Barely five days after announcing by-elections to over 12,000 vacant seats in village panchayats across the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) on Tuesday evening deferred the poll process. Sources cited“security reasons” for the move.
CEO Shailendra Kumar told The Indian Express that by-elections have been deferred for 2-3 weeks, but he did not cite any reasons.
However, sources said the decision came after inputs from the Home Department regarding security issues over the next three to four weeks.
Earlier in the day, leaders of major mainstream political parties, aside from those from the BJP, had asked the election authority to defer the bypolls in view of the continued restrictions in place in the region and the detention of senior leaders.
Those attending the meeting included leaders of the BJP, the National Conference, the Congress, the PDP and the Panthers Party.
PDP general secretary Surinder Chowdhary staged a walkout from the meeting saying, “we cannot participate as all our senior leaders are under detention.’’
Elections for 35,029 panches and 4,483 sarpanches were held on a non-party basis in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir (which included Ladakh) in November-December 2018.
However, most of the Panchayat seats in Kashmir Valley could not be filled due to a poll boycott, while several other seats fell vacant when the candidate got elected to the block development council.
Now, the election authority is holding by-elections on a party basis in eight phases to fill up these 12,650 vacant seats. Of these, Kashmir has 12,344 vacancies.Poll notifications had already been issued for the first and second phase of elections — scheduled for March 5 and 7 respectively.
“The general consensus among all non-BJP parties was that these by-elections shall be deferred as the situation is not conducive in view of the detention of most of their political leaders in Valley,’’ said National Conference vice president Rattan Lal Gupta.
“You (election authorities) claimed the 2018 panchayat elections were a major success. Then from where have these vacancies have come?’’ he asked, adding that it was because “people did not participate’’.
Pointing out that there were instances of a person getting elected only on a single vote during the 2018 elections, he said “we told the election authority that the by-elections will make you a laughing stock.”
Asking how by-elections on a party basis were possible when senior leaders of most political parties were detained or barred from meeting people, Panther Party chairman and former minister Harshdev Singh asked the election authorities to first get all the detained leaders released, restore security cover to Opposition leaders and to ensure a level playing field.
Congress spokesperson Ravinder Sharma questioned the motive behind the by-elections being held on a party basis while the general elections were held differently. “We suggested to the election authority to either defer these elections for some time, or get Opposition politicians released from detention and allow them go to the people and give them time so that situation becomes congenial for participation,” he added.
On Monday, the UT administration had denied permission to Congress state chief G A Mir from travelling to Kashmir to hold discussions with party leaders and workers regarding the by-elections.
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