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Ruling Party Defeated in Indian Kashmir Elections - 2002-10-10

After four rounds of voting in Indian administered Kashmir, the ruling party has been defeated. Opposition parties and independents have won a majority of the seats in the state legislature and are expected to try to form a government within days.

It was a day of defeats for the ruling National Conference Party that has dominated politics in Kashmir for more than 70-years.

The heir to the National Conference dynasty, Omar Abdullah lost his first bid for elective office, losing the family seat in Ganderbal, just north of the summer capital, Srinagar, that his father and grandfather had held for two generations.

The big winners appear to be the opposition Congress Party and its smaller ally, the People's Democratic Party. The two parties are expected to try to form a government with the help of independents.

Veteran politician, Mufti Mohammed Syed, the President of the People's Democratic Party, says Kashmir's voters are tired of six-years of rule by the National Conference.

"There an undercurrent against incumbency, against the misrule of the NC [National Conference], People [People's Democratic Party] put up better candidates, very good candidates. It was like that, people wanted a change," he said. "We were able to channelize the anger and agony of people against the regime. The problem of incumbency was there, but I am happy that in spite of the fear psychosis [violence], as you know what we have seen in Anantnag and Pulwama, still people came [to vote]. People said the Kashmir problem could be resolved later on, first let us remove this government, which is a stumbling block towards the restoration of peace."

Separatist politicians boycotted the four-phase election, saying the voting did not address the issue of self-determination for Kashmiri's.

Abdul Ghani Bhat, the Chairman of the All Parties Huriyat Conference, a grouping of separatist political parties, says any coalition government that is formed in Kashmir, should not lose sight of "the aspirations of the people."

"It remains to be seen whether or how the coalition is cobbled up or not," he said. "If the coalition is cobbled up, and if it can understand the dynamics of the situation and can go in accordance with the beat of people's hearts, the coalition may work. If it does not, I am afraid they will meet the same fate as the NC [National Conference] did."

Separatist militants threatened to kill anyone taking part in the election. Campaigning and voting was disrupted by militant attacks across Kashmir.

About 800 people died in election-related violence. Indian election officials say despite the violence, 46 percent of eligible voters turned out to cast their ballots.

India blames Pakistan for the violence, saying Islamabad backs the separatist militants. Pakistan denies the charge, but called the voting a farce.