With the sixth phase of the Bihar Assembly elections ending and the curtain coming down on the month-long poll process in 243 constituencies, the Election Commission heaved a sigh of relief on Saturday.

“It was the most peaceful election ever” held in the State, Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi, told journalists here.

In Bihar, elections were once synonymous with incidents of loot, booth capturing, impersonation and kidnap.

Now, thanks to the tight security measures taken by the Commission, the turnout also improved with an average 52.43 per cent voters exercising their franchise in all six phases, up from 45.85 per cent in the October 2005 Assembly elections and from 44.6 per cent in last year's Lok Sabha elections.

In Saturday's final phase in 26 constituencies, at least 18 of them in the Naxal belt, around 50.98 per cent voters exercised their franchise.

Mr. Quraishi said there was not a single case of booth capturing in this election. The EC was fully geared to ensure that counting of votes on November 24 went off peacefully and fairly. It had appointed independent observers.

He attributed the improvement in poll percentage to absence of fear, and to voter awareness campaigns and scientific poll management. Besides, greater participation of women pushed up the voting percentage by around seven this time.

While the turnout by men was 50.77 per cent, it was 54.85 per cent for women. It was a quantum jump, EC sources said.