The Election Commission of India (ECI) on Saturday announced the schedule for the upcoming assembly elections in five states. Polling will be held in seven phases from February 10 to March 7, with counting of votes scheduled for March 10. The model code of conduct has come into effect with the announcement of the schedule. 

As per the guidelines announced by the ECI, candidates will be allowed to file online nominations. “This is an optional facility and we would like the candidates to use this facility so that physical contact can be reduced,” Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra said at the presser this afternoon. 

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He announced mandatory publicity of criminal antecedants among other measures to ensure ethical elections. “Each and every voter has a right to know the background of the candidate,” he said. 

Candidates with criminal antecedants are required to publish information through newspaper and television channels three times during the campaigning period. 

It is also mandatory for political parties to upload on their website detailed information regarding individuals with pending criminal cases who have been selected as candidates. Parties also have to explain why such candidates have been selected. 

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18.34 crore voters, of which 8.55 crore are women electors, will cast their votes at 2.15 lakh polling stations in the five states. 

The BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh will vote in seven phases on February 10, February 14, February 20, February 23, February 27, March 3, and March 7. Manipur will vote in two phases on February 27 and March 3. 

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Uttarakhand, Punjab and Goa will vote on February 14. 

Chandra said that the ECI has three main objectives for the upcoming polls – COVID-safe elections, hassle-free voter experience and maximum voter participation.

The assembly elections will be conducted amid a recent explosion in COVID-19 cases, driven by the more transmissible omicron variant of the coronavirus. On Saturday, India recorded over 1.41 lakh new COVID cases, just 10 days after first crossing the 10,000-mark after months.