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Voting in Kashmir local polls ends with highest turnout in last 6 years

The first District Development Council (DDC) elections in the Kashmir valley have broken the voter turnout record of the last six years as highest number of candidates and voters have participated in the first polls in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A in August 2019.

Proving many politicians and analysts wrong, all eight phases of polling have evoked substantial enthusiasm in the valley where the people are now eagerly waiting for the declaration of results on Tuesday, December 22. Notwithstanding a remarkable participation in the Lok Sabha and the Assembly elections of 2014, the valley had remained cool to all the democratic exercises held after Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s taking over as the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir in March 2015.

The DDC elections in all 280 constituencies—140 each in Kashmir and Jammu—in which nearly six million adults of 20 revenue districts had right to franchise, were held for the first time as the top tier of
the pyramid of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) was created by the authorities only this year.

Previously the general elections to elect nearly 39,000 Panches and Sarpanches, that were due in 2016, were held in October-December 2018. Subsequently, the Panches and the Sarpanches elected the chairpersons for the Block Development Councils (BDCs) in October 2019.

The elections for all 79 urban local bodies (ULBs)—two municipal corporations, six municipal councils and 71 municipal committees—were also held in October 2018.

Significantly, all these PRI and ULB elections were held in Jammu and Kashmir after termination of the Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP-BJP government in June 2018 when the BJP withdrew support from the three-year-old coalition. Due to the lack of enthusiasm, few contestants and voters had come forward and around 12,700 posts of Panches and Sarpanches had remained vacant in the valley in the 2018 PRI elections.

The only elections held in the Mufti regime were the by-elections for the Chief Minister in June 2016, when she was returned for the Assembly in a low turnout polling from Anantnag, and the interim elections on the Central Kashmir Lok Sabha seat of Srinagar-Budgam when the National Conference (NC) President Farooq Abdullah was returned in the 7% turnout polling in April 2017.

Mufti’s government cancelled the by-elections on the South Kashmir Lok Sabha seat of Anantnag-Pulwama due to the violence and killing of nine persons on the day of the polling in Central Kashmir on April 9, 2017. Consequently, South Kashmir remained unrepresented in the Parliament till the new general elections were held in March-May 2019.

With the exception of the militant-infested districts of Pulwama and Shopian, in South Kashmir, the valley has witnessed unprecedented enthusiasm and huge voter turnout in the current DDC elections. Long queues of male and female voters, particularly the youths, have created the scenes of village fairs which had completely disappeared after the 2014 Assembly elections. The authorities have simultaneously conducted by-elections on 235 vacant seats in ULBs and also for about 12,500 seats of Panches and Sarpanches.

Srinagar Police district has recorded 35.3% voter turnout, compared to a paltry 7.9% in the Lok Sabha elections of 2019 and 14.5% in the PRI polls of 2018. Ganderbal has recorded 44.3% against 17.7% in 2019 and 27.4% in 2018. Budgam has come up with 41.5%. It had polled 17.5% in 2019 and 27.4% in 2018.

Anantnag has polled 24.9% as compared to 13.8% in 2019 and just 9.3% in 2018. In Kulgam, the turnout has been 25.0% in 2020, 10.2% in 2019 and 6.4% in 2018. Shopian and Pulwama have retained a dubious distinction but still the average turnout in 2020 has been 15.4% in Shopian and 7.6% in Pulwama. It was respectively 3.4% and 3.0% in 2019 and just 1.1% in 2018. Awantipora has recorded 9.9% in DDC polls as against 3.0% in the Lok Sabha elections of 2019 and 0.4% in the Panchayat elections of 2018.

In northern Kashmir, Baramulla has witnessed 45.2% turnout in 2020 against 31.6% in 2019 and 56.3% in 2018. Kupwara has recorded 49.8% in 2020, 49.7% in 2019 and 55.3% in 2018. Bandipora has recorded 55.6% in 2020, 32% in 2019 and 44.6% in 2018. Handwara has surfaced with 54.9% in 2020, 51.1% in 2019 and 44.6% in 2o18. Sopore has come up with 23.8% in 2020, 7.6% in 2019 and 26% in 2018..