71 percent Mizoram refugees in Tripura cast postal ballot

Agartala/Aizawl, April 3: Around 71 percent tribal refugee voters, living in Tripura for the past 17 years after fleeing their villages in Mizoram, have voted by postal ballot for the Lok Sabha election in their parent state, officials said Thursday.

Balloting for the lone Lok Sabha seat in Mizoram, bordering Myanmar and Bangladesh, will be held April 9 in the second phase of the nine-phase polls.

“Around 71 percent of the 11,500 Reang tribal voters have cast their votes through postal ballot during the past three days. Voting took place in six of the seven relief camps and was completed just before evening,” Tripura Chief Electoral Officer Asutosh Jindal told IANS.

Balloting began Tuesday under the close supervision of the Election Commission.

Jindal said tight security measures were in place and facilitation centres were set up to enable the refugee voters to cast their postal ballot.

The poll panel had appointed seven observers to oversee the electoral process. Seven officials from Mizoram also came to the camps to assist.

“The Mizoram officials would take the postal ballot to the respective counting centres to count the votes May 16,” Jindal said.

About 11,500 of the over 36,000 Reang tribal refugees – locally known as Bru, living in the Kanchanpur and Panisagar refugee camps of Tripura for the past 17 years – are listed in Mizoram’s electoral rolls.

Five NGOs and youth organisations, led by the Young Mizo Association, have been organising protests in Aizawl and other places of Mizoram since last week demanding that the poll panel revoke its decision to take the refugees’ votes through postal ballot.

The NGOs waved black flags in front of the office of the Mizoram election department in Aizawl Wednesday and Thursday and threatened to obstruct counting of votes polled in the relief camps.

Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla, who is also the state Congress president, had earlier this month urged Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath not to allow the refugees to vote through postal ballots.

The tribals had fled their villages in Mizoram and took shelter in Tripura in October 1997 after an ethnic conflict broke out with the majority Mizos over the killing of a Mizo forest official.

About 5,000 refugees returned to their homes in the past three-and-a-half years following continued persuasion by Mizoram, Tripura and union home ministry officials. The repatriation process subsequently stopped.

IANS