Sporadic incidents of violence and widespread snags in voting machines marred a brisk day of polling across Punjab and Goa as a month-long assembly election cycle in five states kicked off on Saturday.
In Punjab, 75% of nearly two crore voters had cast their vote by 7pm with heavy polling in the Malwa region that elects 69 of Punjab’s 117 legislators. Voting was still on. The election commission said more than 80% voters exercised their franchise in districts such as Fatehgarh Sahib, Faridkot and Sangrur.
The state is witnessing an unprecedented three-cornered contest between the Akali Dal-BJP combine, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The polling percentage in the 2012 assembly elections was 78%.
“Barring stray incidents of violence the polling in single-phase remained peaceful,” additional director general of police (ADGP- elections) VK Bhawra said.
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In Goa, the voter turnout stood at 83%, compared to 81% in the last assembly election. The incumbent BJP is fighting against the Congress and the AAP. Heavy polling was witnessed in the mining belt of Sankhalim, Bicholim and Curchorem. A 78-year-old man died outside a polling booth in Panaji city.
Punjab and Goa will be followed by assembly elections in Uttarakhand, Manipur and the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, which will see seven-phase polls. The results of all states will be announced on March 11.
In Punjab, two people were injured in clashes between AAP and Congress workers in Sangrur district, police said. In Tarn Taran district, a Congress worker identified as Jagjit Singh was injured when an Akali supporter allegedly opened fire , they said.
Voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines installed in 33 assembly constituencies embarrassed poll officials by repeatedly developing snags, forcing authorities to halt voting.
“It’s a logistic night mare, we have fewer engineers and more complaints,” said chief electoral officer of Punjab, VK Singh. For example, polling began at 11.30 am instead of 8am in booth number 33 of Majitha in Amritsar district due to technical problems in the voting machine. The sitting MLA and minister Bikram Singh Majithia could not cast his vote in his first attempt.
In Lambi, where chief minister Parkash Singh Badal is squaring off against Congress CM candidate Amarinder Singh, 78% voters pressed the EVM button.
In Singh’s Patiala seat, the poll percentage stood at 67% and was likely to rise.
(with agency inputs)