BJP, Congress and AAP battle for power as Goa, Punjab vote today

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BJP and Congress will battle it out in the electoral arena, with Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP seeking to play a spoilsport.

Chandigarh/Panaji: Voting for Goa and Punjab legislative Assembly elections began on Saturday where archrivals BJP and Congress battle it out in the electoral arena, with Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP, debuting in Assembly elections in the two states seeking to play a spoilsport for the two major contenders to power.

BJP is in government in Punjab in alliance with Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) for two successive terms, while it also helms Goa, despite ally Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party having drifted away just after the announcement of elections to form a three-party combine.

The elections to Punjab and Goa, which will be followed by those in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Manipur, beginning later this month and spilling over to March, are being billed as a major test of BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity post-demonetisation.

Punjab

Polling for 117 Punjab Assembly seats that will decide the fate of 1,145 candidates began today amid tight security.

Punjab is witnessing a three-cornered contest between ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance, opposition Congress and new entrant Aam Aadmi Party.

Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has fielded candidates in 94 seats while its ally BJP has nominated candidates in the remaining 23 seats. Congress is contesting alone on all seats.

AAP, which is contesting Punjab polls for the first time, has fielded candidates in 112 seats, while its ally Lok Insaf Party, led by Ludhiana-based Bains brothers, has fielded nominees in five seats.

Other political outfits in the fray include BSP, former AAP leader Sucha Singh Chhotepur-led Apna Punjab Party, the Left comprising CPI and CPI-M, and SAD-Amritsar.

About 1.98 crore electors will seal the fate of 1,145 candidates by voting through EVMs during the high-stakes election.

Over 200 companies of para-military forces have been deputed for the fair conduct of polls.

Voting for Amritsar Lok Sabha seat by-poll is also being held amid tight security arrangements.

The total number of electors in the state is 1,98,79,069, including 93,75,546 females. There are 415 transgender voters as well.

The total number of candidates in the fray, include 81 women and one transgender. The polling commenced at 22,615 polling stations in the entire state. While 84 Assembly seats are of general category, 34 are reserved.

Goa

Polling for all 40 constituencies of the Goa Legislative Assembly that will decide the fate of 250 candidates began at 7 am today with sparse queues outside booths.

More than eleven lakh voters are eligible to exercise their franchise in the election being held across 1,642 polling booths in the state with para-military forces and state police guarding the venues.

Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was among the early voters who voted at the polling booth located in the heart of Panaji city at around 7.20 am. In characteristic fashion, Parrikar was seen standing among voters waiting for his turn to vote.

The election is being closely fought by major political forces – BJP, Congress, AAP and MGP-led alliance, who have been campaigning in the coastal state for last two months.

BJP’s campaign was studded with several national leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah addressing the public meeting to rally support for the candidates.

While a large number of new faces are contesting this time, the polls will decide political future of Goa’s five former chief ministers – Churchill Alemao, Pratapsinh Rane, Ravi Naik, Digambar Kamat and Luizinho Faleiro along with present CM Laxmikant Parsekar.

The Chief Electoral Office which has been meticulously preparing for the polls since last six months have added various features for the elections in Goa, making the coastal state to have few firsts.

Besides having several polling booths which will be having all-women crew, Goa will be the first state which will have Voter-verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machine being installed along with Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). The VVPAT machines help the voters to ascertain that his vote has gone to the candidate whom he has voted clearing off the doubt about authenticity of EVMs.

The election commission officials who have trained their staff on use of VVPAT machines have rubbished rumours that the secrecy of voting would be disturbed with this new facility. The coastal state is also the first state in the country to opt for electronic transmission of postal ballot to service voters.

Doing away with the traditional method, the ballot papers are sent to service voters who can download it and send it back to the returning officer via email after voting for candidate of his choice.

Goa has 822 service voters who are either in the defence, para-military forces or on diplomatic missions who can avail this facility, sparing them from sending their vote through postal ballot.

Though 2012 Goa Assembly elections witnessed satisfactory 83 per cent voting, the election commission officials have run an awareness campaign for the voters in order to increase the bar.

Various icons from different fields were engaged to spread message about ethical voting by the commission which had strict vigilance on casinos, matka gambling, unorganized vendors and other activities to avoid money and muscle power from influencing the voters.

For the current polls, AAP is contesting on 39 seats, Congress on 37 and BJP on 36 seats. BJP which had pre-poll alliance in 2012 elections is going alone this time but is supporting independents in four constituencies.

There is also speculation that Parrikar, a former Goa chief minister, might be sent back as its next CM if BJP retains power in the tourist state.

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