All polling stations across Sindh have been declared ‘highly sensitive’ for the by-elections today by the Election Commission of Pakistan.
There are 1,184 polling stations in the seven constituencies in Sindh where elections are scheduled to take place and not a single one of them has been declared ‘normal’. “We have received reports that some elements want to create a law and order situation during the elections,” said provincial election commissioner SM Tariq Qadri. “Looking at the precarious security situation, we have made all arrangements to deploy armed forces at all polling stations across Sindh.”
There are 863 most-sensitive polling stations and 321 sensitive ones where armed forces, Rangers and police will be deployed. All the 194 polling stations in NA-254 Korangi have been declared ‘most sensitive’, he said.
The commissioner said seven armed personnel – three inside the station and four outside – would be deployed at the most-sensitive polling stations along with one Rangers personnel and five policemen.
Polling will start today at around 8am and continue till 5pm without any break. A presiding officer will be in-charge of the polling station and an assistant presiding officer and polling officer would be deputed at each booth.
Sindh High Court Chief Justice Mushir Alam said that load-shedding should not take place in the areas where by-polls would be held. Meanwhile, the Private Schools Management Association also announced that private schools will remain closed in PS-103, PS_95 and NA-254.
Armed officers with ranks of captains and majors will be deployed to look after the security situation. These officers will have the same magisterial powers as presiding officers. “The officers can punish people violating rules, such as threatening and harassing the voters,” said Qadri.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement leader Aminul Haq said they have reservations about the presence of army troops at polling stations. They will, nevertheless, contest the polls as it is a democratic party, he said.
Accusations of pre-poll rigging began pouring a day before the elections. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Sindh general secretary Saleem Zia accused the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party of using state machinery to rig the polls. “The chief polling agent of our party has been arrested,” he said. “We wrote to the election commission and higher authorities but all in vain.”
PPP Sindh information secretary Waqar Mehdi denied the accusations. “The PML-N agent would have been arrested by the police because of his involvement in criminal cases. The PPP government has nothing to do with it.” The PPP has, however, complained to the ECP of harassment by PML-N and PML-Functional activists.
MQM prepared to win
Expecting a clean sweep over Karachi’s three seats in the by-elections, the MQM hopes that their victory will prove that it is the city’s most popular party. “Those who have been spreading rumours against the party chief, saying the party will end today will see how the people of Karachi trust the MQM,” claimed Haq.
“People in North Nazimabad feel emotionally attached to the killing of Sajid Qureshi and they will come out to vote,” said Haq, adding they will have the same support in Orangi, where two of our lawmakers have been killed. Meanwhile, Korangi has always been a traditional MQM stronghold, he pointed out.
PTI smells conspiracies
At a press conference on Wednesday, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf leader Hafeezuddin said conspiracies are being hatched for the by-election to create an environment akin to the May 11 general elections, when rigging was rampant.
“Armed men have started roaming around polling stations who are threatening people to cast votes for them,” he said. “Moreover they have started taking hostage the staff of polling stations.” The party did thank the Jamiat-e-Ulema Pakistan candidate of NA-254 and the Pak Muslim Alliance who have withdrawn from their seats in support of PTI candidate Naeem Shaikh.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 22nd, 2013.