Srinagar, Dec 9: Voting began on a brisk note today in 16 constituencies of Jammu and Kashmir going to polls in third of the five-phased state elections. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and three of his cabinet colleagues are among 144 candidates whose fate will be decided today in the third phase of polling in 16 seats spread across Budgam, Pulwama and Baramulla districts.
Braving cold weather, voters today lined up at polling stations much before the start of the voting time at 8 am. Security arrangements in all the three districts have been strengthened in the wake of Friday's violence, where 21 persons including 11 security personnel and eight militants were killed in four incidents in the Valley.
The last 24 hours have been peaceful with no incidents of fresh violence reported from any of the three districts. All eyes will be on Uri and Tral constituencies, which were hit by militant violence ahead of the polls. The first two phases of elections in the state saw a record turnout of over 70 per cent, with voters ignoring boycott calls by separatists and militant outfits.
The stakes are high for Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as it held nine of the 16 Assembly constituencies, which have an electorate of 13.69 lakh electors, including 6.51 lakh women. A total of 144 candidates are in the fray including 10 other sitting MLAs. 1,781 polling stations have been set up in the area.
Omar, who chose to contest from Beerwah in Budgam instead of his family bastion of Ganderbal, hopes that some of the recent steps taken by his government for the area will help him sail through the electoral tide from a constituency which was won by PDP candidates in the last two elections.
Omar, who is seeking a second term in the Assembly, faces a stiff challenge from sitting PDP MLA Mohammad Shafi Wani and Congress nominee Nazir Ahmad Khan, whose father Sarfaraz Khan had won from Beerwah in 2002 elections as a PDP candidate. PDP represents nine of the 16 seats while the ruling NC holds only four. Congress and Peoples Democratic Front won one seat each in the last polls while one seat went to Independent. While seven assembly seats fall in Baramulla district, five are in Budgam and four in Pulwama.