Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir for nearly 13,000 vacant seats will be held next month, NDTV reported on Thursday. This is the first major political exercise in the region since August 5 last year, when the erstwhile state’s special status under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution was revoked, and it was bifurcated into the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

“Panchayat elections for vacant posts of every block will be held using ballot boxes,” Jammu and Kashmir’s Chief Electoral Officer Shailendra Kumar said, adding that the polling will be conducted in eight phases. He said that the Model Code of Conduct has come into being in the Union Territory. Most of the areas where panchayat elections will be held fall in the Kashmir Valley.

The eight phases of polling will be held on March 5, 7, 9, 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20, India Today reported.

Block development council elections were held in Kashmir last October. However, the general electorate does not participate in these polls.

Kumar said panchayat elections for Ladakh are not being held because no request has been made for it, ANI reported. “Union Territory of Ladakh has not yet sent us request for conduct of elections so we’ve not included Ladakh,” he said. “In any case, Ladakh is snow-bound and it is very cold out there. So it is not feasible to have elections at this point of time.”

The last local body elections were held in 2018. The main political parties based in the Valley, the National Conference and the People’s Democratic party, did not participate amid fears that the special status of the former state under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution would be removed. The Hurriyat Conference had also called for a boycott, describing the polls as a drama enacted to “fool people”.

The elections were announced days after prominent Kashmiri politicians, including former Chief Ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, were charged under the Public Safety Act. The Act allows the detention of a person without trial for up to two years. National Conference President Farooq Abdullah and many other Kashmiri leaders have also been under detention for several months.