A small fire erupted at a polling station in Tharparkar's Chachro tehsil on Sunday during the by-polls for the district's NA-221 seat, causing a media frenzy and panic among the voters.
According to Tharparkar SSP Hassan Sardar Niazi, the "accidental" fire erupted at polling station no. 126 near Chachro town and "caused damage to some ballot papers and other material". The official, however, refuted however, media reports that three persons had been detained for arson.
Meanwhile, the District Returning Officer Mian Mohammad Shahid said that the damaged ballot papers were quickly replaced and the polling process allowed to resume as soon as possible. He added that the polling process was conducted smoothly in the whole constituency, despite reports of scuffles between PTI and PPP voters in different areas.
Addressing a press conference in Chachro on Sunday, GDA MPA Abdul Razzak Rahimoo and PTI MNA Jai Prakash Lohana alleged that the PPP had defeated Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi through rigging in the 2013 elections and were doing the same this time. They added that the PPP was using government machinery, including the police, to carry out the rigging.
On the other hand, the PPP lodged a written complaint to the ECP, alleging that the fire had been started at the polling station "by opponent group". The letter added that "female voters were attacked and harassed" in Jase Jo Par village and asked the ECP to take notice of the incidents and ensure the conduct of free and fair elections in the constituency.
On the other hand, PPP MPA Surendar Valasai claimed that PTI and GDA supporters were harassing their party’s voters just like they had attempted to do in Malir. The PPP candidate, Pir Ameer Ali Shah Jilani, too alleged that the PTI was using the federal government's machinery to rig the elections.
The NA seat had fallen vacant after the death of Pakistan Peoples Party MNA Pir Noor Mohammad Shah after he had contracted Covid-19 on Dec 20 last year.
Of the 12 candidates contesting the by-election, analysts see the real contest between PPP’s Pir Ameer Ali Shah Jilani and Nizamuddin Rahimoon of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and predict an easy win for the PPP candidate.
Thar Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Nawaz Soho told Dawn that the total number of registered voters in the constituency was 281,900, of whom 157,099 were men and 124,801 were women.
He said that 318 polling stations had been set up — 79 for men, 78 for women and 161 combined polling stations with 857 polling booths — 456 for men and 401 for women. Ninety-five polling stations had been declared highly sensitive and 130 sensitive with 2,350 polling staff deployed.
The DC had said that CCTV cameras had been installed at the highly sensitive polling stations to monitor the polling process and ensure security of voters and polling staff on election day.
SSP Niazi, meanwhile, had earlier told Dawn that 1,912 police personnel were deployed for security duty at polling stations to ensure the peaceful conduct of voting. According to security plan, eight police personnel have been deployed at highly sensitive polling stations, six at sensitive polling stations and four policemen are performing duty at the remaining polling stations.
Besides, Rangers personnel have also been deployed for security duty at the polling stations.