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|September 20, 1999||
Turnout dispels doubts of voter fatigue
Belying apprehensions of voter fatigue due to frequent elections, 57 per cent of about 400 million voters have exercised their franchise in the three phases of the five-phased general election.
Mid-way through the 13th Lok Sabha election, staggered over a month-long period, it appears that the polls which no one wanted are not going to be hit by voter apathy even though they are being held only 18 months after the previous one.
Though the voter turnout so far is less than the 61.97 per cent registered during the 1998 general elections, it is comparable to the 57.94 per cent turnout in 1996. The poll percentage in the current elections has exceeded 65 per cent in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, 61 per cent in Mahrashtra, nearly 70 per cent in Kerala, over 63 per cent in Haryana and 60 per cent in Tamil Nadu.
However, it was disappointingly low in Delhi at 43 per cent, Gujarat 47 per cent, Goa 45 per cent, Jammu and Kashmir 30 per cent, Punjab 56 per cent and Rajasthan 53 per cent.
The protracted and lacklustre campaigning, devoid of real issues and often reduced to mindless mudslinging, also appears not to have overtly put off the voters though reports of poll boycotts by disillusioned voters have come in.
While the first two phases passed off relatively peacefully, the threat of violence reared its head ominously with ultra left and militant violence claiming 45 lives in the third phase yesterday.
''The first two phases went off extremely well. But, now we have entered the hard part of the elections. Violence related to larger political and ideological issues has taken place. But it is for our political masters to find the ways to resolve them,'' Chief Election Commissioner M S Gill said at the end of the third phase of polling yesterday.
According to exit poll results announced by Doordarshan on the first three phases, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance is likely to win 191 seats while the Congress and its allies are expected to bag 126 seats. With a bi-polar polity emerging, the 'Third Front' forces appear to be marginalised with the two major parties improving their performance at their expense.
In all, polling has concluded in 344 of the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies in 15 states and Union Territories, deciding the fate of several stalwarts including Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Union Home Minister L K Advani, Union Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi and Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar.
Simultaneously, assembly elections have concluded in Andhra Pradesh (barring eight seats), Karnataka (barring five seats) and Maharashtra.
While the third phase saw the maximum mayhem, the first two phases on September five and 11 were also not completely free of violence. Polling in Narasaraopet Lok Sabha constituency of Andhra Pradesh and the seven assembly segments falling under it and in five assembly segments of Karnataka had to be adjourned from September five to October three because of pre-poll violence. Five people were killed in poll violence in Andhra Pradesh.
The second phase saw the arrest of Maharashtra's minister of state for revenue Udayanraje Bhosale for allegedly murdering a NCP worker at Satara.
In the third phase, polling in Anantnag constituency of Jammu and Kashmir had to be postponed to October four following the killing of the BJP candidate Ghulam Hyder Noorani in a landmine blast. Polling in Sirpur assembly constituency of Andhra Pradesh also had to be cancelled following the killing of the Telugu Desam Party candidate and sitting MLA by suspected People's War Group extremists. A new date for polling is yet to be announced.
In all, repoll had to be held in 181 polling stations in the first phase and 94 in the second.
The long period over which the general elections are being held has not only posed logistics and security problems, but also exposed the Election Commission to the wrath of the Supreme Court.
The commission's well-intentioned ban on publicising the results of opinion and exit polls from September three to October three fell foul of the apex court, which held that the Commission had no Constitutional powers to issue such guidelines.
While the Commission gracefully took this rap on the knuckles, CEC Gill nevertheless pointed out the complex nature of the issues involved and called for a nation-wide debate on the subject.
While the voter turnout does not reflect ennui in the system, the conduct of the major political parties vying for power, has exposed their dearth of ideas and programmes. The Pakistani intrusions in Kargil which were initially sought to be played up as an election issue by both the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance and the Congress and its allies soon lost its steam.
Thereafter, a 'free for all' was unleashed with leaders from both sides indulging in a campaign of slander, calumny and innuendoes.
Revolving around personalities and bereft of issues concerning the people, the campaign drew a mild admonition from the Election Commission which appealed to the parties to debate real issues and not focus on personalities.
Counting will take place in all constituencies on October six, paving the way for the conclusion of the electoral process by October10
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