Voter Turnout Not Our Concern: EC

1 May 2009
Greater Kashmir

Srinagar: A day after south Kashmir’s Islamabad constituency recorded low voter turnout in the ongoing parliamentary elections, the election commissioner Dr S Y Quraishi today asserted that the commission was not concerned about the turnout. “We are not concerned about the voter turnout, but we are here to create atmosphere for free, fair and peaceful elections so that anybody who wants to vote is able to do it freely and fearlessly,” he told media persons after reviewing the security and other arrangements in place for the next two phases of elections in Sriangar and Varmul constituencies. Quraishi’s statement however ran contrary to the former chief election commissioner N Gopalaswami’s assertion that “high voter turnout in December assembly elections in J&K was a change in the mindset of people.” Without naming separatist leaders’ poll boycott campaign, Quraishi said nobody would be allowed to stop people from voting. “Voter turnout is not any problem for us. But we won’t allow anybody to stop people from voting if they want to vote,” he said. The Election Commission, Quraishi said, won’t tolerate any interference by security forces in the polling process. “There may have been incidents of people being coerced to vote by troopers. But we have issued clear cut instructions that security forces should not meddle with the polling process,” he said while ruling out the complaints of coercion by army in some segments in Tral. “We met all the political parties, but none of them made any such complaints. But if security forces interfere in the polling process and encourage voters to vote, we shall certainly initiate strict action against them,” he said. Quraishi, who was on a day-long visit to Kashmir, said he met the political parties, election observers and senior police and government officials. “I instructed them to ensure free, fair and peaceful elections. We have had peaceful polls so far, we are hopeful to have the same in next two phases,” he said, adding that he reviewed the security and poll arrangements in place for the next two phases. Quraishi claimed that all political parties “appreciated” the election machinery and “free and fair” election process. “They had no complaints to make,” he said. “But some leaders feel that there was some discrimination in provision of security cover to their activists and sought relocation of two polling booths for convenience of people. We are taking care of the suggestions.” Quraishi said he has asked the officials to ensure that “mock polls” in time and the Electronic Voting Machines are replaced within 30 minutes if they develop any technical fault. “At some places which are not accessible, we have asked the sectoral officers to keep some EVMs as backup for replacement as and when needed,” he said, adding the communication, transport and other plans were thoroughly reviewed on Friday. Regarding the cancellation of Hazratbal by-elections, Quraishi said the returning officer had done a big mistake by accepting incomplete papers of a candidate. “He (RO) was first transferred, but after further investigation, he has been placed under suspension,” Quraishi said. Asked if the decision favored the ruling party in J&K, Quraishi said, “We don’t know if it favored anybody or not. But whatever the EC could do legally, that has been done. Countermanding the polls was a legally correct decision as the EC cannot overrule the RO under law. We can’t go beyond that because laws don’t permit that.” He said the fresh notification for Hazratbal by-polls will be issued on Monday. “The entire process will start afresh. Right from filing of the nomination papers and so on,” Quraishi said. Regarding contesting of elections by candidates with criminal background, Quraishi said they would pool such candidates’ records with several non-governmental organisations, which “create awareness about them in public.” “Legally we cannot stop such candidates from contesting the polls. For that we need to make amendments in relevant laws for which the process is on for past many years. But its outcome is awaited,” Quraishi said. Terming media as the EC’s “eyes and ears”, Quraishi said the reports of under-age voting in papers were being examined. “Every report is being examined to ensure transparency and fairness in polls,” he said, adding the commission won’t tolerate any violation of modal code of conduct. In response to a question on government officials were using red-light atop their vehicles, Quraishi said it amounted to violation of modal code. “Our officials challan such vehicles as and when they observe any such vehicle,” he said. Quraishi was flanked by the legal advisor of Election Commission, S K Mendiratta and chief electoral officer, B R Sharma. “We received complaint of an MLC having beaten a voter or polling officer in Aglash booth in Islamabad. We have asked for a factual report,” Sharma said. Sharma said that counting of votes for Srinagar Parliamentary constituency will be held at Sangarmal Complex of Srinagar Development Authority. “Counting Centre at SKICC is not available due to a prior commitment. The alternate site has been inspected by the Observers and the proposal has been sent to the Election Commission for its approval”, he said. After arriving in the summer capital, Quraishi met with the representatives of various political parties including NC, PDP, Congress, CPI, RJD, JKNPP and NCP. He also had a meeting with divisional commissioner, Kashmir, Masaud Samoon, IGP Kashmir Zone, Dr. B Srinivas, District Election Officers and Election Observers of Srinagar, Budgam, Ganderbal, Varmul, Kupwara and Bandipora districts, besides DIGs, Central Kashmir and North Kashmir Range. Later, Qureshi also met the chief secretary, S. S. Kapur, DGP, Kuldeep Khoda and Financial Commissioner, Home, Samuel Verghese.