Kashmir by-poll turnout low, but voting remains peaceful

Anantnag, June 22 (IANS) Polling remained peaceful on Wednesday amid a low turnout of voters in Anantnag assembly constituency of Jammu and Kashmir where Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti is contesting a crucial electoral battle amid boycott call by separatist groups and militant outfits.

An official of the Election Commission told IANS that 28 per cent voter turnout was recorded till 3 p.m. Earlier, fewer people lined up outside polling stations as the voting began at 7 a.m. A mere four per cent turnout was recorded during the first one hour.

But the morning’s shy trickle of voters gradually changed into small queues in rural areas even as the turnout in urban areas was still very low.

In the 2014 assembly elections, the constituency recorded an overall voter turnout of nearly 40 per cent.

Peace prevailed in the town and adjoining areas though militants and separatists had asked people not to vote.

“Voting is continuing at all the 102 polling stations smoothly so far and there has been no militancy related incident anywhere,” the official said.

In both the urban and rural segments, women voters outnumbered men, officials said

At the Khanabal High School in Anantnag town, where two polling centres have been set up, women in ‘burqa’ formed the bulk of voters.

The story was the same at Rambirpora, Krangsoo, Kehribal and several other places. It seemed women were determined to defy the separatists’ calls to boycott the elections.

After she was sworn-in as Jammu and Kashmir’s first woman chief minister on April 4, it became mandatory for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader to become a member of either house of the bicameral legislature.

Anantnag was represented in the 87-member assembly by her father and late Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed till he passed away on January 7.

Police and paramilitary forces were deployed in strength to prevent militants from interfering with the election process.

The army was deployed in what is known as “area domination” duty in the periphery of the constituency to ensure an incident-free poll. There was a complete shutdown in Anantnag town following the boycott call.

Wednesday was declared a public holiday in Anantnag constituency. Traffic on the Srinagar-Jammu highway, which passes through this town, moved normally. Movement of vehicles carrying tourists to the Pahalgam health resort was also normal.

Mehbooba Mufti visited a number of polling stations on Wednesday. But she refused to speak to the media. At Rambirpora polling station, where journalists sought her comments, she said: “I will speak to you when I have something to say.”

There are seven other candidates in the fray, including Hilal Ahmad Shah of the Congress and Iftikhar Hussain Misgar of the National Conference.

Speaking to IANS after voting, few people aired doubts about Mehbooba Mufti’s victory.

“We know she will not solve international issues but will definitely address unemployment, education, healthcare and give us better roads, and she will also empower women,” said Shafeeqa Begum, 45.

Shafeeqa, however, believes — like many others — that a narrow victory margin could dent Mehbooba Mufti’s image as a popular chief minister whose PDP has its base in the south Kashmir districts of Anantnag, Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam.

The Muftis belong to the neighbouring Bijbehara town. Voting started at 7 a.m. and will end at 6 p.m. The votes will be counted on June 25 and the results will be announced the same day.

–IANS

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