Over 77 percent voting in Punjab

Chandigarh : Over 77 percent of Punjab’s 1.76 crore voters cast their ballots Monday to pick a new state assembly. Election Commission (EC) officials said the final polling percentage could go up to 80 percent, a new record in the state.

A teenaged boy, Nishan Singh, was killed in Pyarawala village in Ferozepur rural constituency, 250 km from here, following a minor clash between supporters of the ruling Akali Dal and main opposition Congress.

Eyewitnesses told the police that the boy was killed in firing by Gurmel Singh alias Lady Garry, the husband of the Congress candidate from the Ferozepur rural seat, Satkar Kaur. The incident took place around 5.30 p.m., 30 minutes after the election process was officially over.

The victim was rushed to a hospital where he succumbed to injuries. Police said they are investigating the matter.

Punjab’s chief electoral officer (CEO) Kusumjit Sidhu said here Monday evening that the final voting percentage could cross 80 percent and this would be a new record in the state. In the 2007 assembly polls, the highest poll percentage was over 75 percent.

She said that barring a few clashes, no major violence was reported during polling in the state. A total of nine cases were registered at various places.

Two media persons were roughed up, one in Ajnala by an Akali Dal leader and one women reporter in Nabha town by a Congress supporter. Other minor clashes were reported from Ludhiana, Amritsar, Mohali, Abohar, Bathinda and Khadoor Sahib.

Casting of votes started across 19,841 polling stations at 8 a.m. Monday. Counting of votes will take place March 6.

Despite the winter chill, some polling booths, especially in rural areas, saw people lining up to exercise their franchise even before the booths had officially opened. No voter was allowed to enter polling stations without an election identity card and voter slip, officials said.

Over 73,000 security personnel, including more than 2,000 paramilitary troopers, were deployed to ensure smooth and peaceful polling.

The fate of 1,078 candidates, including 417 independents and 93 women, has been sealed in the electronic voting machines (EVMs).

The state has a total of 17,683,559 voters, of which 8,361,014 are women.

The main contest is between the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance and the opposition Congress. A third front, Sanjha Morcha, has been formed recently and is led by former finance minister Manpreet Badal’s newly floated People’s Party of Punjab (PPP).

Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, accompanied by his son and Akali Dal president Sukhbir Badal, who is also the deputy chief minister, Sukhbir’s wife and Bathinda MP Harsimrat Badal and PPP president Manpreet Badal and other members of the Badal clan cast their vote Monday morning at the government primary school in Badal village, 230 km from here.

“We will win at least 80 seats. I can clearly see a wave for the Akali Dal-BJP government,” Sukhbir Badal said after casting his vote.

Parkash Singh Badal, 84, is facing his toughest political test as he is locked in a bitter triangular contest with his younger brother Gurdas Badal, 81, of the PPP and cousin Maheshinder Singh Badal of the Congress for the Lambi seat.

Punjab Congress president Amarinder Singh is seeking re-election from the Patiala Urban seat while Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is also the deputy chief minister, is seeking re-election from the Jalalabad seat in Faridkot district.

Amarinder Singh, who voted in Patiala, said the Congress would win more than 75 seats.

Other prominent leaders in the fray include PPP president Manpreet Badal (Gidderbaha and Maur), former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (Congress, Lehragaga seat) and Amarinder’s son Raninder Singh (Congress, Samana seat).

In the 2007 assembly polls, the Akali Dal had 49 legislators with alliance partner BJP winning another 19 seats (total tally 68). The Congress had 44 legislators while five seats were won by independents.

Prominent voters included union minister for information and broadcasting Ambika Soni in Hoshiarpur, national spokesman of the Congress and Ludhiana MP Manish Tewari in Ludhiana, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) president Avtar Singh Makkar in Ludhiana, cricketer-turned-politician and Amritsar MP Navjot Singh Sidhu in Amritsar and cricketer Harbhajjan Singh in Jalandhar.

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