Setting the stage for the biggest political battle this year, Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi announced Wednesday that the Bihar assembly elections will be held in five phases between October 12 and November 5 — the results will be announced on November 8.
As many as 6.68 crore voters in the state will vote on five days — October 12, 16 and 28, and November 1 and 5 — to elect the new Vidhan Sabha, Zaidi said. For the first time in the country, the Election Commission will ensure that photographs of candidates will be displayed on ballot papers fixed on the Electronic Voting Machine along with the symbols of respective candidates.
This is being done to tackle the malpractice of propping up several candidates with identical names in a bid to confuse the voters, Zaidi said.
The commission will also be deploying the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system in 36 assembly constituencies spread over 34 districts.
The VVPAT generates an immediate paper trail once the vote is cast. Once generated, the paper slip, containing the name and symbol of the candidate chosen, is visible through a glass for seven seconds before getting deposited in a compartment within the machine.
Replying to a question on the dates, Zaidi said they were finalised after “several months of preparation”.
Of the 243 constituencies in 38 districts, 47 constituencies in 29 districts are affected by Left Wing Extremism, Zaidi said. He added that “adequate” Central Police Forces will be deployed during the polls and central forces will secure all the 62,779 polling stations in the state.
“Our focus will on developing confidence building measures in security sensitive areas,” the CEC said.
Central forces will conduct “area domination”, “de-mining operations” and deploy helicopters to mount surveillance in sensitive areas, he added.
The EC appears to have done a balancing act in deciding the poll schedule by navigating through the five gazetted holidays and nine restricted holidays spread across October and November. Voting will be completed in a span of 25 days in two months and the results will be out two days before Diwali.
The first and second phases will be held on October 12 and 16, respectively, and steer clear of Dussehra, Muharram, Valmiki Jayanti and Karva Chauth.
While Phase 1 will witness voting for 49 assembly constituencies in 10 districts, Phase 2 will see polling for 32 constituencies across six districts.
The date of polling for Phase 3 —October 28 – will provide authorities around 11 days to move Central police forces around the state, bypass the holidays of Dussehra, Muharram and Valmiki Jayanti, and enure that votes are cast two days short of Karva Chauth.
Phase will see 50 constituencies in six districts go to polls.
The remaining 112 seats will go to polls in two more phases – Phase 4 on November 1 and Phase 5 on November 5. While 55 assembly constituencies in seven districts will go to polls in Phase 4, the remaining 57 seats spread over nine districts will witness voting on November 5. Here too, the EC has ensured that the gap between both Phase 3 and 4 and Phase 4 and 5 is just three days.
With an eye on Diwali on November 11, and the popular Chhat festival slated a few days after that, the EC has chosen November 8 as the date of counting ensuring that poll process is over well in time before the hectic festival activity kicks in.
The term of the current Bihar Assembly expires on November 29.