Himachal Pradesh assembly polls on Nov 9, results on Dec 18


NEW DELHI, Oct 12: Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh will be held in a single phase on November 9 with the hill state set to witness an intense battle between the ruling Congress and the opposition BJP.
Making the annou-ncement here today, the Election Commission said the results will be declared on December 18.
The dates for Assembly elections in Gujarat were not announced but Chief Election Commissioner A K Joti said the polls will be held before December 18.
"This is being done to ensure that the voting pattern of one state does not affect the other state...polling in Gujarat will be held before December 18 (when HP results are announced)," Joti told a press conference.
The tenures of Himachal and Gujarat assemblies end on January 7, 2018 and January 22 respectively.
"The Model Code of Conduct comes into force immediately," Joti said while announcing the poll schedule for Himachal Pradesh.
The model code of conduct will be applicable for Himachal Pradesh as well as for the Union government in matters related to the state.
For the first time ever, the Election Commission will set up 136 all-woman managed polling booths in Himachal Pradesh, with each constituency having two of them.
In the 68-member Assembly, the ruling Congress has 35 members while the strength of opposition BJP is 28. There are four independents while one seat is vacant.
Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh will fight for a seventh term. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi last week declared Virbhadra Singh as the party s next chief ministerial face, saying he will be chief minister for the seventh time.
The BJP will be fighting out on the back of a sweeping Lok Sabha victory in 2014 in the state too and landslide wins in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand assembly polls in March.
Responding to queries on why elections in Gujarat were not announced simultaneously, Joti said the imposition of Model Code with immediate effect would stop all government work and there was no need to prolong it beyond the required period.
The CEC said elections to the two states--HP and Gujarat-- were announced separately in the past too including in 1993, 1994 and 2002.
He said besides availability of central forces and festive season, the Gujarat government had told the Commission that several relief and rehabilitation works were on in the state following the July floods.
The poll process in Himachal Pradesh will start with the issue of the gazette notification on October 16 when candidates can start filing their nominations.
Joti, who was flanked by Election Commissioners O P Rawat and Sunil Arora, said the last date for filing of nominations is October 23.
After scrutiny on October 24, the last date for withdrawal of nominations is October 26, he said.
Himachal Pradesh will be the second state after Goa with 100 percent VVPAT (paper trail of votes) coverage. The paper trail machines will be deployed along with EVMs in all the 7,521 polling stations, including 42 auxiliary polling stations at remote places.
Joti said VVPAT machines from one polling booth in each of the 68 assembly constituencies will be tallied with EVM results to check the vote count.
The Commission has also increased the size of the VVPAT paper trail screen, where voters can see for whom they have voted.
Joti said photo electoral rolls will be used for Himachal polls and photo identity cards have been issued to all voters.
He said voter slips will be distributed to each and every voter in the state seven days before the polls along with a voter guide brouchure in the local language of Hindi.
The CEC said voter assistance booth will also be set up and the size of the standardised voting compartment will also be increased from 24 inches to 30 inches, keeping in mind the introduction of paper trail machines.
Each candidate contesting the poll will have to maintain a separate account of poll expenses, which have been capped at a maximum of Rs 28 lakh for Himachal Pradesh. However, the candidate will have to submit the election expenses to the returning officer within a period of 30 days after the declaration of results.
However, The Congress today questioned the Election Commission's decision not to announce the poll schedule for Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat simultaneously and alleged that the government had put "pressure" on the poll panel.
The party alleged that the "delay" in announcing Gujarat Assembly election schedule was to enable Prime Minister Narendra Modi to act as a "false Santa Claus" to offer sops and use "jumlas" (rhetoric) during his October 16 visit to his home state.
The model code of conduct would have come into immediate effect in Gujarat had the poll schedule been announced, it said.
"It is now clear that the Modi Government and the BJP are putting pressure on the EC to defer announcement of Gujarat election along with Himachal, to suit their political ends," Congress communications incharge Randeep Surjewala alleged in a video message posted on his Twitter account.
"The reason is that the PM is visiting Gujarat on Oct 16 as a false Santa Claus to announce sops and 'jumlas' that he did not implement for 22 years," he said on Twitter.
The Congress leader said that the "onus lies on the EC to ensure level playing field by announcing Gujarat election dates and imposing Code of Conduct immediately".
"The question is that can the Election Commission buckle under such pressure from the government. Is this the right tradition and the Election Commission should give an elaborate answer to the people of the country in this regard," he said.
Surjewala claimed that Modi is "sensing defeat" in his home state after Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi "exposed the failures" of the BJP government for 22 years.
The BJP is fearing losses and wants to lure voters in the last minute, he claimed.
"We demand that the elections be held in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh in November and the model code come into effect immediately. This is the demand of the people of both the states as well as the constitutional obligation," he said.
"Whatever you may do and try, the people of the state have made up their mind and will defeat the BJP," Surjewala said.
Congress secretary incharge for Himachal Pradesh Ranjeet Ranjan also raised questions over the Election Commission delaying the announcement of outcome of the assembly polls in the hill state by over a month till Gujarat elections are held.
She claimed that the BJP "fears" that Gujarat may "slip away" from its hands given that the opposition party is "gaining support" there.
Welcoming the announcement of Himachal polls, she said her party is in "full campaign mode" and is banking on the performance of the Virbhadhra Singh government.
She also praised the decision to use Voter Verifiable Paper Trail (VVPAT) in Himachal for the first time.
"We are in full campaign mode and fully prepared. You can say the BJP on the other hand is hit by factionalism and has 4-5 candidates for the chief-ministerial post," she told reporters.
Ranjan also dismissed reports that Singh and Congress' Himachal unit chief Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu were not on the same page.
"They are not contradicting each other," she said.
"Given the (better) situation the Congress is in Gujarat and the way it is getting support there, not announcing Gujarat polls thus underlines BJP's fear," she claimed, echoing Surjewala on the issue.

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