IT is a welcome reiteration and clarification that ought to be followed in letter and spirit by the vast security apparatus that is to be deployed for the security of the polling process.

On Thursday, army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa visited the military’s election support centre in Rawalpindi and re-emphasised that all military personnel deployed for election duties must strictly comply with the code of conduct given by the ECP. The army chief also reinforced that all military personnel are only performing a facilitative role and that the polling process is to remain under the control and authority of the ECP.

While the ECP had attempted to dispel concerns of political parties, candidates and independent election watchdogs, the unprecedented numbers in which security personnel have been drafted in for polling day-related duties and the highly unusual powers delegated by the ECP to military officers overseeing security in the polling station had, among other factors, continued to attract controversy.

The violence and allegations that have marred the campaign phase and the run-up to polling day ought to concern all right-thinking and sensible citizens committed to upholding the Constitution and the democratic order. A spate of militant attacks culminating in the shocking massacre in Mastung has bloodily underlined the very real and continuing security threats to the country and the democratic process.

It is fairly clear that an already lacklustre campaign season was further vitiated by militant violence. So it is imperative that the polling process and polling day itself be secured to the maximum extent possible by the state and the security apparatus.

While the country’s politics may appear to be more divided now than at virtually any other point over the last decade, there is at least a firm national consensus, across all political parties and institutions of the state, that the elected, constitutional order must continue.

The national political and institutional consensus on democratic continuity will rightly be further reinforced if the polling process is made secure enough for large numbers of Pakistanis in all parts of the country to feel safe when turning out to vote. The intense political engagement that is apparent across the country and has been partly reflected in significant turnouts in by-elections through the last parliament deserves a chance to be expressed in a high turnout.

A security apparatus that is focused primarily on securing polling day and providing an environment as free and fair of threat and intimidation as possible would surely be a boost to the democratic order. The historic achievement of two consecutive parliaments completing their terms and the possibility of a peaceful transfer of power to the next legitimately elected government are undeniable democratic milestones.

The people’s right to vote in an environment free of fear, intimidation and the threat of violence of all kinds should be kept front and centre.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2018

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