Polling begins peacefully in Mizoram amidst religious tension

"The mood is upbeat among the voters and polling is going on peacefully across the state..."
( [email protected] ) Nov 25, 2003 11:05 AM EST

Aizawl, Mizoram, India., Nov. 25 - Tens of thousands of people in Mizoram queued up last Thursday to elect a new government, with officials reporting brisk and peaceful polling. Till noon, at least 35 per cent polling had been recorded.

An election official said people in large numbers, attired in traditional tribal costumes, had been queuing up to cast their votes since early morning. Polling in the elections to the 40-member State Legislature began at 7 am.

"The mood is upbeat among the voters and polling is going on peacefully across the state with no untoward incidents reported," the official said over the phone from the state Capital Aizawl.

Though elections were peaceful, there were some anxious moments.

Police said gunmen abducted three candidates contesting from Suangpuilawn constituency in east Mizoram, 70 km from Aizawl, on Wednesday night.

"The three candidates were rescued on Thursday morning. Probably political rivalry led to the abductions," a police official said.

The night before, on last Tuesday, there were at least five grenade blasts in different parts of the state although no one was injured in the explosions. The Mizo National Front (MNF) and the Opposition Congress are the key contenders for political supremacy in the state.

Two other regional parties and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are also in the fray.

Some 532,462 voters were eligible to exercise their franchise in this predominantly Christian state, wedged between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

A total of 192 candidates are contesting the polls. Counting of votes takes place on December 1.

The powerful church in Mizoram has taken the lead in playing the role of community watchdog to ensure free and fair elections.

The Presbyterian Synod, which represents 85 per cent of Christians in Mizoram, has issued a set of election guidelines and warned of "exemplary punishment" if it is violated by voters or political parties.

"We appeal all voters against electing any candidate whose image is tainted by social ills like alcoholism and drug addiction, besides any sexual misconduct and corruption," said Synod moderator Reverend Managchhuna Sailo.