Polling on for J&K’s council panchayat seats after 32 years

Jammu/Srinagar: Polling is on in Jammu and Kashmir for four seats in the legislative council reserved for panchayats. The last time these elections were held was in 1980.

Severe morning cold Monday led to a slow start to polling for the two seats in the Kashmir Valley, while voting was brisker in the Jammu region.

Of 36 seats in the state’s legislative council, six (including four from panchayat quota and two from local governing bodies) are lying vacant.

The electoral college – comprising elected panches and sarpanches (villasge council members and chiefs) – has 33,540 votes, of which the Jammu region has 15,628 votes, and the Kashmir Valley 17,912.

Counting of votes, being cast through electronic voting machines (EVMs), will be held Dec 6.

“Polling started at 9 a.m. at various polling stations across the valley for the elections today. The turnout of panches and sarpanches was low in the beginning because of the cold, but is likely to pick up as the day warms. The voting process will end at 5 p.m.,” Asgar Hassan Samoon, Kashmir divisional commissioner, who is also the returning officer for these polls, told IANS in the morning.

The contest is multi-cornered, with all parties fielding their candidates.

While the coalition partners National Conference (NC) and Congress are sharing two seats each in the Jammu region and Kashmir, opposition parties, including the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Panthers Party (PP), have fielded candidates for all four seats.

The Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) has fielded candidates for three seats – two in the Jammu region and one in Kashmir.

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) too has fielded three candidates.

Although these are only polls for four seats in the legislative council, there are those who hold that the results could be read as a foretaste of the 2014 general elections. The contest has thus become a matter of prestige for the parties.

In Kashmir, balloting is taking place at 77 polling stations, of which 42 have been declared as sensitive, 11 hypersensitive and 24 normal, based on perceptions of threat from separatist guerrillas.

While Ali Muhammad Dar of the NC is contesting these elections from the valley, the Congress has fielded Ghulam Nabi Moonga.

The PDP has fielded Yasir Reshi and Peer Muhammad Hussain against the ruling alliance candidates in the valley.

In all, across the state, 37 candidates are in the fray for Monday’s polls.

Separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani has asked people to boycott these polls.

The turnout of panches and sarpanches during these polls is being keenly watched in the valley, because of the threats the elected local body leaders have received from separatist guerrillas, asking them to resign their positions as representatives.

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