Meghalaya elections: Polling begins in 59 seats amid tight security

Shillong: Polling for the 60-member Meghalaya assembly began at 7am on Tuesday amid tight security with over 18 lakh voters eligible to exercise their franchise in more than 3,000 polling stations across the state.

Voting will be held in 59 seats as the election in Williamnagar in East Garo Hills district has been countermanded, following the killing of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) candidate Jonathane N. Sangma in an IED blast on 18 February.

Women voters in their colourful tribal attires were seen queueing up at the polling stations since morning. Polling will be held till 4pm across the state. Meghalaya’s chief electoral officer (CEO) F.R. Kharkongor said a total of 106 companies of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) were deployed, along with the state armed personnel and police, especially in the troubled Garo Hills region.

He added that six additional companies of CAPF were deployed in the troubled East and South Garo Hills districts. Today’s polling will decide the fate of 361 candidates, including 31 women and 80 Independents, election office sources said, adding that 18.09 lakh voters were eligible to exercise their franchise in 3,025 polling stations in the state.

Kharkongor said the number of women candidates this time was the highest ever in the state. For the first time, 67 all-women polling stations and 61 model polling stations were set up in the state, he added. State director general of police (DGP) S. B. Singh said 580 polling stations were categorised as “vulnerable” and strict security measures were in place across Meghalaya to ensure a free-and-fair election.

Another 340 polling booths have been categorised as “critical” while 67 have been categorised as vulnerable as well as critical. The BSF has also been asked to keep a close vigil along the 443-km-long India-Bangladesh border, the CEO said.

The Election Commission (EC) has appointed 43 observers to ensure hassle-free polls, he added. The results, along with that of the Tripura and Nagaland assembly polls, will be declared on 3 March. In Meghalaya, except for the two state parties—the United Democratic Party and the Hills State People’s Democratic Party—which have forged a pre-poll alliance and are contesting from 45 seats, 13 other political parties have fielded candidates independently.

The Congress and the BJP are pitted against each other in the north-eastern state with the former fielding 59 candidates and the latter putting up nominees in 47 constituencies. Though they are contesting the polls separately, in Meghalaya, the National People’s Party (NPP) of Conrad Sangma, son of former Lok Sabha speaker P. A. Sangma, is the BJP’s partner in the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA).

For the Congress, the poll outcome in Meghalaya is particularly significant as it has been ruling the state for the last 10 years. Buoyed by the formation of governments in Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, the saffron party is seeking to expand its footprint in the north-east.livemint