KARACHI, Jan 28: The Election Commission of Pakistan pledged on Monday that army troops would escort the ECP staff carrying out the remaining electoral rolls verification in Karachi, fulfilling a demand of opposition parties.

The assurance by Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim was given at a meeting he held with leaders of opposition parties at the Sindh election commission hours before the scheduled conclusion of the three-day protest sit-in, in front of the ECP building, which was organised by the Jamaat-i-Islami and attended by various political parties, mostly those having no representation in parliament.

The assurance was followed by a brief statement from the Inter Service Public Relations (ISPR) that also sounded in line with the demand of the parties for Pakistan army’s ‘effective coordination with the election commission staff’. However, there was no announcement by the ISPR about increasing the number of troops assisting the ECP staff in Karachi.“If the assurance by the chief election commissioner does not meet reality checks, the protest campaign will be resumed,” said a joint statement of more than 20 parties issued through the JI.

“Free, fair and transparent verification of Karachi electoral rolls is mandatory to implement the Supreme Court orders and if the election commission fails to do so, it will definitely be guilty of contempt of court.”

The JI organised the three-day protest sit-in, in front of the Sindh election commission building on Shahrah-i-Iraq, and a similar plan was announced by the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) in front of the parliament house is Islamabad for later this week to demand ‘empowerment of the commission’, which attracted cooperation from almost all opposition parties.

“The chief election commissioner must remember that if his thoughts undergo change again in the days to come, we reserve our right to show our no-trust in him for the upcoming elections,” said Hafiz Hussain Ahmed of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) while speaking at the sit-in attended by hundreds of workers of different parties, women and children.

Without naming any individual or group, he said fair elections did not suit ‘certain quarters’ and they were making every attempt to derail the process or delay the polls. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) Saleem Zia also expressed the same fears.

“It’s so unfortunate that the staff tasked with the preparation of fake voter lists has been assigned the verification of those lists,” he said. “How can one expect free and fair elections in Karachi under these circumstances? The political forces will not allow moves to benefit certain political groups.”

The JI’s Karachi chief, Muhammad Hussain Mahenti, said the political parties were united for the Karachi cause and asked the people “to show courage and join the struggle”. He said the sense of insecurity, which first affected the common man in the city, had now started “harassing institutions as well”.

“But now the authorities must understand that people are no longer ignorant. They know the tactics used to harass people and snatch their rights. Democracy does not deprive people of their right to vote at gunpoint,” he said.

The protest calls from the parties not only won the promise from the election commission but also convinced the armed forces to beef up their arrangements to satisfy the parties.

“Pakistan Army has set up a coordination cell in the provincial election commission office,” an ISPR spokesman said. “The cell has been set up for effective coordination with the election commission staff in connection with the on-going verification of voter lists in the metropolis.”

Earlier, leaders and workers of the parties attended the third-day sit-in. The parties included the PML-N, PML-Functional, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, JUI-F, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, Sunni Tehreek, Awami Tehreek, Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan (JUP), JUI-Sami-ul-Haq, JUP-Noorani, Sindh United Party and PML-Sher-i-Bengal.

Meanwhile, Chief of the Mohajir Qaumi Movement-Haqiqi Afaq Ahmed met the Sindh election commissioner in his office and voiced his “dissatisfaction over the ongoing process of electoral rolls verification in Karachi”, according to an MQM-H press release issued on Monday.

“The Sindh governor should be removed before any such move (verification of electoral rolls),” he told reporters after the meeting. “Even if the army monitors the electoral process and comes to the city for a few days, it will not affect the Karachi situation positively to a large extent. We will have to live here again under threats as temporary measures cannot bring about a lasting peace.”


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