No clear winner in Kashmir election, officials say

By Aijaz Hussain
The Associated Press

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Kashmir’s first election since a wave of deadly protests against Indian rule swept through the disputed region has resulted in a deadlocked legislature, officials said Sunday, Dec. 28, sparking a scramble to form a new coalition government.

The National Conference party emerged as the single largest party, winning 28 of 87 seats in the state assembly, according to the state electoral office. Its archrival, People’s Democratic Party, followed with 21 seats, while the Congress party won 17 seats.

All three parties have pro-India stances.
With no party gaining the majority of 44 seats, the new government will have to be an alliance of two or more parties.

Omar Abdullah, the National Conference leader, said his party would likely approach Congress officials to discuss forming an alliance.

Once the new state government is formed, it will mark the end of nearly six months of federal rule in India’s only Muslim-majority state.

Separatists had urged residents to protest and boycott the vote, saying the election would only strengthen India’s hold on the Himalayan region. Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, where most people favor either independence or a merger with Pakistan. Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both.

However, voting was largely peaceful, with a higher-than-expected turnout of more than 60 percent, though there were scattered anti-India protests throughout.

On Sunday, hundreds of demonstrators in Srinagar, Indian Kashmir’s main city, protested against Indian rule and chanted, “We want freedom.”

A police officer said protesters were throwing rocks, and troops fired warning shots and tear gas to disperse them. At least five protesters and three soldiers were injured, the officer said on the condition of anonymity in keeping with department policy.

The elections, which began Nov. 17 and ended Dec. 24, were held in seven phases. The staggered balloting allowed the government to deploy thousands of security forces in each area in a bid to prevent the deadly violence sparked by elections in 2002 and thwart separatist attempts to enforce the boycott.

Also picking up seats in the election was the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which won 11 seats, the state electoral office said. The party won only one seat in the previous election.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were among several senior Congress leaders to visit Kashmir during the campaign.

“It is not important who wins but what is important is that people of Kashmir have expressed full faith in democracy and our neighbor (Pakistan) should learn from this,” Gandhi said Sunday. “It’s a victory for democracy.”

The Congress party, which leads the governing coalition currently in power in New Delhi, ruled Jammu-Kashmir state in an alliance with the People’s Democratic Party until August, when the chief minister resigned following weeks of deadly anti-India protests that left more than 50 people dead.

The federal government stepped in to fill the vacuum and announced plans to hold the phased election.

Separatist groups have been fighting since 1989 to end Indian rule. The uprising and a subsequent Indian crackdown have killed about 68,000 people, most of them civilians. (end)

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