Polling brisk, peaceful in Tripura

Agartala, Feb 14 (IANS) Polling to elect a new assembly in the Left-ruled Tripura continued briskly Thursday with more than half the electorate having cast their votes till 1.30 p.m. No major incidents of violence were reported.

"Polling began at 7 a.m. with the people, mostly women and new voters, queuing up in large numbers to cast their votes across the state, that borders with Bangladesh," said Ashutosh Jindal, the chief electoral officer (CEO).

According to Jindal, more than 55 percent votes had been cast by 1.30 p.m. and the tempo was expected to increase as the day progressed.

New voters and women appeared the most enthusiastic.

Inspector General of police Nepal Das told reporters that five handmade crude bombs were recovered from Khayerpur, 10 km west of Agartala.

Once ravaged by terrorism, Tripura has 60 seats in the assembly with 20 reserved for the tribals and 10 for the Scheduled Castes.

Of the total 37 lakh population, 23.5 lakh are eligible to exercise their franchise. They will the fate of 249 candidates in the fray, including 15 women and many Independents.

"I expect a huge turnout of voting when polling ends at 4 p.m. Tripura recorded around 92 percent polling in the last assembly elections in 2008," Jindal said.

In a few polling stations, technical trouble with electronic voting machines (EVM) led to brief disruptions.

"In the wake of threats from separatists and possible violence, a record 40,000 security personnel have been deployed while two air surveillance teams led by senior police officials are also keeping vigil," the election official said.

After casting his vote at a school here, CPI-M politburo member Manik Sarkar, chief minister since 1998, said: "The Left Front would get more votes and more seats this time too."

"There is absolutely no impact of the 'paribartan' (change) slogan raised by the Congress here. The Left Front will win the elections comfortably in most seats," Sarkar told reporters here before leaving for his Dhanpur assembly constituency in western Tripura under Sipahijala district.

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) spokesperson Gautam Das said: "We are happy with the casting of votes and the polling so far is peaceful."

The Congress has accused the CPI-M of illegally gathering party supporters in two to three polling station areas.

"Some general voters were being marked to cast their votes through postal ballots," said Ashok Singh, Congress spokesperson, adding the state election commission officials have been informed.

"The Election Commission has deployed specially modified EVMs in all the 3,041 polling stations across the state to check possible malpractice and other irregularities," he added.

About 18,000 poll officials have been deployed to conduct the elections.

Of the 3,041 polling stations, 32 have been categorised as very vulnerable and 112 as vulnerable in view of militancy and other security related problems.

The Election Commission has appointed over 2,000 micro observers to assist 48 general, expenditure and police observers to oversee electioneering.

Thursday's vote will decide the fate of the chief minister, his 11 cabinet colleagues, former chief minister and veteran Congress leader Samir Ranjan Burman, his son and state Congress chief Sudip Roy Barman, opposition leader (Congress) Ratan Lal Nath, Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT) president, former militant leader Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhawl and a host of others.

After a month-long high-voltage campaign, the ruling CPI-M led Left Front is locked in a direct fight against the opposition combine of the Congress and the INPT.

The Left Front, which has been in power since 1978 barring one term (1988-1993), has been facing a challenge in numerous issues, that include higher salaries to the state government employees and rising unemployment.

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