Thousands of troops guarded polling stations as Kashmir yesterday held its first direct elections since the government stripped its semi-autonomy last year.
On high alert for attacks by militants, dozens of police and paramilitaries with machine guns watched outside each voting station while army patrols toured the streets.
The region has been under heavy security since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government imposed direct rule in August 2019.
Two soldiers were killed in an ambush blamed on militants in the main city Srinagar on Thursday.
But officials said nearly 52% of the 700,000 eligible voters cast ballots for the District Development Councils during the first of the eight days of polling, braving the security, coronavirus fears and snow-covered terrain to elect local council members.
Results are expected on December 22.
Thermal scanners were set up at polling booths and staff handed out face masks and hand sanitiser as precautions against the coronavirus.
Top election official K K Sharma told reporters polling had been peaceful barring “a small incident of stone pelting” by protesters in the southern Kashmir valley.
Sharma said that Reasi district recorded the highest polling at 74.62%, followed by Rajouri (70.52%), Poonch (68.69%), Samba (68.61%), Doda (64.49%), Kathua (62.82%), Jammu (61.49%), Ramban (64.21%), Udhampur (57.13%) and Kishtwar (55.16%) - all in Jammu division.
In the Kashmir division, Budgam district recorded the highest polling at 56.96%, followed by Kupwara (50.74), Ganderbal (48.62), Bandipora (43.57), Anantnag (43.32), Shopian (42.58), Kulgam (34.35), Srinagar (33.76) and Baramulla (32.51).
Sharma said the DDC elections will play a decisive role in development at the grass-roots level.
He also praised all the stakeholders for their tireless efforts for the successful conduct of the polling process
At one booth in the Kashmir valley, Faizi, 70, said she had voted “to facilitate development work, like paving the roads”.
While the councils have only limited powers, several Kashmir political parties, including the influential National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) formed an alliance to use the election to campaign for the restoration of the region’s political autonomy.
The alliance accused the government of harassing its candidates while helping those from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
The election commission denied the allegations.
On Friday, authorities restricted Peoples Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti to her home and police stopped reporters from attending a press conference she called.
Mufti was among scores of political leaders held under house arrest for months after the clampdown.
Police, however, denied she was under detention again.
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