The first of the five-phase polling began in 13 assembly constituencies in Jharkhand on Saturday. The voting commenced at 7 am and will end at 3 pm, Election Commission officials said. A total of 37,83,055 electorate, including 18,01,356 women and five third-gender voters are eligible to exercise their franchise in the first phase across six districts.
The fate of 189 candidates, including 15 women nominees, will be decided in the first phase of the polling in Chatra, Gumla, Bishunpur, Lohardaga, Manika, Latehar, Panki, Daltonganj, Bishrampur, Chhatarpur, Hussainabad, Garhwa, and Bhawanathpur.
Key candidates in the fray are Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nominee and state Health Minister Ramchandra Chandravanshi from Bishrampur and state Congress president Rameshwar Oraon from Lohardaga seat. Oraon is taking on the former state Congress chief Sukhdeo Bhagat after the latter joined the BJP recently.
Former BJP chief whip Radhakrishna Kishore, who was denied ticket from Chhatarpur, is contesting on an All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU) party ticket from the same seat.
The BJP, which is seeking a second straight win under the leadership of Chief Minister Raghubar Das, is contesting in 12 seats in the first phase while it is supporting Independent candidate Vinod Singh from Hussainabad. The AJSU party is contesting on its own.
Challenging the BJP is the opposition alliance of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal. While the Congress is contesting in six seats in the first phase, the JMM is fighting in four and the RJD in three constituencies in the first phase. The other parties contesting the elections are Babulal Marandi's Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik), Janata Dal (United) and the Left parties.
Jharkhand Chief Electoral Officer Vinay Kumar Choubey said a total of 4,892 polling stations have been set up, out of which 1,262 would have webcasting facilities.'
Additional Director General of Police and state police Nodal Officer Murari Lal Meena said a total of 1,097 polling stations in Naxal-affected areas were marked as hypersensitive and 461 polling stations as sensitive.
The rest of the four phases for the 81-member assembly will be held on December 7, 12, 16 and 20. Counting is scheduled for December 23.