Srinagar: The polling for the second phase of civic body elections in the Valley continued to remain grim as the voter turnout was 3 percent.
The turnout was low since the morning and in the first two hours of polling, the turnout was 0.4 percent in Anantnang, 4.3 percent in Bandipora, 1.1 percent in Baramulla, 2.1 percent in Kupwara and 0.2 percent in Srinagar from the total strength of 32,904, 7,910, 270, 609, 1,77,183 voters respectively. By the next four hours, it was only 0.8, 22.2, 3.7, 3.3 and 1.4 percent in the districts of Anantnag, Bandipora, Baramulla, Kupwara and Srinagar respectively and these numbers were 1, 28.8, 5.2, 3.4 and 1.8 percent by 2 pm.
When polls concluded at 4 pm, the turnout was 3 percent in the entire Valley.
In 2005, as the municipal polls were held after a gap of 25 years, the polling percentage recorded in some areas was even 60 to 80 percent. In 2011 panchayat elections in Kashmir, similar voting trends were witnessed even as it was held after months of agitation in 2010 in which at least 120 people were killed.
In 1996 Assembly elections in Kashmir region, the turnout was nearly 45 percent, while it was 29 percent in 2002 Assembly polls. The elections in 1996 were, however, also marked by allegations of “coercion” by forces to drive out people to vote.
Leaders of mainstream political parties conceded that their “space” has shrunk after the killing of at least 75 people and injuries to thousands of youth in the agitation in 2016 which was triggered over the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander, Burhan Muzafar Wani. In 2017 by-elections in the Lok Sabha constituency of Srinagar, the turnout was merely 7 percent, while authorities cancelled the Anantnag seat bypolls after seven people were killed during the protests on poll day in Srinagar. The trend has not been bucked in these elections.
Former minister and senior National Conference (NC) leader Ali Mohammad Sagar said that the low voter turnout was a snub to the Government of India (GoI) and was on account of the fact that the situation “in Kashmir has been worst since last four years after the PDP-BJP coalition government assumed office in Kashmir” and “people’s resentment” against the BJP government.
"The government is playing with the sentiments and aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the elections were held even as it was known that last time, there was only 7 percent turnout on Srinagar parliamentary seat. The elections were not held in Anantang last year even as the campaign was run and nomination papers were filed, this time polls were held to mislead that there was no problem in Kashmir,” said Sagar.
The low turnout was registered even as Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) decided to increase the polling time to 10 hours, from 6 am to 4 pm. The authorities have said that this was done to increase the voter turnout, but Sagar said that “it was only done to rig the elections.” “The elections were rigged. What is the justification for changing time? Do they expect people to wake up in the night to cast the votes?” he said.
NC vice-president and former chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted that the timing may have been changed “to discourage journalists from checking the veracity of the polls.” State vice-president of Congress GN Monga said that this was only done “to rig polls”.
Although Sagar said that the pro-freedom and pro-Pakistan sentiment was earlier also responsible for the decline in the voter turnout, but the percentage was the lowest ever this time. “In 2011 panchayat elections, 75 to 80 percent polling was registered in Kashmir while in some areas of Jammu, it touched 90 percent. Though the turnout earlier also remained low in Srinagar and different towns, these elections were the worst in terms of polling percentage,” said Sagar.
The Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), a conglomerate of different separatist organisations, has hailed the decision of the people to boycott the polls.
“With the announcement of Mayor of Srinagar city by the state authority, manipulation of election timing to 6 am, further military deployments across the Valley, continuous arrest of pro-freedom activists and youth, internet bans, the farce of this discredited and preposterous election being undertaken by the authoritarian state gets more and more exposed with each passing phase,” the JRL said in a statement.
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Updated Date: Oct 10, 2018 22:47:36 IST