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...Echoes in all nine districts

Imphal, Jan. 27: Manipur’s chief electoral officer P.C. Lawmkunga’s efforts to increase poll percentage in tomorrow’s state Assembly elections may not achieve the target because of various factors, including the mechanism to prevent proxy voting.

“The poll percentage in 2007 Assembly elections was 82 and we are trying to increase the percentage this year,” Lawmkunga said.

To achieve this target, the Systematic Voters Education and Electoral Participation, an election machinery, organised a series of awareness campaigns, including a street play by well-known artistes of Manipuri films, in all the nine districts.

“We are trying hard to ensure 100 per cent participation through the awareness campaigns,” A. Tombikanta, deputy secretary of the machinery, said.

Despite the efforts, many are not going to vote.

For instance, Th. Saphabi, 52, from Patsoi constituency, where Bengal chief minister and Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee addressed an election rally, will not vote.

“It is a waste of time. There is no candidate among the five in our constituency for whom I want to vote. I do not expect anything from them. Instead of wasting two to three hours standing in a queue, I will spend the day doing homework. I have never failed to vote in the past. But what do I get in return — bandhs, blockades, dark nights, dry drinking water pipes, uncertainty over survival of your children? They can be shot anytime in fake encounters,” Saphabi, a housewife, said.

People have lost trust in the system as well as the candidates. Intellectuals like M.C. Arun, social anthropologist of the Manipur University, is one of the will-not-cast-vote group.

Arun said, “I will not vote.” His reply to why he would not vote, however, is unique. “I have a party in whose ideology I believe. But that party nominated the wrong candidate. I have a candidate among the four in my constituency of Yaiskul and I like his character. But the candidate is fielded by the wrong party. In this situation, how can I vote and whom will I choose? Of course, I will cast my vote if there is a none-of-the-above button on the bottom of the list of the candidates in the voting machine. I would love to press that button,” Arun, who closely observes the political scenario in the state, said.

The group also sees a sharp difference between the real issues of the people and issues being raised by political parties in their election manifestos.

“The political parties raise issues only to touch the sentiments of people. They talk about repealing Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. The same promises were made in the previous elections over the years. They talk about rooting out corruption. This issue concerns the middle class sections of society. Who will benefit from widened roads? Only capitalists pass along such roads. What about the farmers whose lands have been snatched away for widening the roads?” asked Thokchom Borun, 32, an educated, unemployed youth from Imphal East.

M. C. Arun agreed. “The manifestos do not speak much about farmers or fishermen at the Loktak lake. They talk about employment. They could not spell out what kind of job for whom and what. The number of educated, unemployed youths in the live register of government employment exchange department has crossed seven lakh. There are many youths who are uneducated and not in the government register. Do the parties think about them? I don’t think so. A man with an MA or MSc degree servicing an autorickshaw is not what we call employment. The Naga People’s Front in the hills, too, is not talking about addressing the problem of shifting cultivators. They speak about sentimental issues of Naga integration,” he said.

Steps initiated by the Election Commission to check proxy voting by taking photographs of each voter while casting votes is another factor behind possible low poll percentage. In the past, proxy voting and booth-capturing was a common feature, particularly in the hills, where one or two persons cast votes for an entire village.

“Earlier in our hills, people did not go to vote. They let someone do it at the polling booth as they had to walk for 2 to 3km to cast votes. This time, if the Election Commission is serious enough about its steps, proxy voting will be a thing of the past,” Chong, a woman from Churachandpur working in Imphal, said.


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