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Heavy turnout in peaceful Meghalaya polls

Posted on Feb 23, 09:29PM | IANS

Shillong, Feb 23 : Voting ended peacefully Saturday in the Meghalaya assembly elections as people defied a shutdown called by an outlawed group to cast their ballots.

"An estimated of 81 percent voters have cast their ballot till 4 p.m. across the state. We expect the percentage to increase to 85 percent or more," Chief Electoral Officer Prashant Naik told IANS.

The final voting figure would be available later, he said.

"Polling has been conducted in a free, fair and peaceful manner with no report of major incidents," Naik said.

However, he said there were reports of snags in some electronic voting machines (EVMs) but were replaced.

The Border Security Force (BSF) stepped up patrolling along the India-Bangladesh border in Meghalaya following the shutdown called by Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC).

"We have put our troopers on high alert all along the Bangladesh border to prevent possible infiltration of HNLC rebels into Meghalaya to disrupt the elections," BSF spokesman Ravi Gandhi said.

Meghalaya with a population of nearly three million according to 2011 census, has a total of 1,503,907 voters, including 759,608 women dominating in many constituencies of this matrilineal state.

"Who are they (HNLC) to deny my democratic rights? People have come out in large numbers to exercise their franchise without fear," said Kitbok Wanniang, a voter in Nongkwar.

Agnes Kharshiing, an activist, said at least six people used Rule 49-0 under The Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, to record their desire not to vote.

"Six voters in different constituencies have used Rule 49-O since we are not satisfied with the candidates contesting in the elections," Kharshiing told IANS.

Polling started at 7 a.m. with people turning out in huge numbers to elect a 60-member assembly despite the shutdown.

"It is my birthright and I voted for a person I have faith who will fight for people's rights in the assembly," Mathew Chyne, a voter in Sohra, said.

The fate of 345 candidates, including 25 women and 122 independents, has been sealed in the EVMs. The votes will be counted Feb 28.

Voting took place at 2,485 polling booths, out of which 842 were termed hyper-sensitive.

Chief Minister Mukul Sangma and his wife Dikanchi D. Shira voted in Chengkompara polling booth in Ampati constituency.

"We are getting a good response from the people. I'm sure there will be a swing in favour of the Congress," Sangma told IANS.

His wife and brother-in-law Zenith are contesting from Mahendraganj and Rangsakona constituencies.

The United Democratic Party (UDP) is equally confident of ousting the ruling Congress.

"I'm confident that the UDP will gain more seats and we are confident of ousting the Congress party from power," UDP chief and former chief minister Donkupar Roy said after casting his ballot in Disong in Shella constituency around 7.30 am.

The Congress has fielded candidates in all constituencies followed by the UDP which is contesting 50 seats.

The Purno Sangma-led Nationalist People's Party has 32 candidates while the Nationalist Congress Party will contest in 21 seats. The Hill State People's Democratic Party has fielded 17 candidates.

"I'm confident that a non-Congress government will replace the ruling Congress-led government. We (NPP) are expecting at least 18 seats," former Lok Sabha Speaker Purno Sangma said.

Two of Sangma's sons -- Conrad and James -- are seeking re-election from Selsella and Dadenggre assembly constituencies.