PESHAWAR: All is set for the crucial by-election for a Peshawar National Assembly constituency, NA-4, today (Thursday), which many observers consider as a litmus test for the popularity of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government in the province.

The seat had fallen vacant after the death of dissident PTI MNA Gulzar Khan on Aug 28.

According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, 14 candidates representing both major and minor political parties are in the running for the seat.

The election campaign ended at midnight on Tuesday amid hectic efforts from all parties to woo voters.

Analysts insist PTI, ANP, PML-N are neck and neck

On Wednesday, political parties set up camps in the constituency to facilitate voters, while a large number of media teams reached the city to cover the election, which many take as a test of the ruling PTI’s popularity with the government completing its five-year term in few months.

Political pundits insist the PTI, Awami National Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz are running neck-and-neck with each other.

In a statement issued here, the ECP said it had set up 269 polling stations across the constituency for 397,952 voters, including 235,127 men and 162,825 women, and declared 182 polling stations the most sensitive and 82 sensitive in light of security situation.

It also said electronic voting machines would be used at around 100 polling booths of around 35 polling stations on experimental basis.

The ECP said it had also appointed 269 presiding officers and put in place results transmission system at each polling station.

It said with the deployment of 7,000 policemen and 1,700 army personnel, strict security arrangements had been made in the constituency.The district administration has announced a public holiday in the constituency for the day.

Also on Wednesday, the ECP director general administration and provincial election commissioner visited polling stations in the area to check preparations for the by-election.

The ECP empowered all presiding officers to exercise the powers of first class magistrate to prevent any untoward incident.

Also during the day, the city police held a meeting at the Malik Saad Shaheed Police Lines to discuss security arrangements for the by-election.

SSP (operations) Sajjad Khan chaired the meeting, which was attended by relevant police officials.

A statement issued here said the SSP directed the officials to ensure peace on the polling day and said presiding officers and police officers would not use mobile phone in polling stations during voting.

He said special cards would be issued to all police personnel deployed for election duty, while in case of any eventuality, rapid response force personnel would rush to the area.

The deputy commissioner of Peshawar banned display and carrying of weapons, and plying of unregistered and applied-for vehicles in NA-4 for 30 days.

He also banned the use of cellphone on the premises of polling station in the constituency for a day.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Alliance for the Inclusive Elections, a group of civil society organisations, on Wednesday complained that only five percent of the NA-4 polling stations met the essential accessibility criteria.

In a statement issued here ahead of the NA-4 by-election, the PAIE said the accessibility audit of the constituency showed implied that the people with disabilities and elderly and sick people won’t be able to make it to the 95 percent of the polling stations in Thursday by-polls.

It also said 42 percent of polling stations didn’t have a firm and obstacle-free passage leading to the building, while 75 percent buildings didn’t provide level access to the entrance of polling stations.

The PAIE asked the ECP to take corrective measures.

Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2017