Heavy security in Manipur ahead of polls
600,000 voters would decide the fate of 77 candidates in the insurgency-hit districts of Thoubal, Ukhrul, and Senapati.Updated: Feb 07, 2007, 11:54 IST
The stage is set for the first of the three-phased assembly elections in Manipur on Thursday with hundreds of police and paramilitary troopers taking vantage positions to thwart moves by separatist guerrillas to disrupt polling.
Close to 600,000 voters would decide the fate of 77 candidates in 19 assembly constituencies in the insurgency ravaged districts of Thoubal, Ukhrul, and Senapati.
"Everything is in place for the first phase of polling on Thursday," Manipur's chief electoral officer RR Rashmi said.
Security forces have fanned out across the three districts - a known bastion of several of Manipur's 19-odd rebel armies.
"All the sensitive and hyper-sensitive polling stations have been identified and accordingly we have deployed police and paramilitary personnel for providing foolproof security," a senior police official said.
Thursday's vote would decide the fate of several prominent leaders, including Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh, Speaker Manir Udin Sheikh and former finance minister Chungkhokai Doungel.
The chief minister is contesting from two constituencies - Thoubal and neighbouring Khangabok. Senior Manipur People's Party (MPP) leader L Tomba Singh is pitted against Singh in Thoubal.
The battle lines are drawn with the ruling Congress party taking on regional challengers, the MPP, with the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958, dominating the agendas of all political parties.
The AFPSA, an anti-terror law that provides sweeping powers to the security forces deployed in the region, is the focal point in the electioneering - almost all the opposition parties have been demanding its repeal saying the "draconian legislation" was a slur on democracy as it infringed on basic human rights of the people in Manipur.
"Barring the Congress that has no mention of repealing the Act in their manifesto, all the other parties are harping on removing the legislation if voted to power. The Armed Forces Act is definitely the focal point in this election," Pradip Phanjoubam, editor of the Imphal Free Press, a mass circulation English daily, told IANS.
While the Congress is banking on stability and development and seeking solace in the fact that their party is ruling New Delhi, the main opposition MPP is hoping to cash in on a surge of regionalism sweeping the state, bordering Myanmar.
Not to be left behind is the United Naga Council (UNC), a newly floated front that supports integration of all Naga inhabited areas in Manipur with Greater Nagaland, a concept mooted by the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland.
The two districts of Senapati and Ukhrul are dominated by Naga tribal people with the UNC believed to be having considerable clout among the voters.
In the second phase February 14, polling would take place in 29 constituencies, and the remaining 12 seats would go to the polls February 23. Counting of votes begins February 27.