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Assembly elections: Polling underway in Nagaland, Meghalaya

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Assembly elections: Polling underway in Nagaland, Meghalaya
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Shillong: Ballotting was peaceful Saturday morning across Meghalaya as people came out to vote despite a shutdown called by an outlawed group.

Over 1.5 million voters - about half the population of the state - are eligible to decide the fate of 345 candidates, including 25 women and 122 independents. The state will elect its 60-member ninth assembly.

The State Election Office said polling began at 7 a.m. and will be held till 4 p.m. Ballotting is taking place at 2,485 polling booths, out of which 842 have been termed hyper-sensitive.

"Polling is picking up slowly and over 11 percent voters have cast their votes so far across the state," Chief Electoral Officer Prashant Naik told IANS.

The Border Security Force (BSF) has stepped up patrolling along the India-Bangladesh border in Meghalaya following the shutdown called by the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC).

"We have put our troopers on high alert all along the Bangladesh border to prevent possible infiltration of HNLC rebels into Meghalaya to disrupt the elections," BSF spokesman Ravi Gandhi said.

The HNLC, which runs hit-and-run operations from its hideout in Bangladesh, has been demanding a sovereign Khasi homeland in eastern Meghalaya.

In the 60-member assembly, the ruling Congress has fielded candidates in all constituencies followed by the United Democratic Party (UDP) in 50 seats.

The Purno Sangma-led Nationalist People's Party (NPP) has 32 candidates while the Nationalist Congress Party will contest in 21 seats.

Smaller parties like the Hill State People's Democratic Party have fielded 17 candidates.

Former chief minister and United Democratic Party Chief Donkupar Roy cast his ballot at around 7.30 a.m. at the polling booth in Disong in Shella constituency.

"I am confident that the UDP will gain more seats in this election and we are confident to oust the Congress party from power," Roy told IANS after casting his vote.

Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, besides three of his predecessors -- Salseng C. Marak, D.D. Lapang and Donkupar Roy -- are among those whose fate would be sealed Saturday.

Others include opposition leader Conrad K. Sangma, Home Minister H.D.R. Lyngdoh and former Rajya Sabha member Thomas Sangma.

The 2013 polls will be held in the newly formed constituencies where 16 outgoing legislators are pitted against each other.

Ninety-one companies of paramilitary troopers have been deployed across Meghalaya.

Twenty-nine of these paramilitary forces would be deployed in insurgency-ravaged districts in Western part of Meghalaya, apart from those already conducting counter-insurgency operations in the troubled districts of the region.

Authorities are not taking any chances following the 36-hour shutdown call from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Sunday (Feb 24) to boycott the assembly elections in the entire Hynniewtrep region (eastern Meghalaya).

Meghalaya shares a 443 km-border with Bangladesh, part of which is porous, hilly and unfenced and prone to frequent infiltration.

"The government will ensure that everyone casts the ballot in a free, fair and secure environment," Principal Secretary Home K.S. Kropha said.

Counting of votes will take place Feb 28.

Brisk polling in Nagaland

Guwahati: Polling was in "full swing" Saturday for the 60-member Nagaland assembly that began on a peaceful note, an official said.

People came out in large numbers to exercise their franchise when ballotting began at 7 a.m.

"Polling is on in full swing in almost all the polling stations of the state. All the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) are working properly and there is no reports of any incident from anywhere so far," Joint Chief Electoral Officer of Nagaland N. Moa Aier told IANS.

"It is difficult to say the exact polling percentage at this moment as we are still collecting reports from various polling stations. However, there is good turnout almost everywhere," he said.

Nagaland has a total of 1,193,438 electorate, including 589,505 women.

The election officials are using a 2,600 EVMs to conduct the polls in 2,023 polling stations across the state.

A total of 188 candidates, including only two women, are in the fray to get elected to the 60-member Nagaland assembly. Forty-nine of the 60 outgoing legislators are seeking re-election.

The ruling NPF has fielded candidates in all 60 seats while the main opposition Congress has put up candidates in 57 assembly constituencies. One third of the 60 constituencies will witness straight fights between the NPF and Congress.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which won two seats in 2008, has fielded 11 candidates this time. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which has two members in the outgoing assembly, has 15 contenders.

According to the election officials, over 26,000 security personnel including 225 companies of central paramilitary forces and the state police have been deployed across the state for smooth conduct of elections in Nagaland.

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