Covid-safe polls prime on EC mind as dates rolled out

Election Commission announces poll process in five states, aims to keep it Covid-safe

Come March 10, and the states of Goa, Punjab, Manipur, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh will finally decide on who will rule them for the ensuing five years. With the Election Commission of India listing down the schedule for the Assembly elections in these states, the action has entered a new phase with parties likely to make the most of the remaining days of the campaign.

Uttar Pradesh will go to polls in seven phases from February 10 to March 7, the EC has announced. Meanwhile, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Goa will vote in a single phase on February 14. The north eastern state of Manipur will vote in two phases on February 27 and March 3. And, March 10 will witness the counting.

The election season, this time around, is expected to be thrilling, with many a political drama having unfolded in the past few days. While many leaders have switched from one party to another in anticipation of a plum roles, there also have been instances of washing dirty laundry in public with the hope of garnering votes.

Looking to ensure Covid-safe polls

The Covid-19 surge, that has happened all of a sudden, could be a major disappointment for the rival political outfits as the Election Commission has said no to roadshows, rallies and processions till January 15. This time line is expected to be extended as the virus hasn’t been showing any signs of subsiding.  With the poll panel spelling out the election schedule, the Model Code of Conduct has also come into effect.

As the EC would want to ensure a fully sanitised, Covid-safe poll process, it is likely that more curbs on public meetings are in the offing. The Election Commission has increased the number of polling booths, while making it possible to control crowds. The number of voters at polling stations has been reduced to 1,250 from 1,500. Also, polling time would go up by an extra hour. This is apart from polling stations equipped with sanitisers and masks.

Parties to fight it out sans crowds

The ban on public rallies could be much of a blow for the parties. They have no other go but to toe the poll panel’s line on Covid-prevention protocols. Parties have already decided against rallies and roadshows in tune with the protocols.

So as the wait gets over, voting will get underway for as many as 403 Assembly seats in Uttar Pradesh, and 117 in Punjab. Meanwhile, it will be for 70 in Uttarakhand, 60 in Manipur and 40 in Goa.

Ahead of the polls, the Election Commission would also want the five poll-bound states to speed up the pace of Covid-19 vaccination so that almost every voter who arrives at the polling stations would be fully vaccinated. However, this seems to be a tough task as many states still have a huge ground to cover on that front.

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