Polling in Tripura proceeds briskly, peacefully

Agartala, Feb 14 (IANS) Voters queued up in large numbers outside polling booths in Tripura from early morning Thursday as the single-phased assembly elections proceeded peacefully and briskly, officials said.

"Polling began at 7 a.m. with men and women queuing up in large numbers to cast their votes in 60 assembly constituencies," said Ashutosh Jindal, chief electoral officer.

"I expect a huge turnout by the time polling ends at 4 p.m. Tripura recorded 93 percent polling in the last assembly elections in 2008," Jindal said.

More than 30 percent votes had been cast by 10 a.m., he said. The tempo was expected to increase as the day progressed.

New voters and women appeared the most enthusiastic.

Of the total population of 37 lakh, about 23.5 lakh are eligible to exercise their franchise to decide the fate of 249 candidates, including 15 women and many independents.

In a few polling stations, trouble with electronic voting machines (EVM) led to voting being stopped for a while.

"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, Chief Minister Manik Sarkar said: "The Left Front would get more votes and more seats this time too."

"There is absolutely no impact of 'paribartan' (change) slogan, raised by the Congress, here. The Left Front will won 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. 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. We have informed the election officer about this," said Ashok Sinha, Congress spokesperson.

"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 and 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 on numerous issues, including higher salaries to the state government employees and rising unemployment.

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