Less than two per cent of the electorate turned out to cast their votes on Monday in 83 wards of urban local bodies in Kashmir in the first two hours of polling for the first of the four-phased elections in the valley amidst stringent security arrangements.
As many as 2,990 candidates are in the fray for the four-phased urban local bodies (ULB) polls in Jammu and Kashmir. As many as 244 candidates have been elected unopposed, majority of them from Kashmir valley where candidates braved militant threats to take part in the democratic exercise.
“Nearly 1600 voters have exercised their franchise till 9.00 am at the 150 pollings stations set up in 83 wards across Kashmir Valley where polling is going on today,” an official said.
Around 85,000 voters including 40,800 women are eligible to vote in the valley. Out of 30,074 voters in three wards of Srinagar Municipal Corporation, only 417 turned up at heavily-fortified polling stations.
Polling is picking up in north Kashmir as more than 10 per cent of 4,700 voters cast their votes in the first two hours for Kupwara Municipal Committee, followed by 5.5 per cent in Handwara town.
The poll percentage in Bandipora was an abysmal one per cent while Baramulla recorded around 0.8 per cent turnout, the official said.
In Anantnag, only 43 of the 1,639 votes have been cast so far, the official said, adding in Budgam only 12 voters turned up in the first two hours of polling.
The polling, which began at 7 am and will conclude at 4 pm, is being held for only 83 wards in the valley today as 69 wards have been won uncontested.
Of the 150 polling stations in Kashmir division, 138 polling stations have been categorized as hypersensitive.
The urban local body polls were announced last month but two major political parties — National Conference and PDP — have boycotted the elections accusing the Centre of not taking a firm stand on protection of Article 35-A of the Constitution which is facing a legal challenge in the Supreme Court.
The first phase of polling began Monday which will be followed by the second phase on October 10, third phase on October 13 and last phase on October 16. The counting of votes will be done on October 20.
Security forces have increased safety measures and security checks in Srinagar. Nearly 500 over ground workers (OGWs) have been arrested to ensure peaceful polling scheduled to begin next week after a gap of eight years, officials said on Saturday.
The elections are being held in the state in the backdrop of resurgence in terror related violence and threats to use acid against candidates participating in the polls.
Militants have killed two National Conference workers and issued threats to anyone participating in these polls, resulting in absence of any campaigning by candidates.
In fact, in dozens of wards especially in south Kashmir, no candidate has filed nomination papers for polls.
For ensuring security of candidates, they have been moved to safe locations and their details have not been made public.
A police official said the prevailing situation in Kashmir does not allow candidates to campaign openly as there is a threat to their lives. While separatists have called for a boycott of the polls, militants have threatened to target persons taking part in these elections.
“The candidates have been given security and most of them have been taken to secure locations, but the situation is such they cannot campaign. The threat is not only from militants, but from mobs as well,” the official said.