Three months after the general elections, all major political players will take their popularity test as people go to the by-polls in 41 constituencies today.
More than 500 candidates holding tickets of different political parties as well as independents are in the run for 15 National Assembly and 26 provincial assembly seats.
Given their strength in the national and provincial legislatures, the by-polls will not make much of a difference in terms of making or breaking of any government at the Centere or in the provinces. Nonetheless, it will serve as a litmus test for the popularity of major political parties, especially the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the newbie Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
The Election Commission hoped that polling in all the constituencies will go smoothly. Although it has not been decided as yet, mobile polling stations may be established or some polling stations may be re-located in Balochistan’s PB-32 (Kachhi-III) and some areas of Jhal Magsi district because of the flood situation.
All the presiding officers have been given first-class magistrate powers for three days, while the officer in-charge of security from Army, Rangers and the Frontier Corps will also enjoy similar powers, but only for the polling day.
Security beefed up
The ECP has divided polling stations in three categories for security point of view. Of all 7,606 polling stations set up before the ECP put off polls in NA-25, 3,080 were declared ‘normal’, 2,686 ‘sensitive’ and the remaining 1,840 were identified as ‘most sensitive’.
The ECP has called for deployment of army as well as police and other law-enforcement agencies outside the sensitive polling stations, while the army has been asked to perform security duties inside and outside the ‘most sensitive’ areas.
No cell phones are allowed inside polling booths and ECP directed all provincial election commissioners to ensure this rule is complied with. Those carrying cell phones would have to submit them to the presiding officer and take it back after they cast their vote.
Voter verification via SMS
The ECP has updated and activated a mobile text messaging service – an SMS facility – for voters to confirm details of polling stations where by-elections are scheduled. To avail this service, a voter has to send his 13-digit Computerised National Identity Card number – without a space or hyphens – to 8300.
Who left what?
The 15 Punjab Assembly constituencies going to the polls are likely to augment the majority already achieved by the PML-N in the provincial legislature.
In other provinces, by-polls will be held in four provincial assembly constituencies each in Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, while voting will be held for three seats in Balochistan Assembly.
Among the 15 National Assembly seats, five seats – NA-1 (Peshawar), NA-5 (Nowshera), NA-13 (Swabi), NA-48 (Islamabad) and NA-71 (Mianwali) – were vacated by PTI’s leaders who had won more than one seat in the May 11 general elections.
JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman vacated NA-25 (Dera Ismail Khan) and NA-27 (Lakki Marwat). Authorities postponed elections in DI Khan due to security reasons.
Similarly, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vacated two National Assembly constituencies – NA-68 (Sargodha) and NA-129 (Lahore). NA-177 was vacated by independent candidate Jamshed Dasti who had won two seats in Muzaffargarh. The May 11 election for NA-83 (Faisalabad) was postponed when a candidate died on the day before balloting.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 22nd, 2013.