KOHIMA/SHILLONG,February 23 (agencies): At least six voters recorded their desire not to vote to mark their dissatisfaction with the candidates as people across Meghalaya defied a shutdown call by an outlawed militant outfit and turned out in large numbers to vote in the assembly polls Saturday. The shutdown was called by the proscribed Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) as part of its boycott of the assembly polls.
“Who are they (HNLC) to deny my democratic rights. People have come out in large numbers to exercise their franchise without any fear,” said Kitbok Wanniang at Nongkwar police booth.
Activist Agnes Kharshiing said at least six people had used Rule 49-0 under The Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961 to record the desire not to vote.
“Six voters in different assembly constituencies have used Rule 49-O since we are not satisfied with the candidates contesting in the elections,” Kharshiing said.
As per the Rules, if a voter, after his electoral roll number has been entered in the register of voters in form 17-A, expresses his desire not to vote, a remark to this effect shall be made in Form 17A by the presiding officer and the signature or thumb impression of the elector shall be obtained against such remark.
However, even if the number of voters who choose to exercise their option not to vote through Rule 49-O exceeds the margin of votes secured by the winning candidate over the runner up, it will not invalidate the election, an election official said.
Polling started at 7am. with people turning out in huge numbers to elect a 60-member assembly despite the shutdown.
Over 1.5 million voters — about half the population of the state — are eligible to decide the fate of 345 candidates, including 25 women and 122 independents. Voting is taking place at 2,485 polling booths, out of which 842 have been termed hyper-sensitive.
Counting of votes will take place February 28.
Chief minister Mukul Sangma and his wife Dikanchi D Shira cast their votes 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 after voting.
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 7.30am.
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.
Nagaland too witnessed brisk voting with over half of its electorate voting by early afternoon to pick a 60-member assembly.
The polling for the Tuensang Sadar I assembly constituency in Nagaland was postponed after the death of Congress candidate and sitting MLA P. Chuba Chang at a hospital in Kohima on Friday. Chang, 49, was ailing and died at a hospital in Kohima on Friday. Nagaland joint chief electoral officer N Moa Aier said on Saturday that they have written to the Election Commission of India, which is likely to announce a fresh date for holding the polls in the constituency.
The hilly state has 1,193,438 electorates, including 589,505 women. Election officials are using 2,600 electronic voting machines to conduct the polls in 2,023 polling stations. A total of 188 candidates, including two women, are in the fray with 49 outgoing legislators seeking re-election.
The ruling Naga People`s Front (NPF) has fielded candidates in all 60 seats while opposition Congress has put up candidates in 57 assembly constituencies.
One third of the 60 constituencies will witness straight fights between the NPF and Congress.
According to election officials, over 26,000 security personnel, including 225 companies of central paramilitary forces and police, have been deployed for the polls in Nagaland.