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Punjab: 71 per cent vote, polling peaceful

By Onkar Singh in New Delhi
Last updated on: February 13, 2007 23:12 IST
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Braving an unkind weather, an estimated 71.97 per cent of 1.66 crore voters on Tuesday exercised their franchise for the fiercely-fought Punjab assembly polls which passed off peacefully barring minor skirmishes.

Around 54 per cent turnout was recorded for the high-profile Amritsar Lok Sabha bypoll which witnessed a no-holds-barred fight between Punjab Finance Minister Surinder Singh and BJP's star campaigner Navjot Singh Sidhu.

Stray incidents of scuffles between activists of the ruling Congress and the main opposition Shiromani Akali Dal marked the exercise to elect 115 representatives to the 117-member House.

Polling in two constituencies, Valthoa and Beas, was deferred by the Election Commission.

The polling began on a dull note as incessant rains confined voters at home. It picked up as the day advanced and the weather improved.

Besides Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and SAD supreme Parkash Singh Badal, the key contestants included state Congress chief Shamsher Singh Dullo, Deputy Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and former SGPC chief Bibi Jagir Kaur.

Tamil Nadu Governor Surjit Singh Barnala's son Gaganjit Singh, recently booked in a rape case, tried his luck from Dhuri constituency on SAD ticket. Skirmishes broke out between Congress and SAD activists at Lambi, where Badal is seeking re-election, Jalandhar North and Mohali over allegations of bogus voting, officials said.

However, these did not affect the poll process. A case was registered against Singla for allegedly assaulting a poll official at a booth in Majitha, Punjab Chief Electoral Officer Sundram Krishnan said.

Police impounded two cars in Batala town after sharp-edged weapons were found in the vehicles. Two persons were injured in scuffles between Congress and SAD activists in Muktsar and Ludhiana where seven women were arrested on charges of violating the model code of conduct.

Head constable Hari Singh tried to commit suicide by shooting himself with his service weapon at a polling booth in Fazilka assembly segment in Feozepur district.

Polling was affected at some booths in Kapurthala, Moga, Mohali, Phagwara and Bholath due to technical problems in EVMs, the officials said.In the bitterly fought polls, Congress contested 115 seats, SAD 94 and its ally BJP 23.

Exit polls on two television news channels tonight predicted majority for Akali Dal-BJP combine in Punjab assembly polls while another projected a tie.

A survey conducted by Star News and NDTV gave a simple majority to Akali Dal-BJP alliance with similar projections centering around 60 and 50 seats to Akali Dal-BJP and Congress respectively.

However the CNN-IBN poll gave predicted 50 to 60 seats to both Akali Dal-BJP and Congress with identical vote share of 41 per cent each.

It gave larger share to other parties with 13 per cent and BSP with 5 per cent vote share.

The survey conducted by AC Nielson for Star News gave 60 seats to BJP-SAD (Badal) combine, 48 to Congress but seven seats to other parties/independent candidates out of 115 constituencies that went to poll out of a total 117.

NDTV 24x7 came out with almost similar projections, giving between 55 to 65 seats to Akali Dal-BJP combine and between 45 to 55 to Congress.

NDTV said it surveyed 47,610 voters across 75 seats for its exit poll. CNN-IBN did not indicate its sample size and spread.

The vote share Star News survey puts Congress quite behind Akali Dal-BJP combine with 37 and 41 per cent respectively.

Other parties/independent candidates are predicted to pull as much as 22 per cent of the voters.

About 13,000 people were questioned across 50 constituencies in the state during the survey, the Star News said.

Election commission registered a case against Surinder Singla, finance minister in Captain Amarinder Singh's government, for slapping an assistant polling officer in one of the polling booths in Majitha in Amritsar. Singla is the Congress nominee for Lok Sabha bypoll for Amritsar constituency where he is pitted against Bharatiya Janata Party's nominee Navjot Singh Sidhu, former Indian cricketer and commentator. Sidhu called it a sign of frustration and demanded arrest of his rival Singla.

"Yes, we have registered a case against Surinder Singla for slapping assistant polling officer and this was corroborated by other officials on poll duty in Majitha," said R Bhattacharya, spokesman of the Election Commission, at a press conference in New Delhi.

He confirmed that more than 65.1 per cent polling had taken place by 5 pm while hundreds were still waiting in line to cast their votes. "The polling percentage is likely to go up. Barring small incidents of violence the poll was by and large peaceful," he said.

The commission also served a notice to NDTV for showing choice of the people between the Congress party and the Shiromani Akali Dal and BJP alliance in an exit poll while the polling was still taking place.

"We have sent the television channel a notice but we have not got any reply so far," the spokesman said. Within hours, Congress and SAD/BJP leaders were making victory claims before television camera.

"I expect at least three fourth of the seats in this election," Prakash Singh Badal, Former Chief Minister said. He pointed out that the large turn out of voters clearly indicates the people of the state want a change.

Amarinder Singh continued to maintain that his party would not only return to power but also increase its seats." There was anti-incumbency against certain MLAs and we changed them. There were 35 new faces," he said.

Denial of ticket to the sitting MLAs could turn out to be costly error for the party. Congress had to contend with at least 25 of them who filed their nomination as rebels.

(With PTI Inputs)

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