Anantnag, June 25: Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was ahead of her nearest rival Congress candidate by nearly 9,000 votes, well on her way to retain this south Kashmir assembly constituency for her Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on Saturday.
After the seventh round of counting, Mehbooba Mufti had polled nearly 12,000 votes and Congress' Hilal Ahmad Shah had 3,700. Iftikhar Hussain Misghar of the National Conference had secured just 1,700 votes in the Anantnag constituency that was once a bastion of his party.
The vote count, which began in the morning, was briefly disrupted after Congress supporters alleged descripancies in some Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) and that bogus votes were being counted in the name of postal ballots.
However, the counting resumed immediately even as dozens of supporters of the Congress candidate shouted anti-government slogans and protested over "unsealed" postal ballots.
The returning officer refused to entertain his protest, leading to a ruckus inside the counting centre at Government Degree College, Anantnag and disruption in the vote count.
Shah alleged that postal ballots were "not properly sealed and were basically bogus votes", adding the EVMs were also "not sealed properly". The Congress and the National Conference activists later walked out in protest.
"They have changed the voting machines. I will not enter the (counting) hall again," Shah told IANS.
The PDP said the Congress protest was a frustration over its impending defeat. "They are losing out at places where they had good support. So, this is expected from them," PDP legislator Abdul Raheem Rather told IANS.
Eight contestants were in the fray. The constituency has over 84,000 eligible voters and and nearly 28,500 voted on Wednesday despite a poll boycott called by separatist politicians and militants.
The by-election was necessitated because of the death of the then Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed who represented the constituency in the assembly, which has an effective strength of 87.
Sayeed passed away in New Delhi on January 7 after a brief illness.
Mehbooba Mufti assumed power after being sworn in as the Chief Minister of the PDP-BJP coalition government on April 4.
It is mandatory for a Chief Minister or any other minister in the state to become a member of either house of state's bicameral legislature within six months of being sworn in.
At present, Mehbooba Mufti represents the south Kashmir Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency in parliament.