Despite the pandemic and the strict measures to curb it, voters thronged polling booths in the second phase of the Kerala local body elections.
Five districts went to polls on Thursday - Kottayam, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Palakkad and Wayanad - and all of them witnessed a large turnout.
According to a report from the State Election Commission, phase 2 saw a voter turnout of 76.38 per cent.
Wayanad reported the highest turnout (79.46 per cent) followed by Palakkad (77.97 per cent) and Ernakulam (77.31 per cent).
Thrissur saw 75.03 per cent turnout while Kottayam, which saw the splintering of Kerala Congress recently, registered 73.91 per cent turnout.
In most wards, the ruling CPI(M)-led LDF, Congress-headed UDF and BJP-NDA locked horns in a three-way contest.
Polling was generally peaceful in all the five districts and the voting procedure was smooth except for technical snag in voting machines reported in some districts.
Congress MLA Anil Akkara raised a complaint against AC Moideen, Minister for Local Self Government Department, saying the latter had cast his vote at a booth in Thrissur district at 6:55am, before the official commencement of polling. However, the minister rejected the charges and said he did not violate any procedures.
Complaints were raised against a presiding officer for starting the polling at Elamkadu in Koottickal panchayat by 6am. He was subsequently removed from duty.
EVM complaints were reported from polling booths in Athirampuzha and Pampady in Kottayam as well as a booth in the 23rd ward of Palakkad Municipality.
The most keenly contested ward in Ernakulam was the Cochin corporation, which for the past two terms was with the Congress-led UDF. The LDF, determined to wrest it, had put on a strong fight. Over 61 per cent votes were cast in Cochin corporation ward.
The other corporation - Thrissur - saw a turnout of 63.39 per cent.
In Kottayam too it was a do-or-die battle between close aides that once formed the dominant party of the region, Kerala Congress (M).
However, in the months leading up to the polls, the party had split into two factions - led by KM Mani's son Jose K Mani and party veteran PJ Joseph.
Jose K Mani and his followers left the party shortly after to side with the Left while Kerala Congress veteran PJ Joseph and his men remained with the Congress-led LDF.
"The traitors of Mani sir will be given a fitting reply by the electorate," said Jose.
In response, Joseph said he is supremely confident of his party doing extremely well and that Jose's faction will bite the dust.
Palakkad too became a region of considerable interest after reports emerged that BJP is expected to do well here.
However, Left convenor and also the CPI(M) state secretary A Vijayaraghavan dismissed the saffron-party's chances here.
"There is no doubt that the Left is going to come out with winning colours," he said.
Some more stats
There are 57,895 first-time voters and 265 non-resident Indians (NRIs) in these districts, according to the state Election Commission.
Two Corporations - Kochi and Thrissur, 36 municipalities, 350 village panchayats, 58 block panchayats and five district panchayats were among the local bodies where the second phase polling was held.
Of the total 12,643 polling booths, 473 were identified as sensitive and webcasting facility was arranged here, SEC said.
Voting was deterred in one ward each in the Kalamassery municipality and Thrissur corporation due to the death of candidates.
The Election Commission deployed 63,187 officials at polling stations while 19,736 police personnel were on duty for the smooth conduct of the polls.
As the entire election procedure was in compliance with COVID-19 protocols, masks, sanitising and social distancing norms were made mandatory at all polling stations.
With close to 60,000 active coronavirus cases in the state, a slew of measures have been placed in the booths for the responsible conduct of the civic polls. Click here to know it in detail.
Phase 1 polls
Phase 1 polling was held in five southern districts – Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha and Idukki – on December 8 in which 72.67 per cent polling was recorded.
Alappuzha recorded the highest percentage of voter turnout with 77.23 per cent, while Pathanamthitta recorded 69.70, the lowest in the five districts. Thiruvananthapuram recorded 69.76 per cent votes, Kollam 73.41 and Idukki 74.56 per cent.
In phase 3, four northern districts – Malappuram, Kozhikode, Kannur and Kasaragod – will go to the polls on December 14. Counting of votes will take place on December 16.
Then and now
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.
This time, the civic body polls have gained more significance as its result is generally considered to reflect the political mindset of the southern state which would go to Assembly elections after some months.
The ruling CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF)'s prime focus during the campaign was the achievements under the four and half-year Pinarayi Vijayan government.
The Congress-led UDF highlighted the controversies relating to the gold smuggling case, the alleged corruption in the Life Mission project and the charges levelled against the Chief Minister's office during the campaign.
However, the vigilance cases against various UDF leaders and the arrest of its MLAs V K Ibrahim Kunju and M C Kamaruddin in corruption cases were seen as a setback for them.
The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which is trying everything in its means to find a place in the bipolar polity led by LDF and UDF for decades, is pinning hopes on various development programmes initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre.