Jammu and Kashmir today recorded 22.12 per cent voting till 11 am in the first phase of District Development Council (DDC) polls, the first since the former state was reorganised as a Union Territory last year.
Due to the cold weather, the turnout was low as voting began at 7 am, officials said. However, improved as the temperature rose through the day, officials said.
By late morning, long queues could be seen outside polling booths despite the cold conditions, ANI reported.
"District Development Council elections are important to strengthen democracy. People are coming out in large numbers to vote, sending a strong message in support of democracy. They want peace and development," said Anurag Thakur, BJP in-charge for the polls, according to ANI.
Campaigning for the first phase came to an end on Thursday, with elaborate arrangements having been made for the smooth conduct of the democratic exercise, especially in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said.
Up to 1,475 candidates are in fray in the first of the eight phases, PTI reported. The election itself is being viewed as a triangular contest between the People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), the BJP, and the Apni Party floated by former finance minister Altaf Bukhari.
The PAGD, an amalgam of several mainstream political parties, including the National Conference and the People's Democratic Party, seeks to restore Jammu and Kashmir's special status, revoked by the Centre last year. It has accused the Bukhari-led party of being the BJP's B-Team, PTI reported.
There are 280 DDC seats in the Union Territory, 140 each in the Jammu and Kashmir regions, officials said.
A total of 2,644 polling stations have been set up for 7,03,620 electors for phase I, the officials said. Voting was to take place from 7 am to 2 pm.
Bye-elections to 12,153 panchayat constituencies will also be held simultaneously, they said. Of these, 11,814 are in the Kashmir valley and the rest in Jammu, according to PTI.
State Election Commissioner KK Sharma has said that all necessary COVID protocols have been put in place to ensure safe polls.