The Election Commission on Saturday announced the schedule for the upcoming assembly elections in the five states which will begin on February 10 and conclude by March 7 and the results will be announced on March 10. While the term of the current Uttar Pradesh assembly is ending in May, those of the other four assemblies – Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur – are ending on different dates in March.
Uttar Pradesh will go to polls in seven phases from February 10 to March 7; Punjab, Uttarakhand and Goa will vote in single phase on February 14 and Manipur will vote in two phases on February 27 and March 3. The Model Code of Conduct has come into effect in the five states with the announcement of elections.
With the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic unfolding, the commission has set new protocols to ensure “Covid safe” elections to 690 assembly seats across the five states, Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra told reporters. He was flanked by election commissioners Rajiv Kumar and Anup Chandra Pandey.
Addressing the media, Arora announced that no electoral rallies, in any physical form, will be allowed till January 15 while suggesting parties to go for virtual rallies. He said the poll authority will review the COVID-19 situation on January 15 and take a further call on allowing public rallies. “The Commission will not hesitate to bar parties from further rallies if COVID protocol is not followed,” Chandra said.
The Commission has also banned victory celebrations and only two persons will be allowed to accompany the candidate to collect the winning certificate.
The Election Commission said that the decision to go ahead with the assembly polls amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic was taken after much deliberation. Announcing the COVID protocols, CEC Sushil Chandra announced that no electoral rallies, in any physical form, will be allowed till January 15.
Chandra also said that all the election commission officials and those deputed on duty during the polls will be considered as front-line workers, adding that all polling officials will be administered with booster doses.
The duration to cast votes has also been increased by an hour as part of the COVID-19 safety protocols, Chandra announced.
The elections will not just decide the fate of governments in these states, but will also set the tone for the Lok Sabha elections which will be held two years later in 2024. While the elections will put Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity to test, the Opposition faces unending challenges in a year of reckoning.
With pre-poll surveys showing little to prove that Modi’s popularity is dwindling, the results in five states will be the first indication if issues like the farmers’ protest, Covid-19 management, inflation, and unemployment have had any bearing on the mood of the people.