Punjab records 66 per cent turnout, voting remains peaceful

Chandigarh, (IANS) Over 66 per cent of Punjab’s electorate had exercised their franchise till 5 p.m. on Saturday as polling for the state assembly officially ended, election officials said. Voting remained peaceful, barring stray incidents of minor clashes and arguments.

The voting percentage is likely to go up as there were still lines at polling booths and all those who queued up till 5 p.m. will be allowed to vote, election officials said here.

Brisk voting was reported in the state’s Malwa belt, south of the Sutlej river, with 69 out of the 117 assembly seats and decisive for any party’s victory. The Akali Dal, Congress and new entrant Aam Aadmi Party are locked in a bitter contest here.

The highest turnout was in Sangrur and Fazilka districts at 73 per cent, followed by Mansa and Fatehgarh Sahib districts at 72 per cent. The Majha (north of river Beas) and Doaba (area between Beas and Sutlej rivers) belts were catching up in voting percentage, election officials said.

In some assembly seats, the voter turnout was 75 to 78 per cent till 5 p.m.

Amritsar and Ropar districts recorded the lowest turnout at less than 60 per cent till 5 p.m.

For the first time, Punjab is witnessing three-cornered contests on all seats, between the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

The enthusiasm of voters was almost equal in rural and urban areas.

Braving the winter chill, thousands of voters turned out in the morning to cast their votes.

Long queues were seen at most polling stations as voting began in all the assembly constituencies at 8 a.m. Many had reached the poll booths much before the exercise started.

Over 1.98 crore voters would decide the fate of 1,145 candidates, including 81 women and a lone transgender. There are over six lakh first time voters this time.

Voting for the by-election to the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat was also held on Saturday.

Voting at different polling stations in Punjab was disrupted or delayed for periods ranging from five minutes to over an hour on Saturday due to technical snags in electronic voting machines (EVMs).

Complaints about nearly 150 EVMs not functioning properly in various assembly constituencies were received by the state election office here.

At some polling stations, voting was stopped for over an hour as the EVMs developed glitches. Voters were clearly upset over the delay in the exercise of their franchise, reports said.

The VVPAT (voter verified paper audit trail) machines also developed snags in various assembly segments.

The Election Department used 31,460 EVMs in the one-day assembly elections. There were 22,614 polling stations in the state.

First-time voters were issued certificates by district authorities in various constituencies.

Among early voters were former Army chief Gen J.J. Singh (Patiala city) of the Shiromani Akali Dal, and former Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal (Badal village) of the Congress.

Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, 89, his son and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and daughter-in-law and Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal cast their votes in Badal village, which is part of Badal senior’s Lambi assembly constituency.

“We will win easily. Punjab is looking forward to peace and development,” the Chief Minister said after voting.

Badal is being challenged for the Lambi seat by Punjab Congress President and former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and AAP’s Jarnail Singh.

“We will register a better victory this time. Amarinder Singh will lose his security deposit,” Sukhbir Badal, who is the president of the Shiromani Akali Dal, told the media after casting his vote.

Badal’s elder brother, Gurdas Badal, arrived separately to cast his vote earlier.

The Chief Minister’s estranged nephew and former Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Badal (son of Gurdas Badal) cast his vote at the same polling station earlier.

The Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance has been in power in Punjab since 2007.

Sukhbir Badal is facing a challenge from two sitting MPs – Bhagwant Mann (AAP) and Ravneet Singh Bittu (Congress), for the Jalalabad assembly seat.

Amarinder Singh, accompanied by his wife and former Union Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur, and other family members, cast his vote in Patiala city.

“I am sure that we (Congress) are winning this election comfortably,” Amarinder told media.

Others to cast their votes included cricketer-turned-politician and Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu (Amritsar-east), former Olympian and now Congress leader Pargat Singh (Jalandhar Cantt), Sucha Singh Chhotepur (Gurdaspur) of Apna Punjab Party and Congress leaders Sunil Jakhar (Aboha) and Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (Lehra).

Cricketer Harbhajan Singh and Sufi singer Hans Raj Hans voted in polling stations in Jalandhar.

Tight security arrangements were in place across Punjab, with over 100,000 security personnel deployed, and borders with neighbouring states sealed.

The counting of votes will take place on March 11.

In the 2012 assembly elections, 78.57 per cent of voters had exercised their franchise.

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