General elections to the Legislative Assembly of Bihar will be conducted in three phases, with voting on 28 October, 3 and 7 November, while the counting of results and their declaration will take place on 10 November, the Election Commission of India (ECI) announced on Friday, 25 September.
With the announcement of the dates, the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) has been enforced. Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said that the Commission has made elaborate arrangements for ensuring the effective implementation of MCC guidelines.
While 71 Assembly constituencies will vote in phase 1, 94 Assembly constituencies will do so in phase 2, and 78 Assembly constituencies will cast their ballot in phase 3.
Election Commission Spokesperson Sheyphali Sharan took to Twitter to release the phase-wise details of the polling schedule.
Phase wise AC details pic.twitter.com/ioytPTiair— Sheyphali Sharan (@SpokespersonECI) September 25, 2020
“We welcome the decision of Election Commission. We are assured as people of Bihar want to get rid of this government. The Janata Dal (United) (JD(U)) does not matter in the election, our fight is against the BJP,” Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Yadav said after the announcement of the dates, reported news agency ANI.
Important Dates for the Polls
With regard to phase 1 of the polls, the date of issue of gazette notification is 1 October, while the last date of nomination is 8 October. Meanwhile, the last date for the scrutiny of nominations is 9 October, and the last date for withdrawal of candidature is 12 October.
In phase 2, the date for the issue of notification is 9 October. The last date of nomination is 16 October, and the scrutiny of nominations will be held on 17 October. Meanwhile, the last date for withdrawal of candidature is 19 October.
Similarly, the last date for the issue of notification in the third phase is 13 October and the date of nomination is 20 October. Meanwhile, the last date for scrutiny of nominations is 21 October, and the last date for withdrawal of candidature is 23 October.
Polling Protocols in Light of COVID-19
“As days and months passed and COVID-19 showed no signs of abetting, it was realised that some way would have to be found to balance the democratic rights of the electorate while also making sincere and systematic efforts to protect health and safety of people,” CEC Arora said, explaining the decision to go ahead with the polls despite the pandemic.
All physical contact has been prohibited in the course of the polling, the CEC said, apart from many new protocols such as changing the poll timings and special rules for those voters who were COVID-positive.
“COVID-19 patients who are quarantined will be able to cast their vote on the last day of poll, at their respective polling stations, under the supervision of health authorities. This is beside the option of postal facility already extended to them,” the CEC said.
In order to avoid crowding of polling stations, polling time has been increased by one hour, meaning that it will be held from 7 am-6 pm, instead of 7 am-5 pm earlier. However, CEC Chief Arora added that this will not be applicable to Left-wing affected areas.
Keeping in mind the pandemic, over seven lakh hand sanitiser units, about 46 lakh masks, six lakh PPE kits, 6.7 lakh units of faces-shields, 23 lakh (pairs of) hand gloves have been arranged. For voters specifically, 7.2 crore single-use hand gloves have been arranged, Arora said at the press conference.
CEC Chief Arora also said that all elections meetings will be monitored by election and health officials and that District Election Officers will take decisions about how public gatherings can take place following social distancing norms.
CEC Warns Social Media Platforms
The CEC Chief added that social media platforms are expected to make adequate arrangements to safeguard against misuse of their platforms and set up strict protocols to handle such issues as and when they arise.
"Adverse use of social media has emerged a challenged in the recent times. Digital platforms are dealt with sternly. We would like to make it clear that anyone who makes mysterious use of social media for electoral purpose shall face the consequences under the law," Arora said.
Apart from this, the ECI also said that this time around, political parties are expected to upload online the criminal records of candidates, why they were selected and why those with no such records were not selected.
First State Election Amid Pandemic
A total of 243 seats are up for grabs in the Assembly as the state goes into polls, to be held in October. The term of the Bihar Assembly is due to expire on 29 November.
According to the poll panel, there are 7.29 crore voters in the state, including 3.85 crore male and 3.4 crore female voters and 1.6 lakh service voters.
Present state Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who leads a coalition with the BJP, will be fighting the polls to win a fourth term.
This will be the first state election to be held in India amid the COVID-19 pandemic and its restrictions.
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