Polling peaceful barring minor skirmishes

Polling for the Neyyattinkara Assembly by-poll, which was preceded by a high-voltage campaign, the kind seldom witnessed in the State, passed off peacefully barring minor skirmishes and wound up with a record polling percentage of 80.1 on Saturday.

The by-poll, necessitated by the controversial resignation from his post and party too by sitting MLA R. Selvaraj, then with the Communist Party of India (Marxist), began on a moderate note, with voter turnout of around 18 per cent in the first two hours after voting began at 7 a.m. in 143 polling stations, five of which were classified vulnerable and 69 sensitive, across the four panchayats of Athiyannoor, Thirupuram, Chenkal, Kulathoor and Karod and the Neyyattinkara municipality.

It was a mix of voters, with men, women and senior citizens in the initial hours in urban areas while in polling booths such as Pozhiyoor, situated alongside the coast, men were dominant in the morning. The ratio changed towards noon, with women turning out in large numbers across the constituency, and the final hours, particularly in the coastal belt, saw a majority of the queues consisting of women, many of whom were fish vendors who had come to cast their vote after winding up the day's sales.

The day began on a tense note at a polling booth in Maryapuram, where a dispute over removal of posters put up on the compound wall of the booth threatened to flare up. Though activists of all three main parties were on the spot, almost trading blows, the police managed to bring the situation under control.

With stakes being high for all three parties and the three candidates facing the litmus test, Mr. Selvaraj of the United Democratic Front (UDF), F. Lawrence of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) and O. Rajagopal of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), crisscrossed the constituency through the day. Skirmishes and arguments between parties were reported at Sasthamthala, Chenkal and Athiyannoor too, but with none assuming menacing proportions, thanks to the heavy deployment of police and Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel across the constituency.

At the Valiyavila LP School, where there were three booths, each with over 1,400 voters, Election Commission authorities asked three policemen to leave the premises after a political party twice lodged complaints that they were engaged in canvassing votes. A video surveillance team was posted at the booth to ensure that there were no further complaints.

At Thirupuram, voting began more than half-an-hour behind schedule as the electronic voting machine in one polling booth developed a snag.

The same panchayat recorded the highest voter turnout in the end, the percentage pegged at 83.8 per cent as per figures furnished by the Chief Electoral Officer's website. The late surge in turnout resulted in the voting process extending well after 5 p.m. in at least five booths, with polling booth no.33 at Athazhamangalam in the Neyyattinkara municipality witnessing the last voter casting his franchise at 7 p.m. There were 1,525 voters here, out of which 1,303 voted.