‘Commission not adverse to foreign observers’
17 June 2002
The Daily Excelsior
Srinagar: Chief Election Commissioner J M Lyngdoh today warned the security forces of legal action if they tried to force voters to exercise their franchise in the coming Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir and declared that he was not averse to foreign observers but they would not be part of the official team. There will be no compulsion on anyone to exercise franchise and the job of the security forces would be restricted to reassure voters in the State and not interfere in the poll process, Lyngdoh told reporters here while briefing them on preparations for the polls due in October. ''Uniformed forces are not there to rig elections or increase the poll percentage. Their job is to sanitize the area, re- assure voters who should go on their own to cast their votes’’, he said. ''No Indian can be compelled to vote. Anybody indulging in such activity will commit an electoral offence which will be prosecuted under the law'', he said adding the security forces would not also provide any transportation to the voters. Seeking to reassure the electorate as well as contestants, he said the Commission had taken several steps to ensure free and fair polls in the strife-torn State. The Commission, he said, had sought security for the candidates and will for the first time distribute the voter slips among the electorate. ''We have issued directions to the Union Home Ministry which in turn has directed the State administration on the security to candidates and political parties.'' He said at least one district level representative of every political party would be provided protection and no discrimination would be made between ruling and opposition parties on this count. Also for the first time, voters’ slip would be given to the public by election staff and not political parties, he said adding that although Photo I- cards were not compulsory this time, they were being made on a special currency paper to avoid tampering. ''From a position where the electoral rolls were illegible to their computerisation has been a steep climb and the Deputy Commissioners of various districts and their revenue staff deserve to be congratulated for it,'' he said. The CEC said that he would examine carefully complaints voiced by the representatives of opposition parties that ruling National Conference might rig the impending elections by using counter- insurgents and special task force of police. ''There are remedies under law which we will resort to in the event of any malpractice indulged in by any individual or group. Those indulging in such practices will find out how powerful the Election Commission is,'' he said. Lyngdoh said the Election Commission has acceded to almost all demands of political parties of the State and acquired 8000 Electronic Voting Machines which will be distributed shortly. ''It is important for the officials, political parties and voters to know how to operate the machines. We would be starting the training programme in due course,'' Lyngdoh said. He said the Commission was studying the proposal of opposition parties of de-clubbing the polling booths, which was resorted to during 1996 elections for security reasons. ''I have asked the Director General of Police and State Chief Secretary to study the feasibility of de-clubbing the booths,'' he said adding, however, that it would depend on the availability of the scurity forces. On the sensitive issue of allowing foreign monitors, he said ''anybody from anywhere in the world would be given access to polling stations but they cannot be part of our official observer team and we would not invite them.'' ''We will be sending the best of our observers, and handpick who are not afraid of anybody,'' he said adding that media persons would also be allowed free access to the polling stations. ''We are doing this deliberately and media from all parts of the world would be given facilities to cover the polls as they are the best observers''. Commenting on the credibility of the Commission appointed observers, he said although they are bureaucrats and civil servants, they are independent in their functioning. Asked whether any new organisation has approached the Election Commission for registration, he said ''not yet''.