67% vote in Meghalaya, people still in queues as voting ends (Fourth Lead)

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Shillong/New Delhi, Feb 27 (IANS) As many as 67 per cent of the 18.9 lakh voters on Tuesday exercised their franchise in the elections to 60-member Meghalaya Assembly, with hundreds still lined up to cast ballots at the end of voting hours, the Election Commission said.

“Meghalaya saw a turnout of 67 per cent till 4 p.m. and there were people still in queues,” Deputy Election Commissioner Chandra Bhushan Kumar said in Delhi. In the 2013 elections, the turnout was 89 per cent.

Earlier in the day, state Chief Electoral Officer Frederick Roy Kharkongor had told IANS that over 50 per cent electorate had cast their votes and that a large number of voters were still in queues at various polling stations across the state.

A total of 18,09,818 electors, including 9,13,702 women and 89,405 first-time voters, were to decide the fate of 361 candidates, including 31 women and many independents. Counting of votes will take place on March 3.

Polling in one constituency — Williamnagar — was countermanded following the killing of Nationalist Congress Party candidate Jonathone Sangma in an IED blast in Sawilgre area of East Garo Hills district on February 18.

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Kharkongor said technical glitches in 31 Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and 41 VVPATs (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trails) were reported from around 180 polling stations.

Chief Minister Mukul Sangma voiced confidence that the Congress will retain power, crossing the magic figure of 31 MLAs.

“I have full faith in the people. I believe they have full confidence in the Congress. We will cross the magic number,” Sangma told journalists after voting at Chengkompara polling station in Ampati segment.

Sangma, the chief architect of the Congress win on 29 seats in the 2013 elections, is contesting from Ampati and Songsak.

Asked whether the Congress had decided on potential partners in case it fell short of a majority in the new house, he quipped: “We do have lots of good friends.”

In the 2013 assembly elections, the Congress won 29 seats and later increased the tally to 30 by winning in Chokpot bypoll in 2015.

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The Congress — ruling the state for a decade — has fielded candidates in all 60 seats, of which 59 saw polling on Tuesday.

However, seven of its legislators have since quit and jumped on to the bandwagon of the alliance formed by the BJP, National People’s Party (NPP) and newly floated People’s Democratic Front (PDF).

The combined regional alliance comprising United Democratic Party, HSPDP and Garo National Council, also was gung-ho about electoral victory.

“From reports that I have received so far, we are confident to unseat the Congress from power and form a pro-people and corruption-free government,” UDP chief Donkupar Roy told IANS.

The NPP, which won two seats in the 2013 assembly poll and is fighting the elections alone, is hopeful of increasing the numbers as five former Congress legislators are contesting on NPP symbol this time.

“We are hopeful of emerging as the single largest party in the Assembly and form the government,” NPP President Conrad K. Sangma said.

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Governor Ganga Prasad voted at the Oakland polling station in North Shillong constituency.

Former Union Minister and NPP candidate Agatha K. Sangma, Home Minister H.D.R. Lyngdoh of the Congress, Leader of Opposition Donkupar Roy of the UDP and HSPDP chief Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit also voted.

As many as 340 polling stations have been categorised as “critical” and 580 as “vulnerable”.

Balloting in 183 polling stations is being webcast, to be made available at the offices of Chief Electoral Officer or District Electoral Officer and the Election Commission, state Chief Electoral Officer Frederick Roy Kharkongor said.

As many as 66 all-women polling stations and 61 model polling stations have been set up.

Mawlai constituency in East Khasi Hills district has the highest voters at 42,670, and Dalu in West Garo Hills the lowest 18,640 voters.

In all, 106 companies of central armed police forces were deployed to ensure peaceful polls, he said.

–IANS

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