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Independent candidates win Kashmir local elections

October 25, 2019 GMT
An Indian paramilitary soldiers checks the bag of a Kashmiri boy outside a polling station outside a polling station on the outskirts of Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. Village council elections are being conducted Thursday in Indian-controlled Kashmir, but the absence of mainstream local politicians leaves worry the polls will install puppets of the central Hindu-nationalist government that revoked the disputed region's semi-autonomous status in early August. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
An Indian paramilitary soldiers checks the bag of a Kashmiri boy outside a polling station outside a polling station on the outskirts of Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. Village council elections are being conducted Thursday in Indian-controlled Kashmir, but the absence of mainstream local politicians leaves worry the polls will install puppets of the central Hindu-nationalist government that revoked the disputed region's semi-autonomous status in early August. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
An Indian paramilitary soldiers checks the bag of a Kashmiri boy outside a polling station outside a polling station on the outskirts of Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. Village council elections are being conducted Thursday in Indian-controlled Kashmir, but the absence of mainstream local politicians leaves worry the polls will install puppets of the central Hindu-nationalist government that revoked the disputed region's semi-autonomous status in early August. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Independent candidates have overwhelmingly won village council elections held in Indian-controlled Kashmir months after New Delhi imposed a harsh security crackdown and stripped the region of its semi-autonomous status.

The elections were boycotted by most political parties, including those whose leaders were sympathetic to the Indian government but have been detained since the Aug. 5 crackdown.

Chief Electoral Officer Shailendra Kumar said independent candidates won the chairmanships of 217 areas, followed by candidates from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in 81 areas. The voters were village council members, and the general public did not participate.

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Modi’s party did not boycott the elections.

Kumar said in a statement late Thursday that elections were conducted in 280 areas, while chairmen in 27 others ran unopposed.

Indian officials are hoping the election of local council leaders will lend credibility to Indian rule amid a political vacuum and contend they will represent local interests in development work.

Most of the candidates and thousands of council members have lived for months in hotels in Srinagar, the region’s main city, because of security concerns. In the past, militants fighting against Indian rule have targeted candidates.

Both rebels and separatists have called elections in Kashmir an illegitimate exercise under military occupation.

The Modi government says removing a constitutional provision that gave Kashmir some measure of autonomy since independence from British rule in 1947 was necessary to give rights afforded other Indian citizens, usher in greater economic development and do away with the sense of separateness that BJP leaders say has cultivated the separatist movement.