JAMMU AND KASHMIR CIVIC ELECTIONS PHASE 2 : LOW TURNOUT IN VALLEY; OPPOSITION CONCERNED ABOUT CHANGE IN POLL TIMING

In the first six hours of polling for the second phase of the municipal body elections in Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday, 34 percent voting was registered.

About 2 percent of the electorate voted in the first five hours of polling in 49 wards of urban local bodies in the militancy-wracked Kashmir Valley, where elections are being held amid tight security, officials said.

The urban local body elections, covering 79 municipal bodies with an electorate of about 17 lakh, are being held in Jammu and Kashmir four phases. Voting for the second phase of the polls in the Valley began at 6 am and ended at 4 pm on Wednesday. People voted amid stringent security arrangements at 544 polling stations across the state.

Opposition parties in Jammu and Kashmir saw the decision of the chief electoral officer to open polling at 6 am as an attempt to rig the elections. National Conference leader and former chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted that this may have been done to discourage journalists from checking the veracity of the polls. State Congress vice-president GN Monga also said this was another attempt to rig the civic elections.

The polling timing for the second phase of the civic elections was modified from 7 am to 6 am, and the voting was scheduled for 10 hours. Election officials said this was done to ensure a better turnout.

"Only 1.8 percent of the 2.20 lakh electorate cast their votes in the first five hours," an official said.

In five districts of Kashmir, 6.28 percent voting was recorded, with Anantnag registering just 0.8 percent voting till 12 pm. The Sumbal Municipal Body in Bandipora district saw a considerable rise in voting. By 12 pm, 22.2 percent votes were cast in this municipality, an improvement from the 3.4 percent registered in the first phase.

The Sumbal Municipal Body falls in the Sonwari Assembly constituency, which is represented by National Conference MLA and former minister Akbar Lone. During the 2014 Assembly elections, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Yaseer Rishi lost to Lone by a margin of 406 votes.

Polling in the second phase was brisker in the whole of Bandipora district, with 17.4 percent of 8,300 voters casting their ballots till 11 am, an official said.

The poll percentage in north Kashmir's Sopore and south Kashmir's Anantnag municipal areas was 2.3 percent and 0.7 percent, respectively.

In the second phase of the the urban local body polls, over a thousand candidates — 881 in the Jammu division and 148 in the Kashmir division — were in the fray for 263 municipal wards in both the divisions. As many as 69 wards in the Valley were won uncontested.

A total of 3,372 nominations have been filed for the 1,145 wards being contested across the state. The next two phases of the elections will be held on 13 and 16 October.

Despite Opposition and arguments that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir was not conducive to hold elections, the state announced the dates for the urban local body polls last month. Two major political parties — the National Conference and the PDP — boycotted the elections, accusing the Centre of not taking a firm stand on protecting Article 35A of the Constitution, which is facing a legal challenge in the Supreme Court.

Militants have issued threats to anyone participating in these polls, because of which the state saw sparse campaigning by candidates. Two National Conference workers were killed last week. In dozens of wards, especially in south Kashmir, no candidate filed nomination papers, and those contesting have been moved to safe locations, and their details have not been made public.