Shutdown call fails to deter Meghalaya voters

Last Updated: Sat, Feb 23, 2013 09:54 hrs

Shillong: Voting was peaceful Saturday across Meghalaya as people defied a shutdown called by an outlawed group to cast their ballots.

"Over 30 percent voters have cast their ballot till 11 a.m across the state. People are queuing up at polling booths," Chief Electoral Officer Prashant Naik told IANS.

"I have not heard of any reports anyone obstructing voters. Polling is going on peacefully," he added.

However, Naik said there were reports of some technical snags in some electronic voting machines (EVMs) but were immediately replaced.

The Border Security Force (BSF) has stepped up patrolling along the India-Bangladesh border in Meghalaya following the shutdown called by the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC).

"We have put our troopers on high alert all along the Bangladesh border to prevent possible infiltration of HNLC rebels into Meghalaya to disrupt the elections," BSF spokesman Ravi Gandhi said.

The HNLC, which runs hit-and-run operations from its hideout in Bangladesh, has been demanding a sovereign Khasi homeland in eastern Meghalaya.

Over 1.5 million voters -- about half the population of the state -- are eligible to decide the fate of 345 candidates, including 25 women and 122 independents. The state will elect its 60-member ninth assembly.

The election office said polling began at 7 a.m. and would be held till 4 p.m.

Voting is taking place at 2,485 polling booths, out of which 842 have been termed hyper-sensitive.

Counting of votes will take place Feb 28.

Chief Minister Mukul Sangma and his wife Dikanchi D. Shira cast their votes in Chengkompara polling booth in Ampati constituency.

"We are getting a good response from the people. I'm sure there will be a swing in favour of the Congress," Sangma told IANS after voting.

His wife and brother-in-law Zenith are also contesting from Mahendraganj and Rangsakona constituencies.

The United Democratic Party (UDP) is equally confident of ousting the ruling Congress.

"I'm confident that the UDP will gain more seats and we are confident of ousting the Congress party from power," former chief minister and United Democratic Party chief Donkupar Roy said after casting his ballot in Disong in Shella constituency around 7.30 a.m.

In the state assembly, the Congress has fielded candidates in all constituencies followed by the United Democratic Party (UDP) in 50 seats.

The Purno Sangma-led Nationalist People's Party has 32 candidates while the Nationalist Congress Party will contest in 21 seats. The Hill State People's Democratic Party has fielded 17 candidates.

The polls are being held in newly-formed constituencies where 16 outgoing legislators are pitted against one another.

Ninety-one companies of paramilitary troopers have been deployed across Meghalaya.

More from Sify: