SRINAGAR: Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and three of his cabinet colleagues are among 144 candidates whose fate will be decided tomorrow in the third phase of polling in 16 seats spread across Budgam, Pulwama and Baramulla districts.
Security arrangements in all the three districts have been strengthened in the wake of Friday's violence, where 21 persons including 11 security personnel and eight militants were killed in four incidents in the Valley.
All eyes will be on Uri and Tral constituencies, which were hit by militant violence ahead of the polls. The first two phases of elections in the state saw a record turnout of over 70 per cent, with voters ignoring boycott calls by separatists and militant outfits.
The stakes are high for Peoples Democratic Party as it held nine of the sixteen Assembly constituencies which have an electorate of 13.69 lakh electors, including 6.51 lakh women.
A total of 144 candidates are in the fray including the Chief Minister, three of his cabinet colleagues and 10 other sitting MLAs. 1,781 polling stations have been set up in the area.
Omar, who chose to contest from Beerwah in Budgam instead of his family bastion of Ganderbal, hopes that some of the recent steps taken by his government for the area will help him sail through the electoral tide from a constituency which was won by PDP candidates in the last two elections.
Among many decisions, the Omar government did not extend the lease to the Army for using Tosamaidan meadows, falling in the Beerwah constituency, as a firing practice range following widespread opposition from the locals. He also ensured that the Army cleared the area of the littered shells, which had claimed more than 60 lives in the past two decades.
NC working president Omar, who is also contesting from the Sonawar Assembly seat, was given a rousing welcome when he filed his nomination papers from this constituency last month.
Omar, who is seeking a second term in the Assembly, faces a stiff challenge from sitting PDP MLA Mohammad Shafi Wani and Congress nominee Nazir Ahmad Khan, whose father Sarfaraz Khan had won from Beerwah in 2002 elections as a PDP candidate.
PDP represents nine of the 16 seats while the ruling NC holds only four. Congress and Peoples Democratic Front won one seat each in the last polls while one seat went to Independent.
While PDP has re-nominated six sitting MLAs including Wani, it has fielded fresh faces in three other seats won by it in the 2008 Assembly elections.
Imran Ansari was shifted from Zadibal constituency in Srinagar to Pattan constituency in Baramulla district following the death of his father and sitting MLA Moulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari.
In Rajpora constituency of Pulwama, the PDP has fielded former banker Haseeb Drabu, denying mandate to their sitting MLA Syed Bashiruddin who is contesting as an independent.
The party has fielded Javed Ahmad Beigh from Baramulla constituency following election of sitting MLA Muzaffar Hussain Beigh to the Lok Sabha earlier this year.
The other constituency that will be keenly watched in Chrar-e-Sharief where Finance Minister and NC leader Abdul Rahim Rather is seeking seventh consecutive term.
Rather, who holds the state record for highest number of consecutive wins from one constituency, however, is facing anti-incumbency as National Conference candidate in Lok Sabha polls lost from the constituency for the first time in nearly 40 years.
Agriculture Minister Ghulam Hassan Mir, who was at the centre of controversy sparked by former Army Chief V K Singh's claim that politicians in Jammu and Kashmir were on pay rolls on army, will be seeking fourth term from Gulmarg assembly segment.
Senior Congress leader and Minister for Health Taj Mohiuddin will be seeking third consecutive term from Uri segment.
Khansahib constituency in Budgam district will see Hakim MOhammad Yasin of Peoples Democratic Front seeking third consecutive term by wading off challenge from former separatist and now PDP candidate Saiduddin Bhat.
The other sitting MLAs who are seeking re-election include National Conference leaders Mohammad Ashraf Ganaie (Sopore), Aga Roohullah (Budgam), Javed Ahmad Dar (Rafiabad), PDP leaders Basharat Bukhari (Sangrama), Javed Mustafa Mir (Chadoora), Mushtaq Ahmad Shah (Tral), Zahoor Ahmad Mir (Pampore) and Mohammad Khalil Bandh (Pulwama).
While seven assembly seats fall in Baramulla district, five are in Budgam and four in Pulwama.