Thursday, April 14, 2011

Millions vote in Tamil Nadu -- amid bribery charges

Chennai, April 13 (IANS) Some 35-37 million people, or 75-80 percent of the electorate, voted Wednesday in Tamil Nadu amid allegations of largescale bribery by candidates in an election whose outcome is bound to impact Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government.
'The voting percentage will be between 75 and 80 percent. The final figure will be known only when data from all the polling booths is compiled,' Chief Electoral Officer Praveen Kumar told reporters here.
According to him, the Karur district saw the highest voter turnout with 86 percent and the lowest polling was recorded in Tuticorin with 74 percent.
In 2006 elections, the voting percentage was 73 percent.
He said the elections were free and fair with no major incidents. There were 65 complaints about voting machines' malfunctioning. In 11 of these cases, the machines were set right while 54 machines were replaced.
By the time nine hours of hectic balloting ended at 5 p.m., both the ruling DMK and the opposition alliance led by the AIADMK claimed they would form the government -- with or without allies.
A confident AIADMK general secretary and former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa predicted a landslide win for her alliance and said that her own party could get a clear majority.
Chief Minister and DMK leader M. Karunanidhi was dismissive of the claim. He told reporters after casting his vote: 'The DMK's chances are as bright as the 'rising sun' (the party's election symbol).'
Pre-election surveys have predicted a victory for the AIADMK and its allies, including actor Vijayakant's DMDK, but Karunanidhi has branded this as hogwash.
Tamil Nadu is to elect a 234-member assembly. Chief Electoral Officer Praveen Kumar told IANS that the total poll percentage was 75 percent -- more than the 73 percent of 2006.
A total of 2,748 candidates were in the fray, including 141 women.
The DMK's links with the spectrum allocation scandal has made the Tamil Nadu battle keenly contested. A possible defeat of the DMK is expected to cast a shadow on Manmohan Singh's government of which it is a key part.
Both during campaigning and during vote, there were allegations -- partly confirmed by Election Commission officials -- that money was used widely to woo voters, particularly from the poor sections.
The authorities seized scandalous amounts of currency from vehicles that were apparently being transported to help candidates influence the voters.
One report said that some NGOs and student activists were used to hand over money to villagers -- and told to vote for candidates giving away the cash.
Although voting started at 8 a.m., many people assembled at polling booths early in the day to avoid the scorching sun later in the day.
Some said they wanted to prevent others from casting their vote in their name.
'I went early to vote,' R. Raghunathan of Chennai's middle class district of T Nagar told IANS.
Technical glitches held up polling in some booths but these were quickly set right. In many booths voters complained of slow working of the polling staff.
Karunanidhi is contesting from Tiruvarur near Thanjavur. His party has put up 119 candidates, leaving the other seats to its allies, the Congress (63 seats) included.
'It will be a DMK-led government. It could be a single party government or a coalition,' he said.
Deputy Chief Minister M.K. Stalin and Finance Minister K. Anbazhagan also predicted a victory for the DMK.
The AIADMK is contesting from 160 places -- leaving the rest to friendly parties including the Communists.
Jayalalithaa alleged that the DMK had spent around Rs.5,000 crore in campaigning and in bribing voters but added that people were determined to throw out the government.
Though the Election Commission had said there would be separate queues for senior citizens, that was not the case in many places. However, senior citizens got precedence over others.

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