Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy speaks at a rally conducted as part of upcoming panchayat elections at Narikkuni in Kozhikode on Monday on October 26, 2015. (Press Trust of India photo)
Over one crore voters are expected to exercise their franchise in seven districts in the first phase of the crucial civic polls in Kerala today, which are considered as the semi-finals before the next year's Assembly elections.
Public campaign in the seven districts of Kollam, Idukki, Kozhikode, Wayanad, Kasaragod, Kannur and Thiruvananthapuram, ended on a peaceful note yesterday.
In the first phase, a total of 31,161 candidates, including 582 in district panchayats, 2844 in block panchayats, 22,788 in village panchayats, 1315 in corporations and 3632 in municipalities are in the fray.
According to state Election Commission figures, there are 1,11,11006 voters in these seven districts.
The polls in the remaining seven districts - Alappuzha, Thrissur, Pathanamthitta, Ernakulam, Kottayam, Malappuram and Palakkad - will be held in the second phase on November 5.
State Election Commissioner K Sasidharan Nair said in Thiruvananthapuram that preparations are completed and the stage is all set for the polls.
He said the elections in the newly formed Kannur municipal corporation and 11 out of 28 new municipalities would also be held tomorrow, he said.
"A total of 1315 polling stations have been identified as highly sensitive booths in the first phase. Webcasting has been arranged in 1022 of these booths and video recording will be held in the rest of the stations," he said.
Mr Nair said mobile phones would not be permitted within the polling booths and officials on duty were directed to keep their handsets on silent mode.
State police chief DGP T P Senkumar said 38,000 security personnel, including women officials, have been deployed for the smooth conduct of voting in the initial phase.
Besides the state police and personnel of excise, forest, marine and motor vehicle departments, 10 company of police from Karnataka would also be deployed in various places, he said.
The counting of votes will be held on November 7.
The local body elections assume more significance this year as Assembly elections are just months away and the results would indicate the political trend in the state.
The BJP's move to break the bipolar polity in the state led by Congress-led UDF and CPI(M)-led LDF with the support of Ezhava outfit Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP) also gives an added significance to the civic polls.
The decision of SNDP General Secretary Vellapally Natesan, who used to keep an equal distance from UDF and LDF, to join hands with BJP has emerged as the main poll debate.
Though Chief Minister Oommen Chandy had claimed that the civic polls would be a referendum on the four and half year rule of UDF government, a recent court verdict ordering further probe into the bar bribery scam, in which an FIR had been registered against Finance Minister K M Mani, put the ruling front on a defensive mode.
The LDF, which suffered set backs in the recent Aruvikkara assembly byelection, is trying its best to regain its lost ground.
The opposition expects that the hectic campaign by Marxist veteran V S Achuthanandan, highlighting Chandy government's corruption issues and the alleged communal agenda of BJP, would reap dividend for the Front.