is the first time that elections to the 87-member J&K assembly have been split in seven phases. “Elections to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have, however, been held over seven phases,” an EC official said.
“The voter turnout will depend on how political parties mobilise voters and how the election process goes on,” Gopalaswami said. There are calls for election boycott by the separatists.
In 2002, the voter turnout was 44 per cent, with 29 per cent polling in the Kashmir Valley.
High altitude constituencies in Kargil and Leh would be the first ones to go to polls, hopefully before heavy snowfall and a sub-zero temperature makes the polling stations inaccessible. Poll Schedule.
With the winter setting in, the weather remains an area of concern for the commission. “Weather can pose come problems,” an EC official admitted.
Last year, a thick blanket of snow covered the higher reaches of the Valley and Ladakh by early November; the Dal Lake was frozen before November-end. Leh would be cut off from the rest of the Valley by November 15, complained Prof Bhim Singh of the Panthers Party, accusing government officials of misleading the commission on the weather conditions.
The EC official, however, was optimistic that the weather would not come in the way since the harsh winter has not stopped normal business in the state.
The Home Ministry has also assured to provide 600 companies of paramilitary forces for the state and intelligence agencies have reported that infiltration has fallen by 60 per cent over the last few months.