KOLKATA, April 23 (IANS): Around 65 percent of votes were cast in a brisk and peaceful polling in 50 constituencies across three districts in the second phase of the West Bengal assembly elections Saturday.
Enthusiasm was high among first-time voters as also the old-timers, and women outnumbered men in many booths that saw long queues since balloting opened at 7 a.m.
Over 93 lakh voters at 11,531 polling stations spread over Murshidabad, Nadia and Birbhum districts are casting votes to elect their representatives from among 293 candidates.
Murshidabad has 22 seats, Nadia 17 and Birbhum 11.
"Till 3 p.m., 65 percent of voters have exercised their rights," Joint Chief Electoral Officer Dibyendu Sarkar told IANS.
After the record 84.11 percent turnout in the first phase of elections - for 54 constituencies in six north Bengal districts April 18 - the poll juggernaut has now rolled on to South Bengal, which holds the key to government formation as over 80 percent of the seats are located in this region.
While overall voting proceeded smoothly, there were a few minor untoward incidents, and three people were arrested for violence and irregularity.
A polling agent of a Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) candidate in Murshidabad was taken into custody after postal ballots were found in his possession, said an election officer.
Workers of the CPI-M and the Congress clashed outside a polling station at Beldanga of Murhisdabad district, leading to two arrests.
A presiding officer in Ranaghat South constituency in Nadia district was replaced for influencing voters inside the polling station and another officer in Bharatpur constituency in Murshidabad district was replaced after he fell ill.
"In Birbhum, 64 percent of polling was recorded, while in Murshidabad 68 and Nadia 64 percent of the people have voted so far," Sarkar said.
In some polling stations voting was delayed for a few minutes due to malfunctioning of electronic voting machines (EVM). At least 65 EVMs have been replaced so far in three districts, said Sarkar.
The CPI-M-led ruling Left Front faces its biggest ever challenge in its 34 years of rule from the Trinamool Congress-Congress combine.
Prominent candidates whose fate is being decided include CPI-M leader and state minister Anisur Rehman, union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's son Avijit Mukherjee who is contesting on a Congress ticket, and former high court judge and Trinamool Congress nominee Nure Alam Chowdhury.
Rukbanur Rahman, brother of computer graphics teacher Rizwanur Rahman who was killed a month after he married the daughter of Kolkata-based industrialist Ashok Todi, and Baul (folk) singer Parikkhit Bala are also in the race as Trinamool Congress nominees.
The CPI-M has fielded candidates in 31 seats, while its Left Front partners Revolutionary Socialist Party, Forward Bloc and Communist Party of India are contesting in nine, five and one seat respectively, leaving three other seats to other minor parties.
The Trinamool is in the race in 29 and the Congress in 21 constituencies. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is contesting in all the 50 constituencies.
Armed security personnel have been posted in and around the polling booths across the three districts to ensure free and fair polls.
A total of 488 companies of central police forces have been deployed in the second phase of assembly poll, Sarkar said.
The last four phases of the state's assembly polls will be held April 27 (75 constituencies), May 3 (63), May 7 (38) and May 10 (14).
The votes for the 294 seats will be counted May 13.