The first phase of the District Development Council elections in Jammu and Kashmir saw a total voter turnout of 51.76%, according to the chief electoral officer. This was the first-ever district council elections in Jammu and Kashmir since the abrogation of special status granted to the erstwhile state under Article 370.

The election was held across 20 districts. Reasi district witnessed the highest total turnout of 74.62%, while Pulwama saw the lowest voting percentage at 6.70%. Giving the district wise details, the state election commissioner said in Kashmir division, the polling percentage recorded in Bandipora was 43.57%, Baramulla 32.51%, Srinagar 33.76%, Pulwama 6.70%, Shopian 42.58%, Kulgam 34.35%, Anantnag 43.32%.

Similarly, in Jammu division, Kishtwar has voting percentage of 55.16%, Doda 64.49%, Ramban 64.21%, Udhampur 57.13%, Kathua 62.82%, Samba 68.61% and Jammu 61.49%.

Polling has been by-and-large peaceful in all the 43 constituencies. Nearly 7 lakh voters were eligible to cast their ballot to decide the fates of 296 candidates in the fray.

The elections to fill up vacant seats of 1,088 sarpanchs and over 12,000 panch positions and Urban Local Bodies are also being held simultaneously. Forty-three sarpanch and 368 panch constituencies are going to the polls in the first phase on Saturday, according to The Indian Express.

In the Jammu division, 124 candidates, including 30 women, are contesting in 18 seats. In Kashmir, 172 candidates are contesting for 25 seats. There are 59 women candidates in the Valley.

Voting will conclude on December 19 and the counting of votes will be held on December 22. The results of panchayat bye-elections will be declared on the polling day itself.

Meanwhile on Friday, separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani issued a statement urging people of Jammu and Kashmir to boycott the elections, reported India Today. He said the polls will result in “demographic changes and land grabs” and that it will prove to be an assault on the economy and livelihood of people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Jammu and Kashmir Election Commissioner KK Sharma has said that polling will take place through Electronic Voting Machines, while postal ballots will be available for Covid-19 patients in isolation, senior citizens and physically unwell patients. West Pakistan Refugees, who are Indian citizens and are eligible to vote in Parliamentary elections, will also be entitled to exercise their right to vote for the first time, the election official said.

The Centre on October 17 amended the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, for holding direct elections for DDCs, which will constitute the third-tier of the panchayati raj system.

Under the new rules, each district will be divided into 14 territorial constituencies by the respective deputy commissioners for electing their representatives, who will then among themselves elect the chairman and vice-chairman of these councils. The councils will replace District Development Boards, which when Jammu and Kashmir was a state, were chaired by a Cabinet minister or a minister of state and included MLAs, MLCs and MPs.

The BDC elections, held immediately after the reading down of Article 370, had failed to revive any political activity. Before the BDC elections, panchayat elections were conducted by the then governor Satya Pal Malik in November-December 2018, which also met with little success as more than 60% panch and sarpanch berths remained vacant in Kashmir.