Voters in Jammu and Kashmir defied a boycott call and inclement weather as half of the total electorate in 15 Assembly constituencies cast their franchise to register 70 per cent turnout in the first phase of the five-phase elections on Tuesday.
Enthusiastic voters queued up at most polling stations in the Valley and the Jammu region. Even a separatist boycott call in the Valley evoked no response as men and women came out in large numbers to vote. Polling was low key initially because of the winter cold in the morning, especially in the Ladakh region where temperatures were much below the freezing point.
As the day progressed, voting picked up in the Ladakh region. Voters lined up at polling booths in Gurez, Kangan, Ganderbal, and Bandipora constituencies. In the Jammu region, Doda, Kishtwar, Inderwal, Bhaderwah, Banihal and Ramban also saw voters turn up at booths.
The voters said they were voting for change in the Valley, while those in the Jammu region said they were voting for change and development. "We have decided to participate in the elections to vote for change," said Nisar, 24, who was voting for the first time.
The young and first-time voters were particularly enthusiastic about casting their vote. "Yes, I have voted and I have no fear in admitting this. It is time all youth came out to bring change which is only possible through the power of ballot," said Irshad, 25, at Inderkote polling station in Sonawari constituency.
The Election Commission had deputed 225 micro observers, besides webcasting voting at nearly 160 polling stations. No major untoward incident was reported from anywhere. "Polling was peaceful at all the 1787 polling stations spread over seven districts," an official said.
Over a million voters will decide the political fate of 123 candidates in the fray. Polling started at 8 am and ended at 4 pm. The counting of votes will take place on December 23 after the last phase of the five-phase elections ends on December 20.