New Delhi: Assembly elections in Gujarat will be held in two phases on December 9 and 14, the Election Commission announced Wednesday, setting the stage for a high- stakes battle between the state's ruling BJP and the Congress.
The votes will be counted on December 18, the same day as Himachal Pradesh, where elections will be held on November 9, Chief Election Commissioner A. K. Joti told a press conference.
The announcement of the Gujarat elections comes almost two weeks after the Election Commission declared dates for Himachal Pradesh on October 12. The delay led to the opposition raising questions on deviations from the norm and alleging that it was done to help the Centre announce sops for the state.
The BJP has been in power in Gujarat since 1998 and the Congress is seeking to make a comeback. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi is touring the state while Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also visited the state in the recent past.
The two have also mounted political attacks on each other in the state. While the Congress is eyeing the support of SC and backward leaders to return to power, the BJP is banking on the development plank and the popularity of Modi to once again retain the state.
In the 2012 polls, Modi was the chief minister of the state. "The Model Code of Conduct comes into effect immediately. It will be applicable to the state government of Gujarat, the Union government and all candidates and political parties," Joti told reporters.
The poll process in the state will start on November 14 with the issue of the gazette notification for the first phase. Candidates can start filing their nominations from that day. The first phase will be held in 89 of the 182 seats and will cover 19 of 33 districts.
The notification for the second phase will be issued on November 20 for the remaining 93 assembly seats in 14 districts. The last date for filing nominations in the first phase is November 21.
Candidates can withdraw their nominations till November 24. For the second phase, candidates can file their nominations till November 27 and withdraw till November 30. Paper trail of votes will be used in all the 50,128 polling stations of the 182 assembly constituencies to ensure transparency, Joti said.
All voters in Gujarat will be able to see their votes cast through Voter-Verified Paper Trail Audit (VVPAT) machines, which will be installed along with electronic voting machines (EVMs).
The Commission has set up 182 all-women polling stations, one in each assembly constituency. The height of the voting compartment has also been increased to ensure secrecy. All licensed weapons will have to be deposited in police stations, Joti said. CCTV cameras will be used at border checkposts to prevent the smuggling of liquor and money and to stop anti-social elements from entering the states.
There will be voter assistance booths at every polling station, the CEC said.
The Election Commission, he added, will also deploy general, police and expenditure observers all over the state. "Elections in Gujarat have always been peaceful and the commission will take all necessary measures to ensure a peaceful free and fair election in Gujarat," Joti said.
The CEC said central armed forces will be deployed along with the state police to ensure smooth and peaceful elections.