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Punjab battle: AAP upbeat as Akalis, Congress keep up bold face

Parkash Singh Badal, 89, is the oldest serving Chief Minister in the country.  

Chandigarh: Third time lucky, third time unlucky or making it in the first attempt. This sums up the political fortunes of the Shiromani Akali Dal, Congress and the AAP respectively as Punjab prepares to count the votes of 117 assembly seats on Saturday.

The fate of the Akali Dal-BJP combine, which has been ruling Punjab since 2007 and is taking a third shot at power; the Congress - which has been unlucky in 2007 and 2012 and is in a do-or-die situation; and the Aam Aadmi Party, a completely new entrant in Punjab`s political space but has made deep inroads, should be clear by noon on Saturday.

The unique thing about the assembly election this time was that most seats witnessed triangular contests. By-election to the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat, vacated by Congress leader Amarinder Singh in November, was also held with the assembly polls.

While the Akali Dal-BJP combine is upbeat about a hat-trick, the Congress is sure about staging a comeback with a comfortable majority. The AAP, which has emerged as a serious contender, is the crucial factor that could stand in the way of the wishes of both these traditional parties.

Leaders of all parties, in private conversations, are afraid of seeing a hung house.

Punjab Chief Electoral Officer V.K. Singh said on Thursday that all arrangements had been made for the counting of votes.

"Over 14,000 officials will be involved in the counting process in 54 counting centres at 27 locations," he said.

Punjab recorded a high voter turnout of 77.4 percent in the February 4 election to decide the fate of 1,145 candidates, including 81 women and a transgender.

Female voters took the lead with 78.14 percent turnout, compared to 76.69 per cent by males. Of the total 1,98,78,654 registered electors in Punjab, there were 1,05,03,108 male voters and 93,75,546 female voters.

The overall voting percentage in the state was a shade lower than the 78.57 percent votes polled in 2012. The number of voters went up by nearly 22 lakh this time.

The border state`s Malwa belt, which accounts for 69 out of the 117 assembly seats, will decide the fate of the next government in the state. Most districts in the belt saw a record turnout of 75-85 per cent.

Though women constitute nearly 47 percent of the over 12.98 electors in Punjab, the four main parties fielded only 27 women candidates.

Both the Congress and AAP are hoping to cash in from an anti-incumbency factor against the Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance.

Parkash Singh Badal, 89, is the oldest serving Chief Minister in the country.

Punjab Congress president Amarinder Singh has already announced that this would be his last election in his political career. "We will win around 65 seats," he said here.

Akali Dal president and Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal is sure about coming back to power. "The results will prove all surveys wrong," Badal junior said.

The results will show whether the electorate in Punjab sticks to the traditional parties or opts for the new political option, the AAP.