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EC announces poll dates for 5 states, UP to start polling on Feb 11

The Election Commission (EC) on Wednesday announced Assembly polls in five states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur. The elections, especially the one in UP, are being dubbed by observers as the semi-finals before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, and a test of Modi government’s popularity post demonetization.

Over 16 crore voters are expected to use the right to elect 690 representatives by casting their vote in 1.85 lakh polling stations, an increase of 15 per cent over the last polls. The counting of votes of all the five states going to the polls will be done on March 11.

Announcing the elections, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Nasim Zaidi said the EC was also looking at representations made by various political parties. The parties had raised their reservations on having the election dates close to the announcement of the Union Budget.

The Budget will be presented on February 1, just three days before Punjab and Goa going to polls on February 4. The first phase of polling in UP, also falls close to that time, on February 11.

The Congress, Samajwadi Party, AAP, JD (U) and CPM have asked the EC to stop the advancing of the date of the Budget, as they have argued it would give undue advantage to the BJP by way of announcing populist schemes to woo voters, thus impacting a free and fair poll process.

“The Commission has received representations with regard to the presentation of the Budget. We are examining it and will take a call on it in due course,” Zaidi said.

A precedent says that if EC wants it can do so. Five years ago, the Union Budget was presented in the middle of March as opposed to March 1, the conventional date, after elections were held in various states.

Queried about AAP’s objection to the holding of polls on the same dates in Punjab and Goa, Zaidi said that the election schedule had been decided after due diligence and consultations with all the stakeholders including political parties, state authorities, central armed police forces etc. had been carried out.

Asked about the impact, if any, would demonetization have on the state polls, the CEC said the EC is gearing up for the impact of demonetization on polls. He added that there is a possibility that cash could be replaced by kind to influence voters by candidates and political parties.

“The Commission would also be keeping watch on television channels owned by political parties and candidates to see that they don’t misuse it for publicity and advertisement,” he said.

“The media monitoring committee of the commission will monitor such channels to ensure that expenses made on publicity are included in election expenses of respective candidates,” the CEC added.

New forms for electoral candidates

In a first, the EC has decided that all candidates will have to file another affidavit besides the existing one on criminal cases and property that will contain no demand certificate of electricity, water, telephone, rent of government accommodation held during the last 10 years. Candidates will also have to declare that he or she is an Indian national in the amended nomination paper (From 2A and 2E) that would require the candidate to make a declaration that he/she is a citizen of India and has not acquired citizenship of any other country. This could come into play in Goa where many, including candidates, are embroiled in the controversy of having dual citizenship, of India and Portugal. “These details will be scrutinised by the returning officer,” Zaidi said.

First time measures in state polls

1. Voter Guide Brochure (in local languages) for every household.

Having info on date and time of polls, contact of BLOs, required IDs, Do’s and Don’ts for voters.

2. Increase in Height of Voting Compartment for Secrecy

To be increased to 30 inches; will be made of opaque flex material in steel-grey colour.

3. Separate Polling Stations for Women

To be used where women feel inhibited in mingling with males because of local customs.

4. Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS)

This method of voting will be tested on a pilot basis in all poll going States to help defence and paramilitary personnel cast their vote.

5. Press Council of India to monitor Paid News cases

One PCI member will be nominated in Media Certification and Monitoring Committee of each state.

6. Candidates’ kiosks to be part of individual election expenses

All expenditure incurred on such booths will be included in individual election expenses of candidates.