In one ward in the Valley, a candidate won where just three votes were cast; in Baramulla, a candidate won securing the lone vote cast; and in Srinagar, nobody won, even the three candidates did not cast votes. These are among the results of the Jammu and Kashmir urban local bodies election announced Saturday, which sharply underline that the turnout in Kashmir — 4.27 per cent — was the lowest in any election held in the state since 1951.
Until now, 1989 has been considered the worst year as far as election turnouts go — when militancy took hold of the Valley. In the Lok Sabha elections that year, the turnout was only 5.18 per cent in the Baramulla and Anantnag parliamentary seats that went to the polls — the candidate from Srinagar was elected unopposed.
Till the results of the ULB polls were announced on Saturday, the candidates were faceless. The Election Commission held back the names until the day of voting. Voters knew their candidates’ names only as they went in to vote. There was no election campaigning. The entire process was wrapped in secrecy. The election office even refused to allow free access to media to cover these elections. By Saturday night, official numbers showed that Independents emerged as the single largest group in the elections in Kashmir winning 178 wards across 42 municipal bodies, including Leh and Kargil. The Congress won 157 wards and the BJP 100 wards in the Valley.
And with the PDP and NC announcing a boycott of the elections, a similar trend favouring independents characterised the results in Jammu where the BJP won 169 seats followed by independents at 167 and the Congress at 96.
Governor Satyapal Malik told The Indian Express after the last phase of voting that he was “extremely satisfied” with how the election had been conducted. “Delhi is also satisfied. 10,000 people came out to vote in Srinagar, that’s a big number,” Malik said.
Amitabh Mattoo, who was an advisor to the Mehbooba Mufti while she was Chief Minister, said even an imperfect situation may result in a “positive contagion”.
“This was not an imperfect election, but at the very least, it expands the constituency of stakeholders who have an interest in the stability of the economy and polity. In a democracy, every legitimate vote counts. Respect the choice of those who stay away, but will never demean those who cast their vote,” Mattoo said.
But others are asking how credible the democratic process is in which only a handful participated, either as candidates or as voters.
“By persisting with the elections without first trying to address anger on the streets and compounding that by believing that an election without (National Conference) NC and (Peoples Democratic Party) PDP would have any meaning, all that the central government has been able to achieve is the least credible elections in the state,” former chief minister and National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah told The Indian Express.
In the 2005 municipal polls and the 2011 panchayat polls, enthusiastic voters had defied militant threats to come out in vast numbers to strengthen grassroots democracy. While the peoples’ participation in the 2005 municipal polls stood at around 45 per cent, over 80 per cent voters turned up during the 2011 panchayat polls. The winners had voters to show for their victory.
“Before the elections, we had said two things need to be taken care of for the credibility of these elections — taking the political parties on board and creating a favourable security situation in Valley. But that was not done,” State Congress president G A Mir said. “It was the responsibility of the government to ensure maximum participation. When we were in power, we recorded 80 per cent turnout in the panchayat polls and then, around 60 per cent in the 2014 assembly polls. What have they done?”
No elections were held at 420 out of the 598 municipal wards spread across the 10 districts of the Kashmir Valley. Of these 420 wards, there was no candidate in 184 wards, while in 236, candidates were elected unopposed.
There was no voting in at least 25 municipal bodies — 17 of them fall in south Kashmir, while five in central Kashmir’s Budgam district and three in north Kashmir.
In fact, in two municipal committees — Khrew and Frisal in south Kashmir — no candidate contested the elections while in Beerwah in central Kashmir and Awantipora in south Kashmir only one candidate filed his nomination for 13 seats each.
The vacant seats — over 50 per cent in some cases — have raised a question about the constitutionality and functioning of these municipal bodies.
“Barring three four (municipal) committees, the other committees will function even if more than half of seats remain vacant,” Additional Secretary, Housing and Urban Development department Narendar Khajuria told The Indian Express. “The bye-elections for the vacant seats will be announced soon”.
The only silver lining in these elections was that unlike the past, the Valley did not witness even a single incident of violence during the four-phase election making it the most peaceful poll in the last three decades.