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THE Karachi election commissioner reviews the election material at the Civic Centre on Wednesday.—PPI
THE Karachi election commissioner reviews the election material at the Civic Centre on Wednesday.—PPI

KARACHI: All is set for the by-elections in National Assembly’s constituency 245, and provincial assembly’s 115 on Thursday. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) on Wednesday sounded confident that it would maintain its winning history despite the “state-run operation against the party”. Its key opponent Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf said there would be no more “traditional results” on the two seats, amid the election commission’s announcement that it would publish polling results on its website directly from polling stations. This use of technological support will be the first such experiment in Karachi.

The two seats had fallen vacant after MQM MNA Rehan Hashmi resigned from NA-245 and MPA Dr Arshad Vohra from PS-115 when the party assigned them key positions in the upcoming local government system after the Dec 5 polls. With 382,932 registered votes in NA-245, the North Nazimabad and North Karachi constituency has long been a stronghold of the MQM where its candidate Mr Hashmi bagged 115,776 votes to emerge victorious in the 2013 general elections when the percentage of votes polled stood at 54.28.

Similarly, PS-115, which consists of Lines Area localities, has 155,952 registered voters and Dr Vohra won that seat in the 2013 general elections with 55,804 votes when the percentage of votes polled stood at 53.30. On the seats, PTI candidates emerged as runners-up with 54,937 and 18,622 votes, respectively. The PTI insisted that the 2013 elections were not fair and for Thursday’s by-polls the party looked hopeful that the results would be in its favour; so did its rival MQM.

“Despite all state-run operation, raids, arrest of workers and conspiracies, our campaigns in NA-245 and PS-115 reflect the level of popularity of the MQM among the masses, and the results of the two constituencies will further put the seal on this reality,” said MQM leader Kunwar Naveed Jameel, who became MNA in April last year after winning the NA-246 by-polls weeks after the Rangers raid on the party’s headquarters Nine Zero.

“The MQM has been emerging victorious on these two seats since 1988 and even then when state brutality was at its peak. We appeal to the people of these constituencies to come out on polling day and cast their votes for MQM candidate Kamal Malick in NA-245 and Faisal Rafiq in PS-115. The results would prove all allegations against the party nothing but a bundle of lies.”

The hopes of the PTI, however, are high as well despite the fact that it has been unable to take any impressive share after the May 2011 general election in Karachi by-polls and recently-held LG elections in alliance with the Jamaat-i-Islami. It believes that the recently-held actions by the law enforcement agencies have helped the Karachiites to “differentiate between criminal elements and political workers”. Party candidates Amjadullah Khan for NA-245 and Amjad Asif Jah for PS-115 are making their electoral debut.

“The Karachiites can no more be divided in the name of ethnicity and rights,” said a PTI statement. “Under a planned conspiracy, the city was divided on ethnic and sectarian lines which resulted in bloodshed and loss of lives. It’s shameful that the people who have been declared anti-state and anti-country by the law enforcement agencies are appealing for votes in the name of patriotism.”

Despite the expected contest between the MQM and PTI, the Mohajir Qaumi Movement, better known as Haqiqi, has also fielded its candidate, Jameel Qadri, for PS-115 after maintaining a low profile for the past several months and during the campaign in the constituency couldn’t avoid confrontation with the arch-rival MQM as the situation remained tense in Lines Area, where electioneering witnessed violence for which the two contesting parties blamed each other.

The Election Commission of Pakistan, on the other hand, claims to have completed all arrangements for Thursday’s by-polls where it has also planned to introduce the use of new technology on an experimental basis.

“The Election Commission of Pakistan is pleased to announce the third pilot project of GIS polling station on Google maps for the by-election on NA-245 at 227 polling stations and PS-115 at 83 polling stations to be held on April 7, 2016,” said an ECP statement. “The project of GIS polling station on Google map is devised to help the general public in finding their respective polling station on Google map using the ECP’s website that navigates the voter to see his/ her polling station’s exact location with the building photograph.”

It said the ECP was committed to performing multiple pilot projects by scaling up its magnitude to gauge further results. The technology, it said, would bring more transparency and accuracy, which could increase public trust and confidence.

“Furthermore, the ECP intends to conduct another pilot project on transmission of electronic copy of form-XIV directly from the polling station to web (ECP headquarters Islamabad) by using mobile phone technology at 47 polling stations of NA-245 as a test run on 7th April 2016,” added the ECP statement.

Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2016