Shillong, Mar 3: Polling began peacefully for the 60-member Meghalaya Assembly at around 0700 hours this morning. Initially, the voter turnout was sparse due to the chilly weather. However, election to one seat - Baghmara Assembly constituency in South Garo Hills - was countermanded following the death of Congress MLA and candidate Sengran M Sangma. Election would be held there on March 22.
A large number of electorate are expected to exercise their franchise during the later part of the day. The total number of electorate in Meghalaya is 12,30,152, including 6,25,534 women. As many as 331 candidates, including incumbent Chief Minister D D Lapang and five former Chief Ministers J D Rymbai, Dr F A Khonglam, E K Mawlong, S C Marak besides former Lok Sabha Speaker P A Sangma are in the fray. In all 19 women candidates, including multi-millionaire Congress MLA and candidate Debora C Marak, are seeking people's mandate.
The Congress is contesting all the seats in the state, while the United Democratic Party (UDP) with 52 followed by the Nationalist Congress Party with 50 besides 73 Independent candidates. The current term of the Meghalaya Assembly ends on March 10. Counting will be held on March 7.
Altogether, 39 poll observers and 117 magistrates have been deployed in their respective zones to oversee the smooth conduct of polls. Assisting these officials would be personnel from 26 state police and 41 additional paramilitary companies to ensure free and fair polls.
The Border Security Force had also tightened vigil across the state's international border with Bangladesh. Polling would be video-recorded in some of the ''hyper sensitive'' polling stations for the first time in Meghalaya's election history. Altogether, 635 polling stations have been identified as ''hyper sensitive'' and 194 as sensitive.
In all the polling stations, Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) would have Braille-coded push buttons this time for the physically challenged. Special ramps were also erected for handicapped people in all the polling booths.