The second phase of the local body polls which is crucial for the traditional fronts in Kerala- the ruling CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front, Congress-headed United Democratic Front and BJP-NDA- ahead of the crucial Assembly elections next year, got underway in five districts on Thursday. A total of 98,57,208 voters including 51,28,361 women and 93 transgenders, would exercise their franchise to elect representatives for 8,116 wards of 451 local bodies in Kottayam, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Palakkad and Wayanad districts. There are 57,895 first-time voters and 265 non- resident Indians (NRIs) in these districts, according to the state Election Commission. Two Corporations-Kochi and Thrissur, 36 municipalities, 350 village panchayats, 58 block panchayats and five district panchayats are among the local bodies where the second phase polling is being held. Of the total 12,643 polling booths, 473 have been identified as sensitive and webcasting facility was arranged there, SEC said. The Election Commission deployed 63,187 officials at polling stations while 19,736 police personnel were on duty for the smooth conduct of the polls. According to an official update, 23.33 per cent polling was recorded in the five districts at 10 AM. As the entire election procedure was in compliance with COVID-19 protocols, masks, sanitising and social distancing norms were made mandatory at all polling stations. Long queues of women voters could be seen in many wards of Ernakulam and Thrissur since the beginning of polling. Polling was generally peaceful in all the five districts so far and the voting procedure was smooth except for technical snag in voting machines reported in some districts. Voters, who have tested positivefor the viral infection or those placed under quarantine after 3 PM on Wednesday, would be allowed to cast votes in their respective booths in the evening after all the voters have exercised their franchise, official sources said. Minister A C Moideen courted controversy when he cast his vote at a booth in Panagattukara in Thrissur district on Thursday. The opposition Congress party alleged that he exercised the franchise at 6.55 AM, five minutes ahead of the official beginning of polling. However, the minister rejected the charges and said he did not violate any procedures. After the first phase of the polls, held in Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta and Idukki on December 8, all the three traditional fronts including LDF, UDF and BJP-NDA have expressed confidence about their victory. The third phase in four districts- Malappuram, Kozhikode, Kannur and Kasaragod would be on December 14. The counting would be held on December 16.