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Wednesday, 23 October, 2002, 10:20 GMT 11:20 UK
Q&A: Kashmir assembly elections
Elections were held in Indian-administered Kashmir between 16 September and 8 October.

BBC Delhi reporter Rajyasri Rao looks at the main issues.

Why were elections held?

Elections in Jammu and Kashmir had to be held this year as the six-year tenure of the current state assembly came to an end in mid-October.

The polls elected members to a new state assembly to form a new government for the roughly two-thirds of Kashmir under Indian control.

For security reasons, voting was held in four phases.

Elections did not take place in parts of the territory that is under Pakistani control.

What were the main issues?

The security situation was the over-riding concern for most Kashmiris. Some 60,000 people are believed to have died in the conflict since the late 1980s when militant groups began fighting to end Indian rule.

Funeral of Kashmiri election candidate
A number of candidates were targeted
Many in Kashmir believe that the issue of security is part of the larger question of whom Kashmir belongs to, which has been in dispute since 1947.

Kashmir's ruling party argued for greater autonomy, which it thinks will help address local concerns, including the question of security. Separatists want either independence or to become part of Pakistan. Delhi says the whole territory is part of India, while Pakistan also claims Kashmir as its own.

Economy and the lack of development was another key concern. Once known as a tourist paradise, the region's most successful industry has suffered huge losses in the last decade since the outbreak of armed conflict. Other industries and services have also been badly affected.

Who were the main contestants?

The governing National Conference party was one of the main contestants along with the regional People's Democratic Party (PDP), India's governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and India's main opposition Congress party. The National Conference is an ally of the BJP-led coalition in Delhi.

Congress posters in Srinagar
The polls were contested by several parties
Some former militants who have formed political parties also took part. And some members of separatist parties were in the fray as independent candidates after resigning from their parent organisations.

A majority of separatist groups led by the main separatist alliance, the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, boycotted the polls.

They believe that the only vote that counts is a plebiscite to decide whether Kashmir is to remain part of India or not.

Militant groups warned people not to take part in the polls leading to an upsurge in violence which targetted those taking part.

Were the polls free and fair?

The elections were conducted fairly, but not freely, according to an independent team of observers.

Man at election rally
Security was a key concern
They said the fear of attacks by separatist militants did not prevent large numbers of people from turning out to vote in some areas.

But even where good security was provided, turnout was not always high, suggesting many people stayed away for ideological reasons.

Many foreign diplomats and the international media witnessed the elections - but not as official observers.

How important was turnout?

Despite the violence, nearly half of the total electorate turned out to vote, although in some areas polling was much lower.

Official figures placed the voting percentage at 46%.

India maintains that the Kashmiri people's participation in assembly elections is a clear demonstration of their willingness to be a part of democratic India.

Pakistan insists that a UN-supervised plebiscite is the only way to determine the future of Kashmir.

More than 5.6 million voters were eligible to take part in the poll.

Why were the elections of international concern?

The Kashmir dispute has assumed a new importance recently because of its potential as a flashpoint between two nuclear-capable powers.

Tension between India and Pakistan has been high ever since an attack on India's parliament last December that India blamed on Pakistani-backed militants.

The international community - led by the United States - welcomed the elections as part of a "healthy political process" that might serve as the first step towards resolving the long protracted dispute.

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See also:

14 Sep 02 | South Asia
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