Counting of votes for Gujarat, Himachal polls tomorrow

All eyes are riveted on tomorrow's outcome of Gujarat and Himachal Assembly polls which witnessed record turnouts with pollsters predicting a third straight term in office for Narendra Modi and a Congress edge in the BJP-ruled hill state.

In Gujarat, where 71.32 per cent voters cast their ballot, the counting will be held for all the 182 Assembly constituencies in the state, culminating the much-watched poll exercise which started on October four with the Election Commission announcing the poll schedule.

Polling was held in two phases on December 13 and 17, and the counting will begin at 8 AM at 33 places in the state where 44,579 Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) have been kept in strong rooms under heavy security. Chief Minister Narendra Modi is seeking a third straight term in office and pollsters have predicted a landslide for BJP. A big win will viably consolidate Modi's position in his party.

The assembly elections were virtually a three-way fight with rebel BJP leader Keshubhai Patel, a former Chief Minister, launching his political outfit Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) months ahead of the polls and main Opposition Congress running a sustained and aggressive campaign against Modi. Congress had lost power in the key western state in 1990.

Apart from the three main contenders, 33 other parties are also trying their luck at the hustings. After a gap of 46 days, between November 4 polling and the counting day, counting of votes in Himachal Pradesh, which has a 68-member assembly, will be begin at 8 AM at 68 counting halls and all the results are expected to be declared by the evening, according state Chief Electoral Officer Narinder Chauhan. Himachal had seen a record turnout of 74.7 per cent.

Exit and opinion polls on television channels have projected Congress as having an edge in BJP-ruled state. Chauhan said the gap between polling and counting has caused an additional expenditure of Rs 4 crore on security of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). The total expenditure on polls was likely to be around Rs 10 crore, he said.
Electoral fate of 1,666 candidates in Gujarat including that of Modi, his cabinet colleagues, Congress stalwarts like party's state president Arjun Modhwadia, Leader of Opposition Shaktisinh Gohil and former Chief Minister Shankarsinh Vaghela would be decided.

Election Commission sources said in Ahmedabad that postal ballots would be taken up during the first half-hour of counting followed by 2,71,58,626 votes cast in the two phases of polling. "Within 3-4 hours, trends will be available for all 182 constituencies and hopefully by 4 PM all results will be declared," the sources said.

In Himachal, the fate of 459 candidates will be decided tomorrow including that of Chief Minister P.K.Dhumal, ten cabinet ministers, HPCC chief V B Singh, state BJP chief Satpal Singh Satti, Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Vidya Stokes, 64 sitting MLAs and over dozens of former ministers and MLAs.

As many as 33,49,948 voters including 16,47.156 men and 17,02,790 women had exercised their franchise in the one-day polling on November 4 last.  There are 106 independents and 26 women in the fray and the ruling BJP and Congress have contested all seats.

The counting of portal ballots would be taken up first, followed by counting of votes of EVMs. Postal ballots included that of 74,000 army personnel and 42,000 state government employees including police and home guard personnel, who were on poll duty.

EVMs from tribal Lahaul and Spiti district and M Pangi were brought to Kullu immediately after the polls for counting. The election in all 68 assembly constituencies, including three tribal constituencies, were held simultaneous in the state after a gap of 19 years.

Chauhan said in Shimla, "While 42,000 security personnel were deployed to ensure free and fair polls and security of EVMs, 4,000 persons have been put on duty for the counting day." "EVMs from tribal area of Lahaul Spiti, cut off due to heavy snow, were shifted to Kullu district in advance but 11 postal ballots could not be brought from snow-bound Lahaul Valley as Rohtang pass, linking Kullu with Lahaul and Spiti district, was closed and the Election Commission has been informed about it," he said.

These votes would be counted in Udaipur under the supervision of a special committee and micro observers as allowed in 2007 polls, he said, adding that the cost of the 11 postal ballots airlifting to Kullu would be around Rs six lakh, which is not a feasible option, he added.

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