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Poll season gets off to peaceful start in Mizoram

Aizawl, Nov. 20: Election 2003 got off to a robust start today with voters in Mizoram turning out in their holiday best, undeterred by a series of low-intensity blasts and the abduction of three candidates over the past 72 hours.

There was 75 per cent voter turnout, the Election Commission said, only a shade less than the 76.32 per cent in 1998. Electronic voting machines were used in the state for the first time.

State chief election officer Lalmalsawma said barring “minor incidents” in Swangpuilawn constituency, bordering Manipur, polling went off without a hitch. “We have reports that five polling stations out of 798 were disturbed,” deputy election commissioner Nur Mohammad said in Delhi.

A mob ransacked a polling station in Swangpuilawn, damaging the voting machines and other election materials. The arson was apparently in protest against the abduction of three candidates for the seat.

Suspected Hmar militants yesterday whisked away the nominees of the Congress, the Mizo National Front and the Zoram Nationalist Party-Mizoram People’s Conference combine from the residence of the block development officer of Phullen, 70 km from here. The three leaders were freed later on condition that they would “retire” in favour of the candidate representing the Hmar tribe.

Lalmalsawma said the damaged voting machines were replaced and polling resumed shortly. However, the Election Commission tonight ordered a repoll in the constituency.

Polling began sluggishly, but picked up as the day wore on. To the relief of the Mizoram government, there was no untoward incident in the two polling stations set up for the Bru refugees from neighbouring north Tripura. Of the 4,622 Bru refugees included in the electoral rolls, only 169 cast their votes at Kanhmun polling station.

In Champhai, where chief minister Zoramthanga is up against state Congress president Lalthanhawla, the turnout was average. Both leaders are contesting another seat each.

At Kakichhuan polling station under Lawngtlai constituency of south Mizoram, all 47 registered voters had cast their votes by as early as 10 am.

There were 800 polling stations, 57 of which were categorised as “sensitive”. As many as 22 of these were in Mamit district, where a series of blasts took place on Tuesday night.

Election Commission observers, many of them armed with video cameras, monitored polling. Over 1,000 Reang voters braved threats of violence and crossed over to Mizoram from shelters in Tripura to cast their ballots, adds our correspondent from Agartala.

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