The Election Commission of India will announce the dates for the Bihar Assembly elections on Friday, ANI reported. This is the first state election to be held in the country during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sheyphali Sharan, spokesperson of Election Commission of India, told ANI that the poll body will hold a press conference at 12.30 pm.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who leads a coalition with the Bharatiya Janata Party, will fight for a fourth term. The Rashtriya Janata Dal, led by jailed politician Lalu Prasad Yadav, and the Congress are the other main contenders.

Ahead of the polls, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 13, had praised Kumar for the implementation of development schemes in the state. Modi said Kumar’s decisions ensured that the benefits reached everyone and played a huge role in creating a “new India and new Bihar”.

Several political leaders have opposed holding elections in the middle of a pandemic. In July, Opposition parties in Bihar had asked the Election Commission to ensure that the elections do not become a “coronavirus super-spreader” event.

Parties such as the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have also opposed “virtual campaigning”. Nine parties, in a memorandum to the Election Commission, have questioned the Bharatiya Janata Party’s digital campaign, claiming that it disturbs the level-playing field.

However, on August 28, the Supreme Court rejected the possibility of deferring the Bihar Assembly elections due to the virus. The court observed that Covid-19 cannot be a ground for stopping elections and interfering with the powers of the Election Commission. “This court cannot tell the Chief Election Commissioner what to do. He [CEC] will consider everything,” it said.

On August 11, Chief Election Commissioner of India Sunil Arora said the Election Commission has introduced various guidelines to contain the spread of Covid-19 during the elections. This included an increase in the number of polling stations by setting up 1.8 lakh additional booths, and limiting the number of voters per polling station to a maximum of 1,000 people.

Arora said that Bihar’s chief electoral officer has also been provided an additional number of EVMs, including VVPATs, keeping the pandemic in mind. Besides this, the optional postal ballot voting facility has been extended to senior citizens over 80 years of age, disabled voters, electors engaged in essential services and voters who are coronavirus positive or suspects, living in quarantine, he said.