Braving morning chill and defying separatists' poll boycott call, an estimated 8.42 per cent of over 8.38 lakh electorate on Saturday voted in the first few hours in 11 constituencies in the fifth round of assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir.
Kathua and Hiranagar constituencies in Jammu recorded the highest turnout with 14 per cent voting, while Wachi in Shopian district recorded the lowest of 0.5 per cent till 10 am, official sources said.
However, Rajpora in Pulwama district recorded the highest of 13 per cent polling followed by Bani (11), Basohli and Shopian (10 each), Bilawar (9), Pulwama (5), Tral (4), Pampore (2.2).
Poor voter turnout in the six constituencies of militancy-infested Pulwama and Shopian districts is not alarming as the six constituencies recorded as low as 23.68 per cent polling in 2002 elections with Tral recording (11.54), Pampore (19.16), Pulwama (18.13), Rajpora (36.71), Wachi (28.28) and Shopian (26.90).
However, five constituencies of Kathua district recorded 61.19 per cent voting in 2002 with Bani (67.62), Basohli (63.14), Kathua (56.98), Bilawar (63.80) and Hiranagar (60.11).
In the first four rounds of elections this year held for 39 assembly seats on November 17, 23 and 30 and December 7, a voter turnout of 69 per cent, 68.29 per cent, 68.22 per cent and 59.33 per cent was recorded.
With Saturday's polling, elections will be completed in 50 of the 87 assembly constituencies. The remaining 37 seats will go to polls in the sixth (16) and seventh (21) rounds on December 17 and 24.
Polling is underway in Tral, Pampore, Pulwama, Shopian, Rajpora, Wachi, Bani, Bilawar, Basohli, Kathua and Hiranagar with 5770 polling staff and 200 companies of security personnel manning 1154 polling booths of which 626 polling booths have been identified as "sensitive", 386 as "hypersensitive" and 142 as normal.
Security was further beefed up following intelligence inputs with the authorities that militants might target contesting candidates.
"We have inputs that militants might sneak into polling areas in the guise of photo journalists and use weapons disguised as cameras to target contesting candidates," official sources said.
Prominent among those in fray is Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti and former ministers Ghulam Hassan Khan, Syed Bashir Ahmad and Mohammad Khalil Bandh.
As many as 200 companies of security forces besides local police have been deployed at the polling booths spread over Pulwama, Shopian and Kathua districts to instill confidence among an electorate of over 8.38 lakh voters, they said.
With a record number of 179 candidates, including five women nominees and 58 independents in fray, the fight for the 11 seats is a multi-cornered contest. Against this, only 97 candidates were in fray in these 11 constituencies in 2002 assembly elections.
Militancy-infested Shopian and Tral segments have the maximum number of 21 candidates each followed by 20 in Kathua and 19 each in Pulwama and Wachhi.
Five women contestants in fray are PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, Aisha Nishat, Gulshan Parveen, Kanta Andotra and Rano Devi.
Mehbooba, who won the last assembly election from Pahalgam seat before being elected to Lok Sabha, is contesting from Wachhi seat this time.
Although there are 18 other candidates in the fray from Wacchi constituency, NC candidate Showkat Hussain Ganai and ex-MLA Khalil Naik of CPI(M) can pose a serious challenge for the PDP president.
Lok Sabha MP and Congress leader Lal Singh is contesting from Kathua assembly segment where he is facing 19 other candidates including ex-MLA Jatinder Singh alias Babu Singh. His wife and an ex-MLA Kanta Andotra is contesting from Basohli seat.
Former ministers and PDP leaders Khalil Bandh and Syed Bashir Ahmad contesting from Pulwama and Rajpora segments respectively are seeking re-election.
In Shopian segment ex-MLA Ghulam Hassan Khan is contesting as an independent after he was denied ticket by the PDP.
Shabir Ahmad Kulley of NC, Sheikh Mohammad Rafi of Awami National Conference, Mohammad Shafi of Congress, Mohammad Abdullah Wani of CPI(M), Abdul Razaq Wagay of PDP are also vying to enter the assembly.
More than 8.38 lakh electorate, including 4.01 lakh female voters, are expected to exercise their franchise on Saturday.
There are over 2.93 lakh voters in Pulwama district, over 1.39 lakh in Shopian and over 4.06 lakh in Kathua.