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PESHAWAR: The overall voter turnout was much lower in the provincial capital on Wednesday than the 2013 general elections’.

Of the total registered voters of Peshawar, 44.05 per cent had exercised their franchise in the last elections.

However, the voters’ interest in elections this time around was found to be much lower than that during visit to different polling stations of the city.

Political observer Aurangzeb Khan insisted that there could be multiple factors behind the lower turnout, including hot and humid weather, security concerns, and poor campaigning by political parties.

“Few days before elections, an ANP candidate was killed in a suicide blast, while another was attacked in Bannu and so, an atmosphere of fear prevails here,” he told Dawn.

A lot of enthusiasm was seen among voters and non-voters in some areas.

Supporters of political parties and candidates set up camps near polling stations, some of which were established within radius of 400 meters in violation of the election code of conduct.

Also, some political activists were seen illegally canvass near polling stations for their candidates.

The nominees of most political parties arranged transport vehicles for shifting voters to polling stations in violation of the code of conduct.

Voters expressed satisfaction with the overall polling arrangements.

Unlike the 2015 local government polls during which mismanagement was reported at a large number of polling stations, where people were found roaming around, the law-enforcement agencies didn’t allow anyone other than eligible voters to polling stations.

In urban areas, the activists of PTI, PPP, ANP and PML-N played own election songs on stereo at full blast.

The Election Commission of Pakistan has set up 1,190 polling stations for 1.693 million voters of Peshawar, which has five national and 14 provincial assembly constituencies.

The elections were postponed in PK-78 constituency due to the killing of ANP candidate Haroon Ahmad Bilour in a suicide bombing.

While voters of different parties had different reasons for casting votes in favour of their candidates, the place of residence of a candidate was also considered a key factor for that purpose. Several of the voters said that they had voted for a particular candidate as he belonged to their respective area.

In some urban areas, the voter turnout was not encouraging, especially in the morning.

Four polling booths were established at the Polling Station No 169 at the Government Girls Higher Secondary School, Hayatabad.

Around 160 of the total 1,390 votes were polled there at around 11:30am. As voters turned up in small numbers, no queues were seen at polling stations.

The presiding officer said only few voters had turned up in early polling hours.

He however said the turnout was likely to increase near closing hours as the area was an urban neighbourhood.

Hustle and bustle was witnessed at the Government Shaheed Farhan Jalil High School, Sarband, where three polling stations were set up.

The sprawling premises of the school bustled with voters at around 3pm. Until then, around 700 of the total 1,772 and 1,661 total votes were cast at polling station No 1 and 2, whereas the presiding officer of the third polling station claimed that around 50 per cent of the total 1,418 polls were cast.

“I came to the polling station in the morning but there was a long queue of voters, I returned and have come back only after the influx eased,” said Ahmad Jan.

Israrullah Khan, 70, said he had exercised his franchise for the first time in 1977 and voted for Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of the PPP for shouting the catchy slogan of ‘roti, kapra aur makan (food, clothes and shelter).

He, however, said things had changed a lot over the years and he currently liked the PTI’s slogan of change.

In semi-urban Garhi Atta Mohammad area near the Peshawar Ring Road, around 200 of the total 600 votes were polled at Polling Station I until noon with many waiting for their turn in long queue to cast vote.

Higher number of votes was polled in Surezai Payan, Ahmadkhel, Umeedabad and adjacent areas.

Lower turnout was reported in rural areas of Peshawar, where polling stations were set up away from population, compared to the areas with polling stations established in immediate neighbourhood.

In several areas, activists of different political parties shouted satirical slogans against each other, including ‘lalten tabah de’ (the lantern is doomed) and ‘sobare tabah de’ (the bat is doomed).

Lantern is the ANP’s election symbol and bat PTI’s.

Caretaker chief minister retired Justice Dost Mohammad Khan cast vote at the Government Boys Primary School Peshawar Cantonment polling station.

He said the government had tried to adopt foolproof measures to prevent rigging in polls.

“These elections will be remembered in the province’s history as the most transparent ones,” he said.

A controversy emerged after a voter, Malik Danyal Ahmad, uploaded a picture on social media showing a ballot paper of NA-28 constituency stamped in favour of a PTI candidate along with his CNIC.

The provincial election commissioner took notice of the matter and asked the relevant returning officer for necessary action.

Staff members of some polling stations complained that they’re not allowed to sit in polling booths and were asked to stay outside and therefore, they didn’t ascertain how many votes were polled.

Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2018