Eyebrows raised over acting govt’s efforts to hold free, fair elections
Party activists, polling staff, security personnel violate ECP’s code of conduct in broad daylight
Polling temporarily stopped in two constituencies owing to PML-N, PTI clash, ‘shortage of ballot papers’
Two dead due to ‘lack of facilities’ at different polling stations
LAHORE: Tens of millions of people out of 60,672,868 – the total number of registered voters in Punjab – on Wednesday stepped out to choose their representatives for 147 and 371 national as well as provincial assembly seats, respectively, in the 11th general polls of the country.
Amid strict security measures, with personnel of both the police and military deployed, polling began at 8 am and, without any break, concluded at 6 pm across 47,813 polling stations of the province, out of which 5,487 had been declared highly sensitive.
Various teams of Dolphin Squad and Police Response Unit started patrolled around the provincial capital, while the personnel of Anti-Rioting Force also remained on high alert to cope with any situation. More than 35,000 policemen, 50 DSPs and 200 inspectors, under the supervision of 25 SPs, performed their duties. City Traffic Police (CTP) also deployed 12 DSPs, 168 inspectors, 3,000 traffic wardens, 234 patrolling officers, under the supervision of SP Saddar and City division, which maintained a smooth flow of traffic.
While no untoward incidents were reported and the caretaker setup ensured a peaceful conduct of polls across the province, eyebrows were raised over the acting government’s efforts to hold free and fair elections amid hue and cry of “rigging” over behaviour of the polling staff, security personnel and certain restrictions imposed by them in violation of the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) code of conduct.
According to reports, media representatives were barred from covering polls in several constituencies by the personnel of Punjab police and army. “The media cards provided by ECP were of no use. We weren’t even allowed to carry our mobile phones and the soldiers maltreated us as well,” said a media person, adding that media was denied access to the polling stations, which was a defilement of the election code of conduct.
Meanwhile, the picture of a stamped ballot paper, making rounds over the internet, showed a vote cast in favour of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) candidate for PP-174, Muhammad Maqsood Sabir Ansari. The picture of the vote, which went viral on social media, drew the ire of thousands of social media users, who criticised the poor performance of the security personnel and other polling staff.
A number of PTI supporters were observed in NA-125, where even the polling staff wore colours of the Imran Khan-led party. Several officers working at the polling station, set up in Lahore College for Women University (LCWU), were seen either wearing flags of PTI or wristbands bearing PTI’s electoral symbol. Protesting against what she termed the polling staff’s “bias”, a female voter – apparently a supporter of the rival Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) – of the constituency raised slogans against the election commission and was seen wooing other voters to not cast their votes in favour of Dr Yasmin Rashid, who is PTI’s candidate for NA-125 against PML-N’s Waheed Alam Khan.
Earlier, Lahore DIG took notice of a video showing police beating up a voter in Lahore’s NA-132 constituency. The police high-up has ordered an inquiry into the incident and the policeman involved in the incident has reportedly been suspended.
Naimat, a voter, was slapped repeatedly by police officers on duty outside a polling station in NA-132 (Lahore). Unclear what exactly happened. (Sent by journalist Usman Ahmed) pic.twitter.com/NdG58qjNVq
— Benazir Shah (@Benazir_Shah) July 25, 2018
A social media activist of PML-N was also arrested after a video of stamping ballot papers by party candidates went viral on social media. According to details, PML-N’s social media activist Waseem Qureshi of Bahawalpur made a video of PML-N candidates Balighur Rehman and Rana Tariq while casting their votes.
Among several other incidents that led to people doubting the credibility of polls was the NA-130 debacle, in which one of the polling stations “ran out of ballot papers”. As per media reports, polls resumed after a delay of almost an hour after the polling staff expressed helplessness due to the shortage of polling material.
Polling was also temporarily stopped in Lahore’s NA-123 following a clash between PTI and PML-N workers.
In other poll-related incidents, at least two people lost their lives owing to the administration’s mismanagement despite Punjab Caretaker Chief Minister Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi’s orders of providing the voters with best possible facilities.
According to details, a man died of heat stroke while waiting for his turn to caste cote vote outside Girls Higher Secondary School in village 257-EB of Vehari district. Rescue sources said the man, who was standing in a queue, fainted after he suffered heat stroke. He was rushed to a hospital but expired during medical aid.
Separately, a heart attack claimed the life of a man present inside a polling station of NA-77. According to details, the deceased, Arshad, was casting vote at a polling station near his residence in Zahir Pir area of Rahim Yar Khan. The heart stroke proved fatal and he expired before being shifted to a hospital as no ambulances were present at the site.
As for the overall situation, the provincial capital witnessed a higher voter turnout as compared to 2013.
According to ECP officials, this healthy trend could be attributed to enhanced voters’ awareness due to social media and the inclusion of young voters.
A healthy turnout in Lahore was observed at the Board Office, various polling stations in Gulberg, Cathedral High School, LCWU polling station, DHA Phase I, City District Govt Boys School and others.
A large number of voters were witnessed especially after 2 pm as the weather turned pleasant due to rain.