GUJRAT/LAHORE: In a rare re-election in an entire constituency (after the cancellation of the first ballot) in Punjab, people in NA-75 (Daska) will go to the polls on Saturday (today) in a charged atmosphere with expectations of a close fight between the candidates of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had withheld the results of the Feb 19 by-poll in NA-75 Daska due to violence, rigging and disappearance of over 20 presiding officers and ordered re-election in the entire constituency. The order was later upheld by the Supreme Court.
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja reached Lahore to personally monitor the exercise as extra security measures are in place to ensure conduct of free and fair election in a peaceful manner.
Rangers are on patrol duty, ensuring the transportation of election staff and material, while army troops have been stationed in Daska Stadium and will be available on call.
Close fight expected between PTI and PML-N amid tight security, strict monitoring
Nosheen Iftikhar, the PML-N candidate, submitted an application to the CEC on Friday, alleging that certain presiding officers had been tasked by her opponents with casting additional/bogus votes in about 100 polling stations.
She requested for foolproof arrangements to ensure that no bogus votes were cast and that a mechanism be put in place to tally counterfoils with the number of votes cast and to check whether the counterfoils contain authentic and verified particulars of voters.
Ms Iftikhar also sought deputation of polling officers at each polling station by the ECP to have a check on presiding officers.
The returning officer responded that the candidate should specify the names of the presiding officers along with their polling station numbers with tangible evidence as no [preventive] action may be taken on mere speculations and apprehensions.
In another application, she invited the attention of the election authorities that closed circuit TV cameras are not being installed on all main roads of Daska and feared that the lack of monitoring equipment may encourage violence by certain quarters.
The returning officer told the candidate that surveillance cameras had been installed in accordance with the SOPs (standard operating procedures) at all the polling stations declared as highly sensitive by the district returning officer to record poll proceedings, counting of vote process and preparation of results by the presiding officers.
Talking to Dawn, Ms Iftikhar welcomed the CEC’s decision to directly monitor the poll from Lahore. “The entire NA-75 has become a sensitive constituency keeping in view the previous incidents of violence on Feb19 as well as the designs of the government to win the seat at any cost,” she said.
Meanwhile, Punjab Election Commissioner Ghulam Israr on Friday visited the election command and control centre and media facilitation centre in Daska along with Gujranwala Commissioner Zulfiqar Ghuman, Regional Police Officer Abdul Kareem and Deputy Commissioner of Sialkot Tahir Farooq.
Mr Israr also reviewed security arrangements and expressed his satisfaction.
The NA-75 seat fell vacant after the death of PML-N MNA Syed Iftikharul Hassan alias Zahry Shah in August 2020. The by-poll was delayed for six months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The PML-N awarded ticket to Shah’s daughter Nosheen.
The Supreme Court also rejected PTI candidate Ali Asjad Malhi’s plea to hold the re-election only on 20 polling stations instead of the entire 360 polling stations.
Pakistan Peoples Party leader Qamar Zaman Kaira said his party would support the PML-N despite differences within the Pakistan Democratic Movement.
Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2021