Polling began on a brisk note Wednesday morning in 56 assembly constituencies in the third round of Uttar Pradesh's seven-phased election with more than eight percent voters turning up in the first two hours.

According to Chief Electoral Officer Umesh Sinha: "The overall turnout was estimated at 8.2 percent in the first to hours of polling that started at 7 a.m."

He was confident that polling would go far higher than the 42.6 percent turnout in the last assembly election in 2007.

Among the districts going to the polls Wednesday are the high profile Amethi (re-christened as Chattrapati Shahuji Maharaj Nagar), the parliamentary seat of Congress star campaigner Rahul Gandhi. Elections are also being held in the other Gandhi family bastion Sultanpur as well the traditional Nehru-Gandhi home Allahabad.

Among the other districts going to the polls are Varanasi, Jaunpur, Mirzapur, Bhadohi (renamed Sant Ravidas Nagar), Kaushambhi, Sonbhadra and Chandauli - mostly situated along the banks of the Ganga river.

The fate of 1,018 candidates for the 56 seats is being determined by 1.77 crore voters at 18,374 polling stations, where 31,400 electronic voting machines are in place.

Long queues were reported from most of the places, including Amethi, where people were seen making a beeline for polling booths well before 7 a.m.

The voter turnout was however stated to be relatively low in areas such as Mirzapur, Chandauli and Sonbhadra, bordering Madhya Pradesh, where Maoists have a considerable presence.

Besides Maoists, the presence of a number of candidates with criminal backgrounds has prompted the Election Commission to deploy additional police force in the sensitive areas.

Nearly 31 percent of candidates fielded by political parties for the third phase have criminal cases pending against them.

According to a report of National Election Watch and Association for Democratic Reforms, there is no political party that had refrained from fielding those with criminal antecedents.

Samajwadi Party (SP) tops the list with 24 of its 48 nominees having several criminal cases pending against them. The Congress party has 14 of 48, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has 13 of 47, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) 12 of 49, Janata Dal-United six of 24, Bundelkhand Congress four of 13, Peace Party two of 12 and Apna Dal has one of six. 

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