Imphal: Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra along with Election Commissioners Rajiv Kumar and Anup Chandra Pandey on Wednesday held a virtual meeting to review poll preparedness for the forthcoming Assembly Elections in Manipur.

The commission said for the first time in the state, the option of Postal Ballot facility would be provided for Absentee Voters that would include 80+ aged senior citizens, PwD electors and COVID-19 suspects or affected persons. The postal ballot facility would be optional and would ensure total secrecy of voting.

The commission said a total of 14,565 Persons with Disabilities (PwD) and over 41,867 senior citizens (80+) have been mapped.

The term of the current state assembly in Manipur is due to expire on March 19, 2022, and the elections are scheduled for 60 constituencies (40 Gen, 1 SC and 19 ST) post that.

During the review meeting, representatives of political parties namely All India Trinamool Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M), Indian National Congress (INC), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Naga People’s Front (NPF), National People’s Party (NPP) and Peoples Democratic Alliance (PDA) came to meet the Commission through video conferencing.

The main issues raised by the political parties included concerns about use of money power, illicit liquor, narcotics drugs and intimidation to influence voters. The political parties requested for strict vigil on election expenses by candidates to ensure free and fair polls.

While expressing concerns about pre-poll violence, the political parties demanded deployment of adequate security forces during the poll process and other relevant measures. The political parties also raised concerns about implementation of strict COVID-19 protocols for the safety of everybody.

The election commission assured the representatives that it has taken cognizance of the suggestions, issues and concerns and the ECI is committed to conduct a free, fair, participative, inclusive, inducement-free and COVID-19 safe elections in the state.

With regards to concerns over excessive use of money and other inducements to influence voters, the Commission reiterated that it has zero tolerance for misuse of money or muscle power or partisan behaviour of state machinery vitiating free and fair elections.

CEC Sushil Chandra underscored that strict action would be taken against such erring officials. He added that expenditure observers will be deployed for strict vigil to ensure inducement-free elections in the state. Chandra  also elaborated on ECI’s cVIGIL App mechanism for registering complaints for prompt redressal of model code of conduct violations as also the toll free number 1950.

The Commission assured the representatives that ECI will ensure measures like webcasting/videography, deployment CAPF personnel and Micro Observers, wherever necessary, in identified vulnerable polling areas.

Representatives of candidates will be present during the process and the total procedure will be videographed.

The EC also emphasised on the conduct of safe elections with 100% vaccination of all polling staff, proper sanitisation and social distancing at the polling stations. CEC Chandra conveyed his concern to Chief Secretary, Manipur regarding the low vaccination rate in the state and asked for expediting the same.

Keeping in view COVID-19 social-distancing norms, the Commission has specifically revisited some extant norms. As a result, the maximum number of electors’ norm at a polling station has been reduced from 1500 to 1250. This will ensure substantially lower number of electors per polling station.

It was mentioned that subsequent to Special Summary Revision 2022, the electoral roll has been published on Wednesday, and there are a total of 20,34,966 electors enrolled in the state. The gender ratio has risen to 1065 from 1046 in 2017 and 38,384 first time electors (18-19 years) are enrolled in the state which is 2.6% of total electors as compared to 0.56% in 2017.

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