Polling in the first phase of the Bihar assembly elections ended peacefully on Wednesday. According to the Election Commission, an estimated 54.26 per cent turnout was recorded. The polls were held in 71 seats spread across 16 districts amid tight security and strict COVID-19 protocols in place.
Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said that the ECI was 'discouraged' from conducting elections amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but the poll panel was of the view that carrying out the electoral exercise was a "leap of faith and not a leap in the dark".
"We (EC) were, in a way I would say, were also discouraged as to why elections are being held amid Covid. But you would recall I had said on September 25 (when Bihar poll schedule was announced) that for EC, this poll is a leap of faith and not leap in the dark," he told reporters on Wednesday. Arora didn't say who had discouraged the poll watchdog.
In a break from tradition, the CEC attended the briefing on turnout after the end of the first phase on Wednesday. Usually, the briefing is held by the deputy election commissioners concerned.
Ahead of the ECI announced poll schedule, some opposition parties had urged the panel to postpone the elections due to the pandemic. Political parties like the Congress, Rashtriya Janata Dal, and LJP have expressed strong reservations against holding elections in the midst of a pandemic. They were demanding to place the state under the President's Rule and hold the elections only after the Covid situation is brought under control.
In the 2015 assembly polls, the voter turnout in phase one was 54.94 per cent, while in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the corresponding figure was 53.54 per cent.
The Bihar Assembly election is the first major poll held in the country amid the pandemic. The ECI has made elaborate arrangements to ensure the smooth conduct of exercise with strict Covid restrictions in place. The panel increased the poll time by an hour till 6 pm to allow coronavirus patients to vote in the last hour. Polling went beyond 6 PM in some constituencies, while the voting hours were curtailed in Naxal-affected areas and ended at 4 pm after beginning at 7 am.
Voters in all the 16 districts were seen queuing up at polling stations since early morning and COVID-19 norms were largely followed with people wearing masks and maintaining a safe distance from each other. Hand sanitisers were kept at the entrance and the exit gates of the booth.
Polling in the second phase will take place on November 3. The last phase will be held on November 7. The results will be declared on November 10.