Chandigarh, (IANS) Thousands of people queued up outside polling booths across Punjab to elect a new assembly Monday with over 15 percent of 1.76 crore voters casting their votes by 10.30 a.m., Election Commission (EC) officials said here.
Casting of votes started across 19,841 polling stations in Punjab’s 117 assembly seats at 8 a.m. Monday.
Despite the winter chill, some polling booths, especially in rural areas, saw people lining up to exercise the franchise even before the booths had officially opened. In most parts of the state, it was a bright and sunny day.
No voter was being allowed to enter polling stations without the election identity card and voter slips, officials said.
Over 73,000 security personnel, including more than 2,000 paramilitary troopers, have been deployed to ensure smooth and peaceful polling.
The fate of 1,078 candidates, including 417 independents and 93 women, will be decided by the over 1.76 crore eligible voters.
The main contest is between the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance and the opposition Congress. A third front, Sanjha Morcha, has been formed recently and is led by former finance minister Manpreet Badal’s newly floated People’s Party of Punjab (PPP).
Five assembly constituencies — Patiala, Lambi, Bholath, Majithia and Jalalabad — have been declared hyper-sensitive while 33 constituencies have been declared sensitive by the EC.
The total number of voters in the state are 17,683,559 out of which 8,361,014 are women voters.
The highest number of candidates, 16 each, are in the Jalalabad, Ludhiana-east and Patiala rural seats. The lowest number of candidates, four, are in fray in the Attari seat in border area of Amritsar district.
Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is facing his toughest political test as he faces his own younger brother, Gurdas Badal, 81, of the PPP and cousin Maheshinder Singh Badal of the Congress in a bitter triangular contest in Lambi.
Punjab Congress president Amarinder Singh is seeking re-election from the Patiala Urban seat while Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is also the deputy chief minister, is seeking re-election from the Jalalabad seat in Faridkot district.
Other prominent leaders in the fray include PPP president Manpreet Badal (Gidderbaha and Maur), former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (Congress, Lehragana seat) and Amarinder’s son Raninder Singh (Congress, Samana seat).
In the 2007 assembly polls, the Akali Dal had 49 legislators with alliance partner BJP winning another 19 seats (total tally 68). The Congress had 44 legislators while five seats were won by independents.