Ahmedabad: Election Commission of India (ECI) on Saturday said it was hopeful that its two new national icons, namely ace shuttler Saina Nehwal and Olympic bronze medallist boxer Mary Kom, would make debut appearances during the Gujarat Assembly polls to motivate women and youths to exercise their franchise.
"ECI has added Saina Nehwal and Mary Kom to its list of national icons, which till now had former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and Indian team captain M S Dhoni. I am hopeful that our new icons would make debut appearances in Gujarat polls," ECI Director General Akshay Raut said.
Gujarat will go to polls on December 13 and 17 in two phases.
"The work is going on with them (Saina and Mary) for the promotional messages to be released...We are hopeful for time they would make debut appearances in Gujarat," Raut said.
In a bid to boost the low voter turnout, the election commission has launched Systematic Voters Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP), as part of which messages released by the national icons help encourage voter participation.
A survey conducted by EC in Gujarat shows that women electorate lags behind when it comes to voting, the director general said.
"EC has consistently facing the challenge of low overall voter turnout in Gujarat, and lower participation by women. The commission is bracing up to this challenge and slew of corrective steps are being taken this time," Raut said, adding the poll watchdog was confident that the charisma of the two women would yield desired outcome for ECI in the poll-bound state.
"They (Sania and Mary) represent youth and women and have been achievers in the country....I am hopeful they will make a good impact," he said.
The statistics of voter turnout in the past elections had not been encouraging in Gujarat. In 2007 elections the turnout was less than 60 per cent and was abysmally low in 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Raut said.
As compared to national average of 59 per cent, it was 47 per cent in Gujarat, he said referring to the 2009 general elections.
In another first, ECI has identified 30 per cent polling stations (13,500) in the state where voter turnout has been low. "We will implement SVEEP measures at these polling stations," Raut said.
As part of the special measures to encourage voter participation, ECI shall hold a special marathon rally in Vadodara, he added.