52% Voters' Turnout In J&K Polls

24 December 2008
The Times of India

Srinagar: Fifty two per cent voters' turn-out was recorded in the final phase of Jammu and Kashmir assembly polls on Wednesday, says Election Commission. The crucial last phase of the staggered Jammu and Kashmir polls ended on Wednesday amid minor clashes between police and anti-election protesters in Srinagar. About 34 per cent of the 16.91 lakh- strong electorate today exercised their franchise in 21 constituencies till late afternoon. Stray clashes between police and protestors injured at least 14 people, including a photojournalist, in Srinagar. Anti-election demonstrators took to the streets in various parts of the city but were stopped by police and paramilitary men who were deployed in strength. Polling in eight constituencies of Srinagar city, considered a separatist stronghold, was 13 per cent till 3 pm as compared to the five per cent turnout in 2002 elections. The polling percentage in 13 constituencies of Jammu (11) and Samba (2) was as high as 48 per cent, officials said. The fate of 393 candidates, including ex-Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, former Speaker Tara Chand and six former ministers will be decided in this phase of the elections. There was no report of major poll disruption from anywhere in Srinagar but incidents of malfunctioning of electronic voting machines came in from Jammu region. In Tankipora area of Srinagar, stone-pelting protestors, trying to take out a march in violation of prohibitory orders, clashed with police. The police and paramilitary personnel used batons and fired tear gas shells to disperse the crowds. Among the nine injured in the clashes, the condition of Abid Bhat, photojournalist of Political and Business Daily, was stated to be serious, official sources said. They said security forces also resorted to teargas shelling at Natipora locality where a group of youths tried to take out a march. Five persons, including two policemen, were injured in the clashes, the sources said. Political analysts say that poll percentage in Srinagar had not touched double figures in the elections even prior to eruption of militancy. However, Jammu and Samba traditionally witness high turnouts. The two districts had recorded 57.36 per cent polling in the 2002 elections. The polling in this phase is of foremost importance to all parties as the highest number of 21 seats are at stake. An important factor will be the migrants who are staying in Jammu and Delhi. They have a voting strength of about 90,000 that can swing the electoral fortunes in case the turnout is low. The average turnout in the earlier phases of the elections were over 60 per cent. In various constituencies of Srinagar, the people who came out to vote said the separatists were wrong to link the elections and the resolution of Kashmir issue. 'We came out of our homes to vote because we want people in the assembly who can listen to our grievances patiently and try their best to mitigate our day-to-day problems,' Ashiq Hussain, from Khushipora in Batmaloo constituency, said. Hussain, who claimed that he was among thousands of people who marched on the roads in Srinagar during the recent agitation, said 'we will continue to support the ongoing struggle...but boycott cannot help us.' 'We are here to choose our candidates who will provide us safe drinking water, round-the-clock electricity and better healthcare,' Ayaz Ahmad said. However, 34-year-old Fayaz Ahmad Bhat, who was playing cricket in his locality at Batmaloo, said 'I have never voted in my life and I don't think I am going to vote ever.' 'We have been made hostage in our houses since the election process began,' Bhat said.