Lucknow/New Delhi: Over 61.16 per cent of the electorate on Sunday exercised their franchise in the third phase of polling to decide the fate of 826 candidates in Uttar Pradesh's 69 Assembly constituencies considered crucial for the ruling Samajwadi Party.
The turnout, which is higher by more than 1 per cent as compared to last Assembly polls, is expected to go up and touch 63 per cent as many voters were still in queues outside polling booths when the percentage was collated at 5 pm, officials said.
"The turnout of voters was 61.16 per cent when polling drew to a close at 5 PM," UP Chief Electoral Officer T Venkatesh said in Lucknow.
About 2.41 crore people, including 1.10 crore women and 1,026 people belonging to the 'third gender' category, were eligible to vote in this phase.
He said the polling was by and large peaceful in this phase for which tight security arrangements were put in place at all the 25,603 polling booths.
"At 5 pm, voting percentage was recorded as 61.16 per cent. There were huge queues outside some of the polling booths. We expect voting to reach or cross 63 per cent," Deputy Election Commissioner Vijay Dev told a press conference in Delhi.
"The polling in 69 Assembly constituencies passed off peacefully, without any incident," he said.
In the 2012 Assembly and 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the turnout in these constituencies was 59.96 per cent and 58.43 per cent, respectively.
The percentage was, however, less than that witnessed in the first two phases of polling during the ongoing elections.
The first phase saw polling of 64.2 per cent while the second phase recorded a little over 65 per cent.
In today's phase, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav voted in Saifai (Etawah) while Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and his family voted in Lucknow where BSP supremo Mayawati also cast her ballot.
Dev said this phase was incident-free and violence-free which assumes significance as the areas were votes were cast traditionally had a tag of witnessing a lot of disturbances.
"These areas had difficult kind of history of violence. But the voting was done peacefully. It is testimony to the peace-loving nature of the voters. I would like to congratulate all for this," the EC official said.
He hoped the same trend will be witnessed in the remaining four phases of polling.
"A record seizure of Rs 38.40 crore cash and 2.014 lakh litres of liquor has been effected (from the areas of third phase of polls)," Dev said.
Polling was today held in 12 districts and included SP strongholds Kannauj, Mainpuri and Etawah besides Lucknow (the Lok Sabha constituency of Rajnath Singh), Farrukhabad, Hardoi, Auraiya, Kanpur Dehat, Kanpur, Unnao, Barabanki and Sitapur. Etawah is the native place of SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav, while Mainpuri is represented in Lok Sabha by SP's Tej Pratap Yadav. Dimple Yadav, the wife of Akhilesh, is the MP from Kannauj.
The leaders, after casting their votes, claimed that their parties will form the next government in the state. Mayawati, who cast her vote in the Mall Avenue area in
Lucknow, told reporters that BSP would win over 300 of the 403 seats.
"Unlike the Congress and BJP, I am not saying this without any basis. The way the people are attending my rallies, I can say that I am going to form the next government. The people of the state want change as they are fed up with the misrule and 'goonda raj' of SP," she said.
In a similar refrain, Rajnath Singh claimed that the BJP would secure an absolute majority in UP.
In Saifai, Akhilesh said, "The voters have made up their mind in favour of the SP-Congress alliance."
Polling in this phase began slowly but picked up pace later. There were reports of minor skirmishes between the supporters of the candidates at some polling booths.
SP leader and Akhilesh's uncle Shivpal Yadav complained that his supporters were attacked by the "political opponents" in his Jaswantnagar constituency.
In the 2012 Assembly polls, the SP had won 55 of these 69 seats, while the BSP, BJP and Congress had secured only six, five and two seats respectively. One seat was won by an Independent.
Duputy Election Commissioner Dev said in Delhi that 28,167 Electronic Voting machines (EVMs) were used for the polls, of these 167 had to be replaced due to technical reasons.
Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines were also used in five constituencies under Lucknow and Kanpur areas. Of these, 47 had to be replaced for some issues, the officer said.
VVPAT machines, which are attached to EVMs, generate a slip to verify that a vote has been cast correctly.
Dev said 208 flying squads and 237 static surveillance teams were formed to ensure cash and liquors are not used to lure voters....