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Mrunal Manmay Dash

As decks are being cleared for the Panchayat Polls in Odisha early next year, the State Panchayatiraj Department issued a draft notification on Friday amending the Odisha Gram Panchayat Election Rules 1965 that entails the counting of ballots in one day following the completion of all phases of voting.

As per the notification, the counting of ballots will not take place at the booths, as done earlier. Instead, all ballot boxes will be transported to the office of the Election Officer and the counting of votes will take place on a later scheduled date after the completion of all phases of the poll.

The new draft notification issued on Friday said, “The Presiding Officer shall, after close of the poll, seal the ballot box and voting machine in presence of candidates or their polling agents, prepare separate bundles of all papers and reports and forward the same to the Election Officer on the same day after which the Election Officer shall proceed to take up counting of votes on the scheduled date in presence of candidates or their agents, if any, who may be present at counting centre."

However, the draft will be taken into consideration on or after the expiry of a period of 15 days from the date of publication of this notification in the Odisha Gazette. Any objection or suggestion which may be received from any person in respect of the said draft before expiry of the period will be considered by the State Government for scrutiny.

Meanwhile, the Opposition parties including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress slammed the State government over the amendments to the rules terming those ‘arbitrary’. They said it will encourage rigging.

BJP State General Secretary, Prithviraj Harichandan said, “Election should be conducted as per the previous (original) rules. I think the State government should refrain from hatching a conspiracy to change the results as per their wish.”

Senior Congress leader and MLA, Tara Prasad Bahinipati, alleged that the rules have been amended because the ruling BJD fears losing the elections. It has been done to manipulate the results.

“I demand the counting should be done at the polling booths right after completion of the polling,” said Bahinipati.

Refuting the allegations of the Opposition parties and seeking to put the ball in the Election Commission’s court, BJD leader and School & Mass Education Minister Samir Ranjan Dash said that the Election Commission is a statutory body and all will have to obey its decision.

Senior journalist and political analyst Sandip Sahu said as per the existing provisions, the ballots are counted and results are declared on the day of polling. This gives a psychological boost to the winning party for subsequent phases of polls. “There were allegations that the declaration of results influenced the voters due for the next phases of polls,” he said.

“It is alleged that the BJP performed better in the last Zilla Parishad elections because of this provision. Therefore, the ruling BJD is making sure this does not happen again in the upcoming Panchayat elections,” he added.

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