UP elections not postponed; voting extended by 1 hour: EC
There would be no delay in conducting the upcoming assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra said on Thursday. The decision was taken after consultation with all political parties in the state. Chandra also informed that voters in UP will have an extra hour to cast ballots to ensure maintaining of social distancing in view of the COVID-19 situation.
- The Election Commission made the comments after a Chandra-led team visited UP to review poll preparedness.
- The team arrived in UP on Tuesday and met key officials and political parties during the visit.
- This came after concerns were raised over the upcoming assembly elections in five states as many fear poll campaigning activities can potentially turn into COVID-19 hotspots.
Addressing a press conference in Lucknow, Chandra said all political parties in UP, including the ruling BJP and the opposition Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, and Congress favored holding the elections on time. All parties had offered suggestions on how to minimize the spread of cases, Chandra said. He further said the EC would issue detailed guidelines once the dates for elections are announced.
Chandra also announced some measures to curb the spread of the virus. These included double-vaccination of all poll workers and the arrangement of extra voting booths. He also informed that the final voters' list would be released on January 5, 2022.
Chandra also expressed concerns over the low voting percentage in the state with a "high political awareness." "61% voter turnout was recorded in 2017 UP assembly elections. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, voter turnout in UP was 59%," he pointed out. While meeting state officials on Wednesday, Chandra had reportedly directed the officials to focus on increasing voter turnout compared to 2017.
Meanwhile, Chandra further announced that people over the age of 80, those with disabilities, and those affected by COVID-19 would be able to vote from home. For them, the EC will "reach their doorsteps for the vote," he said.
Last week, the Allahabad HC had urged the EC to postpone UP assembly polls by one-two months due to Omicron. "If rallies are not stopped, the results will be worse than the second wave," Justice Shekhar Yadav had said. The HC also urged PM Narendra Modi and the EC to immediately ban rallies and public meetings of political parties in the state.
All political parties can be seen violating COVID-19 guidelines in campaign rallies. This was evident in Congress' women's marathon last week, a rally by Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav at Unnao, and a roadshow by Home Minister Amit Shah in Hardoi. However, the EC maintained that the responsibility to control mass gatherings lies with state authorities until the Model Code of Conduct is enforced.