Chennai/Thiruvananthapuram, Apr 13: An average of nearly 78 per cent voters exercised their franchise to elect new assemblies in the key southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala and the Union territory of Puducherry today.
While Tamil Nadu and Kerala registered a turnout of 75.21 per cent and 74.4 per cent respectively, in Puducherry it was the highest at 85.21 per cent, Deputy Election Commissioner J P Prakash told reporters in Delhi.
Prakash said polling was by and large peaceful and the percentage was likely to go up.
However, in Salem in Tamil Nadu, a 58-year-old AIADMK sympathiser died in a stampede after police baton charge to disperse those gathered around a polling booth. Later, AIADMK sympathisers blocked the Sivathapuram main road. They also damaged police vehicles by pelting stones.
Election officials kept a strong vigil amid allegations about money distribution to voters in a last ditch effort to lure voters, especially in Tamil Nadu.
Prakash said Rs 54.17 crore in cash was recovered during the drive against use of money power during electioneering in Tamil Nadu.
Live web casting was carried out in all the three elections. For the first time, 8,835 overseas Indians voted in Kerala which had seen 74.4 per cent polling in the 2006 polls.
The electoral fortunes of three top guns of the south Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi (86), his Kerala counterpart V S Achuthanandan (87) and AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa (63) among others will be known on May 13.
Moving away from his constituency in the city, Karunanidhi sought election from rural Tiruvarur segment in his home district for the first time while his arch-rival Jayalalithaa opted for temple town of Srirangam where her family has roots.
Other political heavyweights among the 2,773 candidates are Karunanidhi's son and Deputy Chief Minister M K Stalin (Kolathur on Chennai outskirts) and actor-politician Vijayakant of DMDK (Rishivandyam).
In Kerala, Kannur district, known for clashes between rival party cadres, topped in voter turn out recording 80.4 per cent while the lowest was reported from Pathanamthitta (68.2) closely followed by capital Thiruvananthapuram (68.5).
In Palakkad district, where Achuthanandan is seeking re-election for the third time in Malampuzha segment, the turn out was 75.3 per cent.
The battle to gain power in the highly polarised state, where the pendulum swings between CPI-M led LDF and UDF headed by Congress every five years, was keenly fought between the two fronts.
In all, 971 candidates, including Independents, are in the fray. UDF's Chief Ministerial probable Oommen Chandy is seeking to enter the assembly for the tenth time in a row from Puthuppally in Kottayam.
BJP is pinning its hopes on senior leader O Rajagopal, contesting in Nemom to open its account in the assembly. In Puducherry, the polling percentage was around 83.62 as against 84 per cent recorded in the 2006 assembly polls.
The Congress-led combine, including DMK and PMK, is facing a tough challenge in the Union territory from a front led by former chief minister N Rangasamy's All India NR Congress that has AIADMK in its fold. PTI