Peace Vote: 64% Turnout In First Phase Of J&K Polls

17 November 2008
The Times of India

Srinagar: Despite the snow and chill and a dark political backdrop created by the Amarnath Shrine controversy, Kashmiris came out overwhelmingly to vote in the three Valley constituencies that voted in the first phase of the staggered assembly polls. Chief electoral officer B R Sharma put the overall turnout at 63.75% for the 10 constituencies that voted on Monday. Polling began slowly due to the chilly winds sweeping the region but picked up as the day got warmer. Higher turnout was witnessed in Jammu region's Mendhar, Poonch and Surankot and Ladakh's Nobra, Leh, Kargil and Zanskar. 'The polling has been by and large peaceful,' said Sharma. He said Valley's Gurez, Sonawari and Bandipora recorded 75%, 47% and 58% voting respectively. Voting is spread over seven phases. In 2002, Gurez polled 76%, Bandipora 31% and Sonawari 56%. Gurez has always been enthusiastic about elections because most people there aren't Kashmiri speaking and don't identify with the azadi movement. However, the turnout in Bandipora and Sonawari could be an indication that the mood wasn't dismal and people wanted their grievances channeled to the government through elected representatives. Srinagar and other urban centres wore a deserted look as hundreds of troops patrolled empty streets, erected barricades to prevent people from protesting against elections. Separatists had asked people to march to the areas where elections were being held. As part of the crackdown on separatists, police have so far arrested more than 60 people under the strict Public Safety Act. Top Hurriyat leaders under house arrest Meanwhile, top Hurriyat leaders including Mirwaiz Umar Farooq continue to remain under house arrest. No major violence was reported on Monday but eight people trying to keep voters away from polling booths in response to Hurriyat's election boycott call were injured in clashes with police in north Kashmir's Bandipora town. The clashes ensued after dozens of Hurriyat supporters assembled outside a polling booth in Bandipora and raised 'pro-Azadi' slogans. Security forces beat them back with batons and fired teargas. 'Protesters offered stiff resistance and retaliated by pelting stones triggering clashes. In the police action and mob retaliation at least eight people sustained injuries,' a police officer said. Reports from Bandipora district's Sonawari constituency said several people were injured when supporters of PDP and National Conference candidates clashed at Rakasham and Poshwari. PDP candidate Yasir Reshi alleged that National Conference nominee Mohammad Akbar's Lone's supporters had captured two polling booths at the latter's village of Naidkhai. NC workers also accused Reshi's polling agents of ferrying bogus voters to polling booth No 55. 'The workers attacked each other with stones and bricks. However, police resorted to baton charge and dispersed the mob,' the police officer said. Reports said long queues of voters, both men and women, were seen in front of the polling stations in Poonch district since early morning.