Peaceful polling in Assam

Rains and the cricket ODI in Goa played spoilsport resulting in low turnout in first phase of elections. Assembly polls in pics

india Updated: Apr 03, 2006 18:16 IST

An estimated 55 per cent of the 92 lakh electorate on Monday voted in the first phase of assembly elections in Assam in which balloting was held in 65 of the total of 126 constituencies.

Access to polling stations were barred at 4 pm. But the voters who had entered earlier were allowed to vote to cast their votes, the election office said.

Though rains kept the electorate away during the first half of the day, women and youths particularly, came out later in large numbers to participate in the democratic process that would decide the fate of Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi among others.

Unlike the earlier polls which had been marred by militants violence despite voter turnout of over 75 per cent, Assam this time was peaceful with people coming out to vote without fear.

Both banned ULFA and NDFB decided to keep away from the election. ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa has instead asked the people to vote for the party which would raise the issue of Assam's "sovereignty".

ULFA 'commander-in-chief' Paresh Barua's octogenarian mother Miliki Barua also cast her vote.

Who's in the fray?

The first stage of elections will decide the fate of 515 candidates, including 38 women contestants.

Algapur constituency in southern Assam has the highest number of 25 candidates in the fray.

The Titabor constituency in eastern Assam from where Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi is contesting has the lowest number of candidates, with four contestants in the running.

"I am confident of the Congress party winning the polls," Gogoi who is seeking re-election said.

The battle lines are drawn with the Congress party taking on the main opposition Asom Gana Parishadthat is fighting the polls on the issue of illegal immigration into the state from Bangladesh. Congress currently holds 71 of the 126 assembly seats.

Malfunctioning EVMs

Reports of malfunctioning electronic voting machines (EVMs), used for the first time in the state assembly polls, were also received from some constituencies delaying voting.

Election office sources said there was an Election Commission guideline that polling could be delayed up to two hours due to faulty EVMs and the time taken to replace them.

No extra time would be given at the closing time of 4 pm, they said.

Tight security arrangements

Although there are no threats from any rebel groups in this otherwise insurgency-hit region, the authorities have deployed nearly 50,000 police and paramilitary troopers for the polls.

Besides the police and paramilitary forces already in the state, 300 additional companies of central forces have been deployed at polling booths in Assam to ensure peaceful, free and fair polls.

Of the polling stations in the first phase, 1,797 polling booths have been identified as very "sensitive" and 3,227 as "sensitive", sources added.

For the first time in decades, the elections are being held sans the shadow of the gun.

No violence was reported during campaigning and no boycott calls were given by the ULFA with whom peace talks are on and the NDFB which is observing a ceasefire.

First Published: Apr 03, 2006 08:17 IST