Heavy turnout at polling booths as Goa, Punjab fight election battle

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Elections 2017: Voters outside a polling booth
Elections 2017: Voters outside a polling booth

New Delhi : Over a crore and a half voters turned up to chose new governments in the traditionally high-turnout states of Punjab and Goa on Saturday, in the first major test of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his allies after the government's move to ban high-value notes last year.

Eighty-three per cent of the over 11 lakh electorate exercised their franchise for Goa's 40 assembly constituencies while over 75 per cent of Punjab's over 1.98 crore voters cast their ballot for 117 assembly segments, election officials said.

Poll officials said the final voting percentage in both the state could go up as many people were still in the queues outside polling stations and were allowed to cast their ballot even after the voting formally ended at 5 p.m.

Brisk voting took place almost all over Punjab - a state which recorded 78.57 per cent turnout in the 2012 assembly polls - where the ruling BJP-SAD alliance, Congress and new entrant AAP are locked in a bitter triangular fight.

The border state's Malwa belt, which accounts for 69 out of the 117 assembly seats, also saw a heavy voter turnout - most districts in the belt recording turnout of 75 to 85 per cent, that could be decisive for any party's victory.

The highest turnout was in Mansa district at 85 per cent followed by Sangrur at 83 and Bathinda at 82 per cent.

Amritsar and Mohali districts recorded the lowest turnout at 67 and 69 per cent respectively, the poll officials said.

Voting at different polling stations in Punjab was disrupted or delayed due to technical snags in electronic voting machines (EVMs).

At stake was the political fate of 1,145 candidates, including 81 women and a lone transgender in Punjab where the Akali Dal-BJP alliance has ruled for two straight terms.

Both Congress and AAP are hoping to cash in from an anti-incumbency factor as surveys point to a cliffhanger between the two parties.

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

"Overall Punjab witnessed a peaceful polling without any major incidence of violence and intimidation. There was just one incident in a village in Tarn Taran where supporters of two political parties clashed and one person faced bullet injuries...an FIR has been registered," said Deputy Election Commissioner Sandeep Saxena in New Delhi.

Punjab Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) V.K. Singh thanked voters for ensuring peaceful polling. "Barring some incidents, the polling passed peacefully," he said.

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.

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

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 the media.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who is the convenor of the AAP, criticised the poll panel for having "completely surrendered" before Prime Minister Modi amid reports of people allegedly visiting polling booths with party symbols and also campaigning on social media and TV on polling day in violation of the model code of conduct. "This is a completely shameless and spineless Election Commission," he tweeted.

Goa saw a high voter turnout of 83 per cent and polling remained peaceful for the 40 assembly seats, compared to 81 per cent in the 2012 polls.

The incumbent BJP is fighting the Congress and AAP in the coastal state where heavy polling was witnessed in the mining belt of Sankhalim, Bicholim and Curchorem.

None of the political parties or groups, except for the AAP, had fielded candidates from all the 40 seats.

The incumbent BJP had put up its nominees on 36 and is supporting two independents.

The assembly elections to be held in five states - Goa, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur - in phased manners through this month till March 8 are the first big electoral test for the Modi-led government since the November 8 note ban.

The note ban move was heavily criticised by the opposition and labelled as a self-inflicted blow on the country's economy that triggered enormous hardship for the people all over.

The BJP and its allies have hailed the move as a surgical strike at tax evasion, black money and corruption that would also herald India into a cashless economy.

Votes for all five states will be counted on March 11.