M A I N   N E W S

55 pc cast vote, 17 killed
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 20
Despite scorching heat, an estimated 50 or 55 per cent of the 175 million electorate today exercised their franchise in the first phase of polling held in constituencies spread across 16 states and Union Territories. The day cost the lives of 17 persons in Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar, Manipur and Jharkhand, while 50 were injured.

Barring the few incidents of violence and malfunctioning of electronic voting machines at some places, the polling for 140 Lok Sabha and 344 assembly seats in the first phase went off peacefully, Deputy Election Commissioner A. N. Jha told reporters here.

He said at the polling stations where EVMs were snatched or taken away, repolling would be held on April 22. At other places where there have been reports of electoral malpractices, the commission would take a final view on holding repoll tomorrow, Mr Jha said, adding all repolls would be held on Thursday.

Interestingly, poll officials could not reach 103 polling stations in Manipur due to inclement weather and landslide and polling would be held at these places on Thursday.

Bihar accounted for seven deaths in poll-related violence, in Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur four each were killed, while a magistrate and a Naxalite were killed in Jharkhand.

Militants carried out a series of attacks on polling booths in Baramula, killing four persons, including freelance journalist Kumar Bharti and two security personnel, and injuring many others.

The commission had declared 35.33 per cent of the polling stations sensitive and hypersensitive in the first phase of polling.

The poll panel had deployed nearly 1.17 lakh paramilitary personnel from the CRPF, CISF, BSF and the ITBP.

On the question of polling percentage, he said the Union Territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli recorded the highest voting with 65 or 70 per cent, followed by Daman and Diu at 60-65 per cent, Assam at 60 pc, Bihar, Karnataka and Mizoram between 55 and 60 per cent each.

In Andhra Pradesh, a crucial state where Lok Sabha and assembly elections are being held simultaneously, the first phase of polling recorded 55 per cent turnout.

Manipur, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Orissa and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands saw a turnout between 45 and 50 per cent, Mr Jha said.

Around 50 per cent of the electorate cast their votes in Chhattisgarh, while Meghalaya witnessed between 50 and 55 per cent polling, he said.

Although EVMs malfunctioned at a few polling stations, these were immediately replaced, Mr Jha said. He said the commission was "satisfied" with the performance of the machines and it was safe and secure in keeping the mandate of the people.

Among the important candidates for whom votes were cast today were Deputy Prime Minister L. K. Advani, External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha, former Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda, Union Ministers Nitish Kumar, Jual Oram, Kashiram Rana and Harin Pathak.

Apart from the Special Observers appointed by the Election Commission, officials from diplomatic missions were also present in different states to get a first-hand account of the elections .

While officials from the US were present in Jammu and Kashmir, officials from the UK were in Gujarat.

Mr Jha said election officials from eight countries that had reciprocal arrangement with India had been invited.

Meanwhile, the Election Commission today virtually ruled out a ban on exit polls. Mr Jha said: "The commission feels that regulation of exit polls can only be done through legislation. We have sought legal advice as to what action can be taken.

"It is (exit poll) already on. We have not stopped it", he said. To a specific question whether the issue was still open or a closed chapter, Mr Jha said the legal opinion was for a legislative course of action for regulating such polls.

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