Agartala: Over 75 per cent of the 2,536,589 voters in Left-ruled Tripura had exercised their franchise in a peaceful manner to elect a new Assembly on Sunday even as a large number were still standing in queues at the end of official voting hours, officials said.
Election Department officials said both men and women, including new voters, had queued up in large numbers outside polling booths across Tripura even before polling began at 7 a.m.
A total of 292 candidates, including 23 women and many independents, are in the fray. Counting of votes will take place on March 3.
"Over 75 per cent electorate had cast their votes till 4 p.m. Though the pre-scheduled voting hours ended at 4 p.m, a huge numbers of voters were still in queues at a large number of polling stations across the state," an Election Department official told IANS.
The official said snags in Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) attached with VVPAT (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail) were reported from around 180 polling stations, resulting in slow balloting.
Voters, candidates and leaders of all political parties expressed anger over the malfunctioning EVMs-VVPATs.
In the 2013 and 2008 Assembly polls, Tripura witnessed record balloting at 92 and 91 per cent respectively.
"The Election Commission put up specially modified EVMs attached with VVPATs at all 3,174 polling stations. We replaced or rectified faulty EVM-VVPATs and voting resumed in those polling stations afterwards," Additional Chief Electoral Officer Tapas Roy told IANS.
"Voting was entirely peaceful and incident-free. A large number of electorate, including women, are still standing in queues at hundreds of polling stations. The voters who entered the polling station complex before 4 p.m. will be allowed to cast their ballot even till late night."
Balloting was held in 59 of the 60 Assembly constituencies. Polling was deferred to March 12 in Charilam (Reserved-Tribal) seat due to the death of sitting MLA and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) candidate Ramendra Narayan Debbarma.
Of the 3,174 polling stations, a total of 47 were totally handled by women personnel. In all, 2,536,589 people, including 1,250,128 women and 47,803 first-time voters, were eligible to vote.
The ruling CPI-M fielded 56 candidates, leaving one seat each to its Left Front partners Communist Party of India, Forward Bloc, and Revolutionary Socialist Party.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is contesting 50 seats, leaving nine seats for its ally, the Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT).
The Congress fielded candidates in all 59 constituencies. However, its official nominee Sukumar Chandra Das in Kakraban-Shalgarha Assembly seat (Reserved-Scheduled Caste) withdrew his nomination and joined the BJP.
The Trinamool Congress has fielded 24 candidates.
Of the 60 seats, 20 are reserved for tribals and 10 for Scheduled Castes.
"Apprehending trouble by tribal outfits, a record 50,000 paramilitary and other security personnel were deployed while two air surveillance teams led by senior officials were deployed on helicopters," an Election Department official said.
Accompanied by his wife Panchali Bhattacharjee, Chief Minister and CPI-M politburo member Manik Sarkar cast his vote here and expressed confidence about retaining power.
"It is certain that the 8th Left Front government will be formed in Tripura after these elections. We are strongly hopeful."
BJP Tripura unit President Biplab Kumar Deb voted in southern Tripura's Udaipur and claimed : "People want change. People strongly wish for a BJP government in Tripura."
In India's 65-year-old electoral history, the CPI-M has never before come in direct confrontation with the BJP.
Tripura became a full-fledged state in January 1972 along with Meghalaya and Manipur. The CPI-M dominated Left Front has been in power since 1978, except for 11 years (1972-1977 and 1988-1993) when the Congress and a breakaway faction led by five Chief Ministers were at the helm in the state.
During 1988-1993, the Congress in alliance with the tribal Tripura Upajati Juba Samity governed the state.
The CPI-M led Left Front has ruled the north-eastern state since 1993 under Chief Ministers Dasaratha Deb (1993-1998) and Manik Sarkar (1998-2018).
The Congress, which fought Assembly elections in alliance with the tribal party since 1983, entered the poll battle alone this time.
The BJP previously fought elections alone but has since aligned with the IPFT, which since 2009 has been agitating for a separate state comprising areas under the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council.
The separate state demand has been rejected by all political parties.