Thiruvananthapuram: Despite the pandemic and the strict measures imposed to curb it, little dampened the election spirit on Tuesday as voters flocked to the polling stations to cast their ballot.
Five districts – Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha, and Idukki – went to polls in the first phase of the three-tier local body polls in Kerala.
Preliminary figures released by the State Election Commission on Tuesday revealed a 72.67 per cent turnout.
The state had witnessed a record 78.33 per cent voter turnout in the previous local body elections held in 2015. However, this time, the numbers were expected to go down due to the current COVID-19 situation.
The ruling CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) and Congress-headed United Democratic Front (UDF) are locking horns in a neck-and-neck contest in most of the panchayats. However, the BJP is raising a strong challenge to the UDF and LDF at a few centres in Thiruvananthapuram and Pathanamthitta districts.
Across the five districts, polling for panchayats, municipalities and corporations was brisk though no big queues were seen. The poll began at 7am to decide the fate of 24,584 candidate in fray, and ended at 6pm. Voters, who have tested COVID positive or those placed under quarantine after 3pm on Monday, were allowed to cast votes in their respective booths post this time frame, after all the voters have exercised their franchise. COVID-19 patients were allowed to come in PPE kits to cast their votes. The polling officials also wore PPE kits during this period.
Alppuzha recorded the highest voter turnout on the day with 77.23 per cent of votes being cast. Idukki recorded 74.56 per cent, Kollam 73.41 per cent, and Pathanamthitta 69.7 per cent voter turnout. Thiruvananthapuram recorded the lowest polling percentage at 69.76 per cent. The Thiruvananthapuram corporation reported 59.73 per cent polling while for the Kollam corporation, it was 66.06 per cent.
EVM errors were reported from few centres in the early hours - 13 in Thiruvananthapuram, 14 in Alappuzha, 12 in Kollam, 8 in Pathanamthitta and 4 in Idukki. Polling process was disrupted upto 1 hour in some of these booths but the issues were rectified and voting resumed smoothly across the five districts by 10 am.
In the Kottamkara panchayat in Kollam, the presiding officer at Kolassery ward was replaced after UDF supporters lodged a complaint to the Election Commission that she wore a mask donning the CPM election symbol to the booth. A polling officer in Moolamkuzhi booth in Kottarakkara was removed after he was reportedly found in inebriated state and caused ruckus. CPM and Congress workers clashed at the polling booths in Christian College in Kattakkada, Thiruvananthapuram, over an argument over campaigning.
At Ranni in Pathanamthitta district, the grandfather of a panchayat election candidate collapsed and passed away soon after he cast his vote. The dead was identified as 90-year-old P Mathai.
Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala cast his vote along with his family members at his home town in Alappuzha and claimed that the fate of Pinarayi Vijayan government would be sealed.
"We (UDF) are going to score a big win as the people of Kerala will hand us victory. The BJP as always will make no impact. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is in hiding and has to break his silence on those involved in gold smuggling case. The path is now laid out for the return of UDF rule in the next Assembly elections. The curtain raiser is taking place today," said Chennithala.
Soon after casting her vote, Fisheries Minister and senior CPM leader J Mercykutty Amma said that it was very clear that the people will give a verdict in favour of a government that cared. "Neither the Congress nor the BJP will make any impact as we are going to win," said Amma.
The principal contestants include candidates from three major political fronts – LDF led by CPI-M, Congress-led UDF, and BJP-led NDA.
Five central districts will go to polls on December 10 and four northern districts on December 14. Counting of votes will take place on December 16.
Across the state, in the 2015 local body polls, the Left won around 60 per cent of the total seats, followed by the Congress, while the BJP won a mere 1,200 seats out of around 21,000 seats in three tiers of local bodies.
Across the five districts, 11,225 polling stations have been set up for the electorate that includes 41,58,341 men, 46,68,209 women and 70 transgenders. The election process is being manned by 56,122 officials.