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30% vote in Punjab till 1 p.m., all parties claim victory

Over 30 per cent of Punjab's electorate had exercised their franchise till 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon as brisk voting continued across the state.

The districts in Punjab's Malwa belt (south of river Sutlej) saw a higher turnout.

The highest turnout was in Moga and Fatehgarh Sahib district at 36 per cent. The Majha and Doaba belts were trailing in the voting percentage, election officials said.

The Malwa belt has 69 out of the 117 assembly seats and decides the party which would get the majority. The Akali Dal, Congress and new entrant Aam Aadmi Party are locked in a bitter contest in this belt.

Braving the winter chill, thousands of voters turned out in the morning to cast their votes.

Long queues were seen at most polling stations as voting began in all the assembly constituencies at 8 a.m. Many had reached the poll booths much before the exercise started. It will continue till 5 p.m.

Over 1.98 crore electorates would decide the fate of 1,145 candidates, including 81 women and a lone transgender. There are over six lakh first time voters this time.

Voting for by-election to the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat is also being held on Saturday.

For the first time, Punjab is witnessing three-cornered contests on all the 117 assembly seats.

The enthusiasm of voters was almost equal in rural and urban areas.

First time voters were issued certificates by district authorities in various assembly constituencies.

Among early voters were former Army chief and ex-Governor Gen J.J. Singh (Patiala city) of the Shiromani Akali Dal, and former Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal (Badal village) of the Congress.

Earlier Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, his son and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and daughter-in-law and Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal cast their vote in Badal village.

It is part of the Lambi assembly constituency which the Chief Minister represents.

Badal, 89, and his family members arrived at the village polling station amid tight security.

"We will win easily. Punjab is looking forward to peace and development," the Chief Minister said after exercising his franchise.

Badal is being challenged on the Lambi seat by Punjab Congress President and former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Jarnail Singh.

The contest here is being seen as the "mother of all (political) battles".

"We will register a better victory this time. Amarinder Singh will lose his security deposit," Sukhbir Badal, who is the president of the Shiromani Akali Dal, told the media after casting his vote.

Badal's elder brother, Gurdas Badal, arrived separately to cast his vote earlier.

The Chief Minister's estranged nephew and former Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Badal (son of Gurdas Badal) also cast his vote at the same polling station earlier.

The ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance has been in power in Punjab since 2007.

Sukhbir Badal is facing challenge from two sitting MPs - Bhagwant Mann (AAP) and Ravneet Singh Bittu (Congress), on the Jalalabad assembly seat.

Others to cast their votes included cricketer-turned-politician and Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu (Amritsar-east), former Olympian and now Congress leader Pargat Singh (Jalandhar Cantt), Sucha Singh Chhotepur (Gurdaspur) of Apna Punjab Party and Congress leaders Sunil Jakhar (Aboha) and Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (Lehra).

Cricketer Harbhajan Singh and Sufi singer Hans Raj Hans voted in a polling stations in Jalandhar.

Reports of faulty electronic voting machines (EVMs) and VVPAT (voter verified paper audit trail) machines were received during voting in various districts.

At most places, voting resumed after some delay, election officials said.

Tight security arrangements were in place across Punjab and the state's borders with neighbouring states were sealed. Over 100,000 security personnel were stationed across Punjab.

There are 22,614 polling stations in Punjab.

The counting of votes will take place on March 11.

In the 2012 assembly elections, 78.57 per cent of Punjab voters had exercised their franchise.


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