[Chief Election Commissioner Dr. Nasim Zaidi holding a press conference to announce the Assembly Elections in five States, in New Delhi on January 04, 2017. Election Commissioners A.K. Joti and O.P. Rawat are also seen.]
New Delhi: Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa will elect new assemblies between February 4 and March 8 in the biggest popularity test since the Lok Sabha polls of 2014, the Election Commission announced Wednesday.
The high-stakes assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh will be held in seven phases between February 11 and March 8, while Punjab and Goa will go to polls together on February 4, Uttarakhand on February 15 and Manipur in two phases on March 4 and 8.
The results from all the states will be known on March 11, Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi said on Wednesday while unveiling a slew of new election-related rules.
Announcing the poll schedule for five states, CEC Nasim Zaidi said the seven-phased UP Assembly polls for 403 constituencies will be held on February 11, 15, 19, 23, 27, March 4 and 8.
He said over 16 crore people will participate in these polls for a total of 690 constituencies in five states, for which the Commission has set up 1.85 lakh polling stations, which are 15 per cent more than those set up in 2012 polls.
The CEC flanked by the two Election Commissioners A K Joti and O P Rawat announced that the poll process will commence with the issue of notification on January 11 for Punjab and Goa polls where candidates can start filing their nominations.
"The Model Code of Conduct will come into immediate effect and will apply on political parties and state governments concerned, besides the Central government in terms of announcements in these states," Zaidi told reporters.
The CEC said candidates will have to open a fresh bank account for all election expenses and all expenses above Rs 20,000 will be made through cheques from their respective accounts. He added that all donations will also be accepted through cheques.
The maximum limit for expenses for each candidates in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand is Rs 28 lakh, while that in Goa and Manipur is Rs 20 lakh, he said.
Almost all the main parties in the fray - the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) - welcomed the much awaited election schedule.
This will also be the first electoral contest since the November 8 demonetisation, which has triggered an unprecedented cash crunch, leading in turn to an opposition onslaught on the Narendra Modi government.
All eyes will be on Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP is determined to take power by ousting the ruling Samajwadi Party -- now in the throes of a huge crisis -- and beating back a strong challenge from the BSP.
While the BJP rules Goa, it is a junior ally to the Shiromani Akali Dal-led government in Punjab. The Congress governs Uttarakhand and Manipur.
The AAP, the country's youngest political outfit and which rules Delhi, will contest for the first time in Punjab and Goa.
"We are committed to conduct the elections in a free and fair manner," Zaidi said. The Election Commission would also check the "misuse of black money and liquor".
For the first time, there will be separate polling stations for women and photographs of the candidates will be displayed on the electronic voting machines.
The poll panel would also insist on a certificate from candidates to show they owe no arrears to any government department vis-a-vis utilities bills and rent on official accommodation.
BJP spokesperson Siddhartha Nath Singh said: "Development will remain our plank but the opposition would like to attack demonetisation policy. Per se I think this will be very good for us."
Congress spokesman Manish Tewari said the issues in each states will be different and "it is not going to be a single issue on which the elections will be fought".
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the AAP was confident of taking power in both Goa and Punjab.