64 percent turnout in peaceful Howrah by-poll

Kolkata, June 2 (IANS) With around 64 percent turnout, a largely peaceful voting for the Howrah Lok Sabha by-poll concluded in West Bengal Sunday, officials said.

"Around 64 percent turnout was reported till evening which might go up slightly," said Joint Chief Election Officer Saibal Barman.

Sunday's turnout, however, is far less than the nearly 75 percent during the 2009 general elections, and the 2011 assembly elections when the turnout was nearly 78 percent.

Claiming that voting was "largely peaceful", Chief Electoral Officer Sunil Gupta said the election commission received 31 polling-related complaints.

"The polling in the 1,851 booths was largely peaceful with reports of minor complaints in a few booths where the security personnel had to intervene," Gupta told reporters here.

Two camera-mounted special vehicles provided live feed of the polling booths to the monitoring staff of the commission. Gupta said the new successful system would be repeated in future polls.

The by-poll was a three-way contest between the Trinamool Congress, its former ally the Congress party, and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M).

The poll was necessitated following the death of Trinamool Congress MP Ambica Banerjee April 25.

While the Trinamool Congress has fielded former international footballer Prasun Banerjee, advocate Sanatan Mukherjee is contesting on the Congress ticket, and Sridip Bhattacharya is the candidate of the CPI-M-led Left Front.

Both Congress and the CPI-M have accused the Trinamool of using muscle power to intimidate voters as well as not allowing the polling officers to function independently.

State Congress president Pradip Bhattacharya said complaints have been made to the election commission regarding the "pressure tactics" of Trinamool.

CPI-M's Sridip Bhattacharya too claimed that there were instances of "booth capturing" by the Trinamool.

With over 14 lakh voters eligible to exercise their franchise, around 30 companies of central security forces along with police had been deployed for the poll.

Although the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had also announced its candidate, the party later withdrew from the election, resulting in the Congress and the Left accusing the Trinamool Congress of having a "tacit understanding" with the BJP.

The result of the election will be out Wednesday.