Kovind vs. Meira: Presidential contest sees near 100 percent voting

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Mumbai: Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis casts his vote during presidential polls at Maharashtra Assembly in Mumbai on July 17, 2017. (Photo: IANS)

New Delhi – Lawmakers across India voted on Monday to elect the country’s 14th President in a contest in which the ruling NDAs candidate Ram Nath Kovind has an overwhelming edge over opposition-backed Meira Kumar.

The election saw “98-99 percent” voting with Lok Sabha Secretary General and Returning Officer for the presidential election Anoop Mishra on Monday terming it “probably the highest turnout ever (in presidential poll)”.

Mishra informed that a total of 717 MPs and five MLAs were supposed to vote in Parliament House. Of these, 714 MPs and four MLAs voted here.

BJP chief Amit Shah, who is an MLA from Gujarat, was among those who sought permission to vote in Delhi.

The MPs who did not cast their vote were Trinamool Congress MP Tapas Pal, BJD’s Rama Chandra Hansdah and Anbumani Ramadoss of PMK.

Mishra said the total strength of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha is 776 and 771 MPs were eligible to cast their votes.

He said the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have two vacancies each, while BJP MP Chedi Paswan does not have voting rights.

Mishra said 54 MPs had sought permission to vote in state capitals.

He said that 10 states; Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhgand, Nagaland, Uttarakhand and Union Territory of Puducherry, recorded 100 percent voting and added that the rest of the states also recorded “almost 100 percent” voting.

He termed it “probably the highest percentage of votes polled ever (in Presidential poll)” and attributed it to enthusiasm among the electors.

He said the final figures from four states; Andhra Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur and Tripura, were still awaited.

“All other states voted almost close to 100 percent. In that sense it is a complete vote,” he said, adding that the voting was extremely peaceful.

Answering a query, he said Prime Minister was the first to cast his vote.

He said there were six voting enclosures and an official was assigned at each of these to give and take back the special pen to mark voting preference.

Counting of votes will take place on July 20. Nine ballot boxes will reach Delhi on Monday while the rest will reach here on Tuesday as per schedule.

Mishra said votes cast in Delhi will be counted first followed by those in the states.

Counting will be taken up simultaneously on four tables and there will be eight rounds of counting with an announcement after every round.

Polling to choose the successor to President Pranab Mukherjee, who demits office on July 25, started simultaneously at 32 polling stations, one in Parliament House and rest one each in state legislative assemblies at 10 a.m and ended at 5 p.m. as scheduled.

As voting picked up, many MPs were seen queuing up in Parliament House outside the polling booth in Room No. 62 for the voting.

In state assemblies, including Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, brisk voting was seen as MLAs and some MPs queued up outside legislative complexes to choose the next President.

Most of the legislators had voted in the first three hours of polling.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal led his the AAP lawmakers to vote.

In Punjab, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh called all Congress legislators in the state for breakfast before the voting.

A total of 776 MPs and 4,120 MLAs were eligible to vote. The total value of votes of the electoral college is 10,98,903.

The value of vote varies from state to state with Sikkim having the lowest at seven, and Uttar Pradesh highest at 208. Value of each vote of a MP is 708.

Kovind, a former Bihar Governor, has an advantage over Meira Kumar, a former Lok Sabha speaker, as the numbers are stacked in favour of the ruling NDA.

The BJP and allies have nearly 63 percent of the vote while the Congress-led opposition has a little over 35 percent. Independents and other smaller parties, who have not made their choice known, have two percent.

Meira Kumar has projected the contest as a “battle of ideologies” and requested members of the electoral college to “listen to their conscience” before voting.

“This ideology is of social justice, inclusiveness, secularism, transparency, freedom of expression, freedom of press and total destruction of the caste system. This is the ideology which binds India together. So it is very important that we protect and preserve it,” said Kumar.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday said her Trinamool Congress party’s support for Meira Kumar is a mark of protest against the BJP’s “atrocities” and urged opposition parties to come together by utilising the advantageous timing.

If elected, Kovind will be the second Dalit President of India. K.R. Narayanan, who was sworn in on July 25, 1997 as the 10th President of the country, was the first Dalit to hold the post.