Srinagar: The low turnout of voters in Kashmir contrasted with the high figures in Jammu and Ladakh regions in the first phase of municipal polls on Monday. Figures released on the website of the J&K Chief Electoral Officer projected 62 percent polling percentage in Ladakh and 65 percent in Jammu. But in the six Kashmir districts where polling was held for 57 wards from 7am to 4pm, a meagre 8.2 percent of the electorate – 7,000 voters in all – turned up, with the majority of them queuing up in Kupwara, the stronghold of Sajjad Lone-led Peoples Conference.
Voting in Kupwara’s 18 wards witnessed 32.2 percent turnout. It was followed by Budgam where a single ward recorded 17 percent turnout. This was the only ward of the district’s 72 wards which would witness a contest in the four phases of municipal elections, as 45 wards have single contestants and the remaining are vacant.
Issuing a break-up of the daylong polling, the Chief Electoral Officer declared Bandipora as having the lowest turnout at 3.4 percent.
This was followed by Baramulla, where 15 wards recorded 5.1% turnout and Srinagar’s three wards which recorded 6.2 percent turnout. In the militancy stronghold of south Kashmir, where four wards went to polls, only 7.3 percent people turned up to vote.
In the two districts of Kargil and Leh, where 13 wards each saw polling in the first phase, much enthusiasm was seen for voting. Kargil recorded the highest 78.2 percent turnout while 55.2 percent of voters exercised their franchise in Leh.
In Jammu region, where 238 wards in three districts went to polls, Rajouri came up with the highest turnout at 81 percent. Poonch followed with 73 percent while Jammu recorded 63.8 percent turnout in its 153 wards.
The polls were conducted amid boycott by the Valley’s two main mainstream parties, the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party. This has resulted in 44 wards electing candidates unopposed and 167 wards of the total 598 wards lacking any contestant.
Complete secrecy has also been maintained about the names of candidates in Kashmir. The poll boycott has allowed the Jammu-based BJP to occupy municipal bodies in Kashmir. More than 60 of the 300 candidates fielded by the party in Kashmir are winning unopposed.
“The whole process is turning out to be a farce and that the number of candidates who have won unopposed for the want of other candidates is very large,” said NC spokesperson Imram Nabi Dar, describing the secrecy-shrouded elections as “mockery of the democratic process”.
Jammu District Election Officer Ramesh Kumar described polling in Jammu division as “peaceful”, but the practice of addressing media for releasing figures at the end of polling was abandoned in Kashmir. An official without citing the reason said, “No presser will be held.”