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Counting underway for West Bengal panchayat elections, opposition fears violence

Authorities have enforced prohibitory orders outside counting centres after opposition parties expressed fear of a repeat of the widespread violence that took place on polling day on May 14.

kolkata Updated: May 17, 2018 10:23 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
West Bengal panchayat polls,West Bengal panchayat poll results,election violence
Security personal stand guard as voters caste their votes at a polling station during re-polling for panchayat elections at Sikarpur village in Jalpaiguri district on May 16.(AFP)

Election officials on Thursday started counting the votes for the panchayat elections in West Bengal as authorities enforced prohibitory orders outside the counting centres after opposition parties expressed apprehension of a repeat of the widespread violence.

The counting of the ballot papers is taking place in 291 centres in 20 districts where the elections took place on May 14.

The ruling Trinamool Congress won all the six gram panchayat seats declared till 9:45am. Trinamool was ahead of its opponents in all the districts and the Bhartiya Janata Party was a clear second overall in the state.

The single-phase elections were held for the three tiers of rural bodies — gram panchayats, panchayat samitis and zilla parishads — and each voter cast three ballots. The counting for the gram panchayat poll will take place first after which the ballots for panchayat samitis will be counted and those for zilla parishads will come up last.

The election process has been marked by widespread violence starting from April 2, the first day of nomination. According to political parties, at least 40 people have been killed in the state in poll-related violence since that day.

Parties such as the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Congress and Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) put the number of deaths between 20 and 23 on the polling day alone. Leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party claimed that 17 of their supporters were killed.

Ballot boxes were snatched at many booths and pried open with crowbars as papers were set on fire and thrown away. In one booth, goons opened the ballot boxes and started counting them after spreading the papers on the floor.

Each booth was guarded by two policemen, one carrying a gun and the other a cane.

There was violence in some areas on Thursday, too, when repoll was held in a record 573 booths.

Government employees and teachers deployed for counting on Wednesday held a demonstration in Raiganj in North Dinajpur district demanding central forces for the security of the counting centres.

The opposition parties have accused the ruling Trinamool Congress of orchestrating unprecedented terror on the polling day and alleged the state election commission and state administration completely failed to conduct a free and fair election.

The ruling party won 34.2% of the total 58,692 seats without a contest. While opposition leaders alleged their candidates were not allowed to file the nomination papers, Trinamool leaders claimed that the opposition parties did not find anyone willing to represent them in those constituencies.

The Supreme Court has directed the state poll panel not to announce the winners for these uncontested seats without their consent.

The results for the remaining 65.8% of the seats will be declared on Thursday.

First Published: May 17, 2018 10:20 IST