Local body polls to be held in three phases from December 8

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(Eds: adding more details, quotes) Thiruvananthapuram, Nov 6 (PTI): The local body polls in Kerala will be held in three phases from December 8, adhering to strict COVID-19 protocol and is expected to be a dress rehearsal before the crucial assembly polls next year.

While the first phase on December 8 will be held in five districts of Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Pathnamthitta, Alappuzha and Idukki, the second will be on December 10 at Kottayam, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Palakkad and Wayanad.

The third phase on December 14 will be in the remaining four districts of Malappuram, Kozhikode, Kannur and Kasaragod, State Election Commissioner V Bhaskaran told reporters here on Friday.

The last date for filing nominations is November 19.

Scrutiny will be on November 20 and the last date of withdrawal is November 23.

The counting of votes will be on December 16.

Bhaskaran said voters who are Covid positive can exercise their franchise through postal ballots and should inform the polling officials three days before the election.

He said the model code of conduct would come into effect from today.

Bhaskaran said the Commission had held talks with the state police chief, health secretary and various political parties before finalising the dates for the election.

The Health director had said there was no harm in conducting the polls as per strict covid protocol.

'We have already issued directions on campaigning for the candidates. Those affected with COVID-19 should stay away from meeting people.

They can canvas for votes and meet people after their results turn negative and with the instructions of a doctor,' the SEC said.

The voting, which will commence at 7 am, has been extended one more hour till 6 PM.

'If re-polling is necessitated, then it will be conducted the next day itself and arrangements have been made for that,' Bhaskaran said.

He also said that the election would be conducted strictly adhering to COVID-19 protocol.

The commission would provide all officials on poll duty with masks, sanitisers and gloves.

Three phase polls to local bodies were held once earlier several years ago, he said, adding the decision to do so this time was due to the present situation brought about by the spread of the coronavirus.

Exuding confidence,all the three fronts-- the ruling CPI(M) led Left Democratic Front, the opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front and the BJP claimed that they would win the local body polls this time.

For LDF,facing opposition charges over the gold smuggling case and Life mission project, besides the arrest and questioning of Bineesh Kodiyeri, son of party state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan by the Enforcement Directorate in a money laundering case, it will be a litmus test in the run up to the assembly polls in 2021.

'In this poll, the people will consider the developmental activities undertaken by the Kerala government and its pro- people stand.

They will reject the alliance of the Congress with the pro-right wing.

The BJP will lose its existing seats,' Left Democratic Front convenor A Vijayaraghavan said.

Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly Ramesh Chennithala claimed that the UDF was stronger than ever and the Left 'is in a shambles.' 'The UDF is now standing stronger than ever. We hope people will come out against the corrupt government and have high hopes.' He said the people of Kerala are 'politically enriched' and the gold smuggling case and other corruption issues would be a major factor they would consider during the polls.

However, BJP state chief K Surendran said both the Fronts are isolated from the people.

'The Left is facing a backlash due to the gold smuggling case.

The people have lost faith in the UDF.

The BJP will be the party that will win the most number of seats in the state,' Surendran told the media.

An electorate of over 2.71 crore will exercise their franchise to elect representatives to 941 gram panchayats, 152 block panchayats, 14 district panchayats, 86 municipalities and six municipal corporations. PTI RRT UD APR RAVINDRANATH RAVINDRANATH