Rival fronts keep fingers crossed as counting is to commence by 8 AM on Sunday

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Thiruvananthapuram, May 1 (PTI): The ruling CPI(M)-LDF, Opposition Congress-headed UDF and the BJP-NDA are waiting with fingers crossed as the outcome of the fiercely fought April 6 Kerala Assembly polls is only hours away with counting to be held under strict COVID-19 guidelines all set to commence on Sunday.

As many as 957 candidates, including Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, 11 of his Cabinet colleagues, Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala, senior Congress leader Oommen Chandy, 'Metroman' E Sreedharan, former Union Minister K J Alphons and BJP State president K Surendran, among others, were in fray in the election to the 140 seats.

Though all the exit polls and pre-poll surveys had predicted a massive win for the ruling Left front, the Opposition UDF has not given up hope.

The BJP is confident of garnering more seats this time from the lone seat--Nemom it had won in 2016.

Senior Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala said the UDF was confident that the people would vote itto power.

This would be reflected in the results on Sunday, he said adding the front was not bewildered with the exit poll results.

UDF has no faith in the exit polls and pre-poll surveys as they do not reflect the true sentiments of the people.

They had no scientific foundation, Chennithala told reporters. 'We are confident of getting a majority to form the next government,' he said.

LDF convenor and acting CPI(M) State secretary A Vijayaraghavan felt the exit poll survey was an affirmation of the LDF government's public acceptance.

The people are keen for the continuation of the Left government, he said while Power Minister M M Mani said no force can stop the Left front from coming to power again.

The counting for the Malappuram Lok Sabha bypoll necessitated following the resignation of IUML leader P K Kunhalikutty, who contested from Vengara Assemblyconstituency, would also be held on Sunday. While the postal ballots counting would begin at 8 AM on Sunday after which the votes polled in the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs)is expected to be taken up half-an- hour later.

A total of 5,84,238 postal ballots were distributed in the State and 4,54,237 ballots were returned on April 28.

The first trend is expected by 10 AM.

On an average there will be 15 rounds of counting in every constituency.

So, by4 PM or 5 PM, the first results can be expected, Chief Electoral Officer Teeka Ram Meena toldPTI.

Over 24,000 polling officials, including reserve personnel, would be participating in the counting exercise and as many as 30,281 police personnel, including 3,332 from the central force, have been deployed in the State on the counting day.

Of the total electorate of 2,74,46,039 in the State, as many as 2,03,27,893 people had exercised their franchise.

Candidates or agents would be allowed to enter the counting centres only if they have taken two doses of the COVID vaccine or carry COVID negative certificates.

No crowding of people outside the counting centres would be permitted.

The State had witnessed a never-before fierce contest among the LDF, UDF and the BJP-NDA during the campaign with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, various Union Ministers, including Rajnath Singh, Nirmala Sitharaman, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, among others, visiting the State to campaign for the saffron party.

Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi made multiple visits to various constituencies to woo voters.

Vijayan had led the LDF campaign even as party general secretary Sitaram Yechury and senior leaders Prakash Karat, Brinda Karat and CPI leader D Raja, among others, campaigned extensively. PTI UD NVG NVG