Monday, September 16, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Polling in 23 J&K constituencies today
Low voter turnout likely
Ashwini Bhatnagar and Ehsan Fazili
Tribune News Service

Srinagar, September 15
Twentythree constituencies located in north Kashmir, Ladakh and Jammu go to the polls tomorrow amid fears of violence by militants an, consequently, a low voter turnout even as militants detonated an IED soon after the motorcade of minister Sakina Itoo passed DK Marg in police district Kulgam around noon today. Two CRPF jawans were killed and six others injured in the blast.

Three militants and three civilians were killed in an encounter in the Thana Mandi area of Rajouri district in the Jammu region, which also goes to the polls tomorrow. Three militants were killed in another encounter with security forces at Banihal in Doda district.

In Srinagar, militants lobbed a hand grenade near Shergari police station, resulting in injuries to a constable and an autorickshaw driver last evening.

The low voter turnout is likely as the Hurriyat Conference has given a call for poll boycott and bandh in the polling areas as well as in other parts of the valley.

Ahead of the polling day, there are also reports that the ruling National Conference enters the first phase of the elections on the back foot. The anti-incumbency factor is likely to play an important role when the voters queue up to cast their votes.

An assessment of the electoratesí mood in Kupwara, Baramula, Poonch, Rajouri and Kargil districts on the eve of voting indicates that the National Conference may have to stretch itself the full length in order to secure even a simple majority in the 87-seat Jammu and Kashmir Assembly. The Peoples Democratic Party of Mufti Mohammed Sayyed is providing a tough contest to the NC in most areas of these five districts, while in Kupwara Independent candidates are likely to make the going tough for the party.

The outcome notwithstanding, the point of interest and concern at the end of the first phase of the election schedule in J and K is the voter turnout tomorrow. Kupwara and its surrounding areas witnessed enthusiastic public response from the onset of the campaign process late last month. However, the killing of an Independent candidate from Handwara and the Law Minister, Mushtaq Lone, on September 11 followed by killings in Surankote the same day dampened the spirit to a great extent.

In fact, the tempo could never be revived after September 11 and, therefore, the voter turnout could be low. Besides, the Hurriyat has been distributing printed material asking people to abstain from voting. Three activists, including a woman, were arrested yesterday and printed material was seized from their possession.

Baramula district, having 10 segments, has the highest number of 59 candidates, followed by 35 for Kupwara district with four constituencies, where election to one seat of Lolab has been countermanded following the killing of Mushtaq Ahmed Lone. There are 33 candidates in Rajouri district in four segments and 17 candidates in three constituencies of Poonch district and six candidates in two constituencies of Kargil district.

As many as 14,361,61 voters will decide the fate of 151 candidates tomorrow.

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