Shimla, Dec 19: Voting began on a dull note in all the 65 Assembly constituencies of Himachal Pradesh in the second and final phase of election here this morning. The biting cold conditions are preventing the voters from venturing out of the warmth of their homes to cast their votes in the mid and lower hills of the state where temperatures are hovering below zero degree Celsius.
Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh is among the 335 candidates contesting election for the 65 assembly seats in the second phase of polling in the state. About 44,179,015 voters, including 22,280,65 men and 21,89,850 women, would exercise their right to franchise in the second phase. Elaborate security arrangements have been made by the Election Commission (EC) to ensure that free and fair voting takes place in the 10 districts of the state.
Over 40,000 security personnel have been deputed for ensuring free, fair and peaceful elections and includes 2,378 reserve polling personnel, 11,892 security personnel, 687 sector officer and magistrates. The EC has also appointed 40 observers and an equal number of micro-observers on sensitive booths for the first time in Himachal.
The poll panel has also set up 5,946 polling booths for the 65 seats. In the 2003 assembly elections, the Congress had won 43 seats, the BJP 16, while six independents were successful in winning the assembly election.
Himachal Vikas Congress' Sukh Ram, Sadanand Chauhan of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and Mahinder Singh Him Loktantrik Party also made it to the state assembly.
Elections for three tribal assembly seats of Kinnuar, Lahaul Spiti and Bharmaur were held on November 14 in the first phase. Himachal Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh is seeking re-election from the Rohru constituency and is pitted against his old rival and BJP's state secretary Khushi Ram Balnahata.
Prominent Congress candidates fighting the election in the second phase are Power Minister Vidya Stokes, Revenue Minister Rangila Ram Rao, Forest Minister Ram all Thakur, former transport and tourism minister G S Bali, Irrigation and Public Health Minister Kaul Singh Thakur and Agriculture Minister Raj Kishan Gaur.
The BJP candidates include its chief ministerial candidate Prem Kumar Dhumal, state president Jai Ram Thakur, former state president Suresh Bhardwaj and former transport minister Kishan Kapoor.