voter turnout marks peaceful Kashmir panchayat polls
voter turnout marked an incident-free first phase of panchayat
elections in Jammu and Kashmir Wednesday.
In the Kashmir Valley, preliminary trends indicated 77 percent
voter turnout in Kangan, 86 percent in Kupwara, 75 percent in
Badgam and 70 percent in Qaimoh blocks where »
Srinagar: Despite a
boycott call by hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani, Jammu
and Kashmir's elections to local bodies, two rounds of which have
been held so far, have witnessed very impressive voter turnout,
reflecting the people's desire to participate in the state's
democratic process and resolve their "basic problems".
The second phase of the panchayat polls Sunday recorded 81.62
percent voting, while in the first phase held April 13 it was over
77 percent. This, despite the boycott call by Geelani and the
killing of a woman candidate, has provided the much-needed
positive thrust to the peace process in the state which is driven,
in no small measure, by the aspirations of the state's vast rural
population and their yearning for peace and stability in their
Sunday's voting in Lar block (82.6 percent), Wavoora (85), Uri
(86.95), Nagam (72) and Pahloo (81.48) was peaceful and brisk in
spite of the rainy weather. Four blocks - Kangan, Badgam, Kupwara
and Qaimoh - went to the polls in the first phase.
The 16-phase elections, first after a gap of 10 years, are being
held on a non-party basis.
Significantly, except for Geelani, all the other separatist
leaders had maintained discreet silence over the local elections
in contrast to the assembly elections of 2008, when all separatist
outfits appealed for a poll boycott.
Although Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said the enthusiastic
participation of the people in the panchayat elections indicated
their determination for self-empowerment, he stressed that it
should be interpreted only in that context. Abdullah, obviously,
was being cautious, preferring not to go overboard by seeing any
larger implication in the voter turnout that could have a direct
bearing on the resolution to the Kashmir problem.
Nazir Ahmad Wani, 32, a voter in the Kangan block of Ganderbal
district in north Kashmir said: "We have basic problems of roads,
schools, electricity, education, etc., in our villages and for
that, we need to have local representatives with a democratic
mandate to present our issues in the official forums.
"Our basic problems are connected with our day-to-day living and
these cannot wait for years before the political uncertainty ends
here. That is why we have participated in these elections."
The authorities here say they have taken adequate security
precautions to ensure voters are not forced to stay away from the
"Area domination, specific security measures based on threat
perception, etc., have been taken to ensure those willing to vote
are not forced to stay away through threats, intimidation, etc., "
said a senior police officer.
Separatist guerrillas, who had so far not interfered with the
campaign process of these elections in the Valley, struck Friday
killing a woman candidate in central Kashmir's Badgam district.
While the killing was seen as an open attempt by the guerrillas to
send across a message to the people not to participate in the
election process, intelligence officials maintained the actual
motive behind the murder was yet to be fully established.
"This could be a criminal act unconnected with the Panchayat
polls. But we cannot say anything categorically at the moment. The
matter is being probed", said an intelligence officer here
Whatever the motive, it is unlikely that the incident would affect
the voting patterns in the remaining 14 phases of the polls.
"The people in the villages have eagerly participated in the
campaign with supporters of candidates going door-to-door asking
for votes. No fear will force them to give up," said an election
(F. Ahmed can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)