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Special ballot paper for fair polls

Guwahati, Nov. 27: The state election commission, for the first time, will print ballots for the ensuing panchayat elections on a special paper to minimise the scope of duplication.

Highly placed sources in the commission said, “For the first time, the ballots for the panchayat polls will be printed on paper with special security features such as water marking to prevent their duplication. The move is aimed at curbing the use of duplicate/forged ballot papers, particularly in the remote areas which could be vulnerable to booth-capturing and rigging. A scrutiny of ballot papers will reveal whether it was printed by us or not.”

The move to prevent electoral malpractices is not without basis. In the last panchayat elections held in 2008, there was rigging and booth-capturing in Hailakandi and Karimganj, resulting in the state election commission ordering repolling in nearly 170 polling stations. There were also incidents of violence in several districts in the last panchayat elections, which the Congress won convincingly for the second straight term.

The state election commission is also considering steps such as keeping close tabs on the media regarding publishing paid news or exit polls given their power to influence gullible voters, more so in the rural areas, to ensure free and fair polls.

The commission has already cracked down on exit polls and paid news.

“A final decision on exit polls or paid news has not been taken but we are seriously considering such a move,” a source said.

The state election commission is headed by former senior bureaucrat Biren Dutta.

According to plans worked out by the election commission, the panchayat polls will be held on time and in phases and before March but the number of phases is yet to be decided. The last polls were held in four phases.

“The number of phases will depend on the security scenario prevailing at the time of issuing the notification and mobilisation of security forces. But we can say that it will be held under adequate security. The term of most of the panchayats will end by March,” the source said.

Security remains an overwhelming concern, particularly in the minority-dominated lower Assam after the Kokrajhar riots in July. “We are still assessing the situation before deciding on the exact security requirement. Things may cool down in a month or two,” the source said.

The state government has chalked out a budget of Rs 70 crore for holding the panchayat elections.

Political parties have begun their campaign in earnest. The AGP launched its ganachetana rally in Nalbari yesterday where its president Prafulla Kumar Mahanta announced that the party would field 85 per cent new faces to reconnect with its support base and criticised the ruling Congress for failing on all fronts.

The Congress countered this afternoon with spokesperson Mehdi Alam Bora claiming that the AGP was only following the leader (read Congress) by holding a public rally two days after it criticised the Congress for holding a workers’ rally at Khanapara.

He also claimed that people have not forgotten the AGP’s misdeeds, such as secret killings.

“Their chances of winning is next to nothing given the poor turnout in Nalbari which they claim as their bastion,” Bora said.

FAIR & SQUARE

Phase-wise polls under adequate security

Curbs on ‘paid news’ also on the cards

Special ballot papers aimed at checking malpractices in remote areas

Elections by March, a minimum of 30 days required from day of notification l50% seat reservation for women to be finalised on November 29-30


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