This summer's general elections to constitute the 16th Lok Sabha are likely to be a five-to-six-phase affair starting from the second week of April and ending by mid-May. Maoist-hit areas and some of the warmer states are expected to go to polls first.
Election Commission (EC) officials said they were looking at adding one more phase this time to enable adequate security arrangements in the districts affected by Left-wing extremism, Kashmir and the northeast. If that happens, it would be longest-ever Lok Sabha polls.
The much-awaited announcement for the high-voltage elections and assembly polls in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim would be made in the middle of this week, EC sources said, adding that the poll watchdog would firm up the schedule in the next couple of days.
"The elections can be announced anytime after the Prime Minister returns from Myanmar on Tuesday," an EC source said. PM Manmohan Singh will leave for Myanmar on Monday to attend a summit of Bay of Bengal regional countries. Normally, the elections are not announced when Prime Minister is not in the country.
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With the election announcement, the code of conduct for parties and governments – Centre and states — will come into force. Once the code sets in, the commission can transfer officials and prohibit the governments from making any announcement.
The commission, which has completed consultations with the home ministry as well as security and electoral officers, would probably like to commence polls from around April 10 in some Maoist-hit and warmer states.
The voting process for 814 million voters — 97 million more than 2009 —would end by mid-May as the EC wants to avoid peak summer heat. The counting of the votes would happen before May 20 so that the 543-member Lok Sabha can be constituted before June 1, EC sources said.
In 2009, the five-phase polling that started from mid-April ended on May 13 and votes were counted on May 16.
Changes in the probable schedule was not ruled out as weather, harvest season and availability of personnel would play an important role in final decision by the three elections commissioners in the next few days.
"Dates can be altered a bit, but there is a little possibility in advancing the polls as there are Supreme Court rulings on election scheduling," an EC official added.
EC officials also ruled out separate elections for Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, saying a schedule for the 294-member assembly of Andhra Pradesh, whose bifurcation was notified on Saturday, would be declared.
In addition, elections for 147-member Odisha and 32-member Sikkim state assemblies will also be held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha polls.
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Half of the 110 million personnel (1.1 crore) to be deployed for elections would be securitymen to ensure free and fair polls at over 8 lakh polling stations, an increase of about 10 % as compared with that in the 2009 polls.
For the first time in general elections, the voters will have the choice to reject all candidates in fray by pressing 'none of the above' (NOTA) button on the electronic voting machines (EVMs).
The EC will also experiment with verifiable paper trail system with EVMs in about 10,000 polling booths. In all, about 1.5 million EVMs will be used across India.