Amid militant threats, Panchayat polls to begin in J&K

The polling will be held on November 17, 20, 24, 27, 29, December 1, 4, 8, and 11 in all 22 districts of the state. PTI file photo

Amid threats by militants to disrupt the poll process, the nine-phase Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir are set to begin from Saturday.

The polling will be held on November 17, 20, 24, 27, 29, December 1, 4, 8, and 11 in all 22 districts of the state. After the completion of violence-free urban local bodies (ULB) polls in October, the next challenge for the state government is to hold the elections to the panchayats which were due from the last two and half years.
While separatist leaders Syed Ali Geelani, Miwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik have urged people to observe shutdown against “yet another election drama” being enacted by the “oppressive regime” of New Delhi on November 17, the militants have threatened to blind panchayat poll candidates with acid.
Due to militant threats, boycott calls by the separatists and decision of regional parties PDP and NC to stay away from the recently concluded ULB polls, only 4.27 per cent polling was witnessed, which was the lowest in any election held in the state since 1951. 
Until then, 1989 was considered the worst year as far as election turnouts go — when militancy broke out in 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.
Recently JK governor Satya Pal Malik said that BJP leader and his brother were killed by militants in Kishtwar to “disrupt” the panchayat elections. Sources said police have inputs that the militants may target some more political leaders in coming days to disrupt the poll process. 
“The militants and their handlers across the border want a low turnout in Panchayat elections, like the ULB polls. And for that they can target the candidates or voters to create fear,” they revealed.
However, State police chief Dilbag Singh says just like the ULB polls, the Panchayat elections will also be conducted peacefully and assured good security cover for the polling. “We will ensure good security cover for Panchayat elections as well, like Municipal polls,” he said.
Panchayat elections were last held in 2011 after a 33-year hiatus in Jammu and Kashmir. 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 polling percentage in the 2005 municipal polls stood at around 45 per cent, over 80% voters turned up during the 2011 panchayat polls. 
According to the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, panchayat elections are to be conducted in the state every five years for three tiers—at the halqa level, the block development council and the district development and planning boards.

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Amid militant threats, Panchayat polls to begin in J&K


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