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Millions vote for new assembly in Kerala, Tamil Nadu

Wednesday April 13, 2011 03:25:32 PM, IANS

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Thiruvananthapuram/Chennai: Millions in the politically crucial southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu as well as the union territory of Puducherry Wednesday queued up at polling booths to bring in new assemblies amid sparring and claims of victory by all parties.

The elections for the 404 combined seats in the belt proceeded steadily and peacefully as the day progressed. About 70 million voters are eligible to exercise their franchise in the three coastal states.

It's a high-powered electoral battle. While India's ruling Congress is hoping to oust the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala, it is desperately banking on a win in Tamil Nadu where its alliance partner DMK is the incumbent.

Enthusiasm ran high in Kerala where polling began at 8 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m. Close to 50 percent had voted in the first six hours.

Officials said the turnout amongst the 22 million electorate could exceed the 2006 figure of close to 70 percent. There are 971 candidates, including 78 women, in the fray.

There were reports of lengthy queues outside most of the 20,758 polling centres, with celebs and the commoner alike lining up to cast their votes.

Many voters were surprised to see their favourite stars in their midst, as well as top politicians like Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan and union Defence Minister A.K. Antony.

"It is nice to see people turn out in good numbers to exercise their franchise. One reason why I decided to come and vote early so it could send the message to those who are staying back at home," said Malayalam cine star Suresh Gopi.

Amongst the many thousands who voted was Thiruvallam Bhasi, a journalist from Melbourne who had come all the way to cast his first franchise as an NRI.

"The presiding officer in my booth was surprised to see an NRI voter. I voted by showing my passport. He, in fact, asked me if I came specifically to cast my vote, and I said yes," said Bhasi.

The turnout boosted the morale of the LDF and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) competing in a state that has never returned a government to power.

An upbeat Ramesh Chennithala of the Congress-led UDF said they would win 100 of the 140 seats in the assembly. The former state Congress chief is contesting from Haripad in Alappuzha district.

The chief minister was equally confident and said the Left would win by a huge margin.

The claims were echoed in Tamil Nadu, too, where polling was on to elect 234 members with archrivals DMK and AIADMK at the centre of the proverbial storm over the lavish distribution of money to voters.

Around 15 percent of the nearly 47 million people voted in the first two hours, said officials. A total of 2,748 candidates, including 141 women, are in the fray.

AIADMK chief J. Jayalalithaa predicted a landslide win for her alliance and a clear majority for her party. The AIADMK is contesting in 160 seats.

Terming the DMK corrupt, she said: "There has been corruption earlier but not on this scale. Not only the 2G spectrum scam but people are also aware of scams in granite quarrying, sand mining and others."

Chief Minister and DMK chief M. Karunanidhi, seeking election to the assembly for a record 12th time and as chief minster for the sixth time, is contesting from Tiruvarur near Thanjavur. "DMK's chances are as bright as the 'rising sun' (the party's election symbol)," he said after voting.

The party is contesting in 119 seats.

"It will be a DMK-led government. It could be a single party government or a coalition," he said.

In neighbouring Puducherry, voting was under way for a new 30-member assembly. Eighteen percent polling was registered at 10 a.m., an election official said.

Over 810,000 voters - about 390,500 men, 419,800 women and five transgenders - are expected to decide the fate of 187 candidates in the fray.

The choice in the union territory will be mainly between incumbent Congress Chief Minister V. Vaithilingam and former Congress chief minister N. Rangasamy, who now heads the All India NR Congress (AINRC).




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