Tripura records 85 percent polling

Agartala, Feb 14 (IANS) Polling to elect a new assembly in the Left-ruled Tripura ended peacefully Thursday with more than 85 percent voters casting their ballots.

"Over 85 percent of the 23.5 lakh (2.35 million) voters have cast their votes across the state," said Chief Electoral Officer Ashutosh Jindal.

He said the percentage might cross 90 after reports on the day's balloting arrive from all over the state.

Jindal said people were still standing in queues outside polling stations even after the time to vote ended at 4 p.m.

Voters in large numbers queued up well before polling started at 7 a.m. New voters and women appeared the most enthusiastic across the state.

Tripura recorded around 92 percent polling in the last assembly elections held in 2008.

According to Jindal, except one or two small incidents, the voting passed off peacefully with no major incident reported from anywhere in the north-eastern state, which shares a 856-km border with Bangladesh.

The ballots will be counted Feb 28 and decide the electoral fate of 249 candidates, including 15 women and many Independents, in the fray.

Political parties also expressed happiness over the heavy voter turnout and the peaceful polling.

Inspector General of Police Nepal Das said that except for an incident in Khowai, 85 km west of here, no major incident was reported from anywhere.

The situation was completely peaceful in the extremist-dominated areas too, he said.

"Only a scuffle took place between political workers in Khowai in which two people were injured," Das told IANS.

He said five handmade crude bombs were recovered in Khayerpur, 10 km from here.

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

In the wake of threats from separatists and possible violence, a record 40,000 security personnel were deployed while two air surveillance teams led by police officials also kept vigil, an election official said.

After casting his vote at a school here, Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, said: "The Left Front will get more votes and more seats this time too."

"There is absolutely no impact of the 'paribartan' (change) slogan raised by the Congress here after stealing it from West Bengal. The Left Front will win the elections comfortably in most seats," the 64-year-old CPI-M politburo member told reporters here before leaving for his Dhanpur assembly constituency.

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

About 18,000 poll officials were deployed for the polls.

Of the 3,041 polling stations, 32 were categorised as very vulnerable and 112 as vulnerable.

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

Tripura, ravaged by insurgency for decades, has 60 assembly seats with 20 reserved for tribals and 10 for Scheduled Castes. Of the total 37 lakh population of the state, 23.5 lakh were eligible to exercise their franchise.

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 in numerous issues, including higher salaries to the government employees and rising unemployment.

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