SRINAGAR: The fourth and final phase of civic body elections concluded on Tuesday with a minuscule 4.2 percent of voters casting their vote in Kashmir. More than 2.41 lakh electorate preferred to stay away from the fortified balloting centers set up in the Valley. Eight municipal bodies in Kashmir were slated for polls in the fourth phase but only two saw any voting. No contest occurred in the rest as they had either no candidates or sole contestants were elected unopposed.
More than 370 of 598 wards in Kashmir saw no voting as they either lacked contestants or had candidates elected unopposed. About 17 lakh voters were to elect members to 79 municipal bodies in Jammu and Kashmir, including Municipal Corporations of Srinagar and Jammu. Twenty of these municipal bodies were in south Kashmir where two drew a blank and most others remained uncontested either due to lack of candidates or candidates being elected unopposed.
The 25 wards of Srinagar Municipal Corporation with 118 candidates in fray drew a mere 4 percent (about 9,600) of the above 2.42 lakh electors to polling stations. The Ganderbal Municipal Committee’s 12 wards saw 11.3 percent of the more than 8,400 electors cast their vote.
Except for election staff and ubiquitous government forces armed with assault rifles, polling stations were bereft of voters as in the last three phases of the election. The polling, which began before sunrise at 6am and ended at 4pm, saw stone-throwing clashes in Soura, where three candidates were in fray. The ward there, with more than 11,200 electorate, drew a blank as no voter turned up through the day.
At several other places in the city where a trickle of voters was seen arriving at polling stations, the voters were wary of shutterbugs and reporters and forced them to move away by either pelting them with stones or threatening them.
Hizbul Mujahideen, the region’s largest militant outfit, had warned candidates to stay away from the electoral exercise.
A candidate from a Srinagar ward (name withheld to maintain anonymity as requested) who cast his maiden vote recalled an elderly man near the booth taking a pointed jibe, “People will call you Mukhbir (informant) now.”
“My priority is Azadi but sanitation is important for us,” the candidate said, maintaining that “trust deficit and not threat kept the people away from polling stations”.
Last held in 2005, civic elections this year have been marred by low turnouts in the Valley, with the first three phases drawing a miserable 8.2 percent, 3.4 percent and 3.5 percent of voter turnout, respectively.