New Delhi: Assembly elections will be held in Himachal Pradesh on November 9 and votes will be counted on December 18, the Election Commission said today. It has not yet announced dates for assembly elections in Gujarat, but said that they would be held before December 18.
Chief Election Commissioner AK Jyoti said the model code of conduct -- a set of dos and don'ts for political parties for their election campaign -- will be effective starting today. He also said Electronic Voting Machines or EVMs with the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system will be used for the Himachal Pradesh election. Also, for the first time, phone text messages to voters from candidates and political parties will have to get clearance from the Election Commission.
Himachal Pradesh has 68 assembly seats. The Congress had won 36 seats and the BJP 27 in the last assembly elections. Independent candidates had won five seats.
Explaining the long gap of 9 days between voting and counting of votes in Himachal Pradesh, Mr Jyoti said Himachal is expected to get "very heavy snowfall and severe weather from mid-November" and so it was decided to hold elections before that.
"Polling in Gujarat will take place before December 18 (counting day for Himachal) so that in no way the result of Himachal can affect the voting in Gujarat," the poll official said, adding, "We will, in a few days, announce the dates for the Gujarat election.
The Election Commission initially did not cite a reason for not announcing the Gujarat polling dates today along with the Himachal dates. Asked if it was because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's rally next week in Gandhinagar, Mr Jyoti said that was not the case. "The Gujarat chief secretary wrote to us, saying due to unprecedented floods in the state, the relief work hasn't been done and the state wanted time for that," he said.
The term of the 182-member Gujarat assembly ends on 22 January.
Himachal Pradesh will be the second state after Goa where all voting booths will have VVPAT and for this the size of the voting compartments has been increased by 30 inches, the poll panel said.
Opposition parties have demanded that VVPAT machines be used in all elections after a huge controversy earlier this year. After the BJP swept assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand in March this year, opposition parties alleged that the EVMs had been tampered with. The Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail issues slips that show if a voter's choice has been correctly recorded in an EVM and can be used in case the results of an election is questioned.
For the first time, the state will also have 136 booths managed entirely by women.