AS by-elections take place today for 41 national and provincial assembly seats lying vacant, there is a sense of relief that soldiers will be stationed outside polling stations considered ‘sensitive’. Troops will remain both inside and outside stations considered ‘highly sensitive’ in order to prevent rigging. Though May 11’s general elections were considered largely fair, allegations of rigging and irregularities persisted, especially with some parties claiming they had proof of electoral malpractice; the media too ran footage of ballot papers and books in garbage dumps and other places. Before the polls, there had been calls for placing army troops in and around polling stations to prevent tampering with the electoral process. However, while troops were stationed in certain areas, it was considered impractical to have soldiers posted at every polling station in the country.
But then the general elections were a huge undertaking and an overstretched military could be excused for not being present at every polling station. In contrast, the by-polls are a relatively smaller affair and hopefully will be better managed, and chances of rigging should be minimal if not eliminated. Also, today’s by-elections should throw up signs of which way the political winds are blowing in Pakistan. Watchers of the political scene will keenly be observing the results as they start coming in to see, for example, if the PML-N can further consolidate its position inside the assemblies, or if the PTI can make more inroads and the PPP can claw back some of its lost ground. And in case the presence of troops
does eliminate chances of rigging in constituencies where losing candidates cried foul and such candidates are returned, it will strengthen the case of those who claimed their mandate was snatched on May 11 due to electoral malpractices.