The State Election Commission, Odisha Tuesday announced that panchayat polls will be held in five phases from February 16, amid strict adherence to COVID protocols.
The SEC banned rallies and victory processions in the wake of the pandemic but allowed door-to-door campaigns with only five people. The candidates will also be encouraged to campaign through digital mode instead of physical campaigning.
"Elections to three-tier panchayats will take place on February 16, 18, 20, 22 and 24. Over 2.79 crore people will exercise their franchise from 7 am to 1 pm. The model code of conduct will come into force immediately," State Election Commissioner A P Padhi told reporters.
Padhi said elections will be held for the post of 91,913 ward members, 6793 samiti members, 6794 sarpanchs and 853 Zilla Parishad members.
However, only the Zilla Parishad candidates will be allotted party symbols as per provision.
Counting of votes will take place on February 26, 27 and 28, he said.
He said the notification for the three-tier panchayat polls will start from January 13. The candidates can file their nomination papers from January 17 to January 21.
The scrutiny of papers will be done on January 22 and the candidates can withdraw by January 25. The final list of candidates to be announced on that day, he said.
Odisha recorded 7,071 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, a sharp rise of 46 per cent over the previous day and the highest one-day spike in over seven months, the health department said. The tally climbed to 10.83 lakh with the latest infections.
Those who have received both doses of vaccines will be allowed to enter counting centres. They are also required to submit COVID negative reports, Padhi said, adding that a detailed guideline has been issued for the panchayat polls.
The SEC had on January 10 held an all-party meeting for the rural elections. All the opposition parties in the state opposed the SEC's decision to conduct the panchayat polls during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Claiming that the saffron party candidates will perform very well in the next panchayat elections, senior BJP leader Mohan Majhi said, "We are fully prepared for the three-tier Panchayat elections. The BJD will pay a heavy price for denying reservation to the OBCs and STs in certain districts.
He said the BJP has been demanding all along to first resolve the reservation issue before going to polls. But, the BJD deliberately neglected the two major sections of the population, he alleged.
"Besides, we had demanded to postpone the polls by 2-3 months in view of the Covid-19 situation in the state. However, we are fully prepared, Majhi said.
Congress MLA Taraprasad Bahinipati said, Going to polls now means putting the lives of people at risk. The BJD should be responsible if there is further surge of COVID-19 infections in the state.
He also claimed that the Congress tally will certainly improve compared to the 2017 panchayat polls.
BJD MP Amar Patnaik said that his party will strictly adhere to the Covid guidelines and fully cooperate with the Election Commission in the smooth conduct of the polls.
"Our campaigning will be confined to door-to-door visits and through digital mode. The BJD will perform better than the previous polls, the BJD leader claimed.
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