KARACHI, May 11: The landmark election in the city was marred by mismanagement, delays in arrival of election material, absence of polling staff, forcible takeover of polling stations by political party activists in some areas, bomb and gun attacks in a few neighbourhoods of district east and west besides allegations of rigging and election boycott by a few political parties on Saturday.
Polling day started with a powerful bomb blast apparently targeting Awami National Party’s candidate in the densely populated area of Landhi killing 11 persons and wounding 45 others. At least two more people were killed in other gun and bomb attacks in the city during the day.
Complaints of ineffective security, ‘engineered’ delays and bogus voting were received from different parts of the city in addition to the alleged kidnapping of a candidate contesting NA-253 and thrashing of two other candidates.
The mismanagement was accepted by the Election Commission of Pakistan that extended the voting time by three hours at a number of polling stations. However, there were quite a few polling stations such as the one set up in DA Model School in Phase IV (NA-250) that remained closed till Saturday evening as voters kept standing outside its gates for long hours in the hope of exercising their right to vote.
“I think there is some rigging going on inside,” said Sadia Akbar while speaking to Dawn in the evening, adding that she had been waiting there since 7.30am.
Shoaib Khalid, who said his number was fourth on the list to vote, had also been there since 7.30am. “The election process has just not been initiated here,” he said.
Munibullah Farid said that they were just passing time by singing songs and chanting slogans until they were allowed to vote. “We have been told that they are short of polling staff here,” he said.
Also standing there since 10am were Rushna Irfan and her husband. “Our six-year-old daughter, Alaina, has a fever and it is our son Nael’s second birthday today but we are here to cast our vote. We deserve a chance to bring about a change in our country’s leadership,” she said.
Mohammad Saleem Shivani said he and his family had been there since 8am. “We have seven votes here for the PTI. But I don’t see polling happening here today,” he said sadly.
Similarly, a polling station set up in Income Tax building in Gulistan-i-Jauhar (NA-253) was forcibly taken over by political party activists who did not allow anyone to enter and cast their vote. Voters complained that they waited outside the polling station for three hours but were not allowed to cast their vote by the activist of a political party.In many other cases either polling agents were not present or polling staff had not resumed their duty on time.
In Lyari (NA-248), voters and polling staff were present but because of lack of ballot boxes, the voting did not begin until 10am. In some areas, the polling agents came in time, but had to wait for the polling staff.
A presiding officer at Children Secondary School near Katti Pahari’s Awan Colony, Arbab Ali, said the school had been closed for four months. And when it was finally reopened for the polls, there were no facilities. The staff, which basically included teachers and polling officers from Drigh Road, Kemari and Landhi, not only cleaned the premises but also borrowed seats and desks from a nearby school.
With a polling staffer held hostage in a school in Katti Pahari around noon, the presiding officer said they reported to a returning officer, Syed Khalil Anwer Jafri, to provide them with security, but that did not happen. “There are only a few police officers appointed outside the polling station. Otherwise, I haven’t seen Rangers or the army around. The RO didn’t respond to our request either.” Assistant presiding officer Syed Zahir Hussain said this time around the Pashtuns “didn’t come out to vote as much as the Mianwalis in the area.” He also added that since morning, polling agents of only Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz were present.
In a Manghopir area, presiding officer and head master, Abdul Aziz, said, “I’m not satisfied with the security provided to us. There is just local police and they are not well equipped in case the situation goes out of hand, though it has been peaceful so far.” Like Ali, Aziz and his staff also borrowed desks and chairs from a nearby school. No polling agents were present there.
Similarly, polling agents were conspicuous by their absence at a government school in Azizabad. Polling Officer Mohammad Fazil Usmani did not give a reply when asked about it. He rather spoke about big turnout in the area that he said was “humungous”. Casting her vote for the first time in Azizabad, a former polling agent, Mrs Umair, said: “She was dragged to the polling station by her daughter who is a Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf fan.”Amidst the claims of a big turnout in parts of the city attributed by some to the growing influence of PTI, Jamaat-i-Islami, JUP and Sunni Ittehad Council boycotted the elections accusing rival MQM of “using violence and scaring away voters” while the MQM itself complained of “rigging and bogus voting across the city”.
Levelling allegations of rigging in seven national assembly constituencies and expressing concern over an inordinate delay in the initiation of the polling process, MQM leader Dr Farooq Sattar demanded re-election on one National Assembly seat (NA-250) and two provincial assembly seats (PS-112 and 113) to ‘safeguard the democratic rights of the people’.
Dr Sattar held two press conferences within a few hours on Saturday and told reporters that bogus votes were being cast in NA-240, 248, 249, 250, 251, 253 and NA-255.
He claimed that polling agents of the MQM were tortured and forcibly evicted from the polling stations.
He held the chief election commissioner, the district returning officers and the armed forces responsible for failing to take timely action, which he said negated the claim of holding of free and transparent elections.