NA-240 violence

Published June 18, 2022

THE ugly scenes witnessed in Karachi’s NA-240 constituency during Thursday’s by-poll are a reminder of the political violence that regularly rocked the metropolis in the not-too-distant past. Unfortunately, they may also be a harbinger of things to come unless the administration and political parties commit to ensuring a violence-free electoral exercise. At least one person was reported killed as supporters of various political parties — primarily MQM-P, PSP and TLP — clashed on polling day. One showdown in Landhi was particularly disturbing, as rival partymen traded heavy fire, terrorising citizens. The convoys of PSP leader Anis Kaimkhani and TLP supremo Saad Rizvi came under fire in separate incidents. Among the triggers of the violence were reports of mischief inside the polling stations, with footage emerging of an alleged MQM-P worker stealing election material. What is of major concern is that law enforcers, including police and Rangers, largely watched as spectators while political rivals used deadly force against each other.

As per the unofficial results, the MQM-P candidate seems to have captured the seat, though by a razor-thin majority, while the TLP candidate has come in a close second. Considering the allegations of rigging, and the close margin of victory, the calls for a recount are justified. Moreover, the fact that the TLP performed well at the ballot box indicates that the party once known for its violent shows of strength is becoming a significant player in electoral politics. In the last elections, the religiously motivated party returned candidates to the Sindh Assembly, and it may soon have lawmakers sitting in the National Assembly. However, significant questions remain unanswered — primarily, will the party shun its violent rhetoric of the past? The NA-240 episode should raise concerns about the ECP’s and the administration’s ability to conduct polls peacefully. Considering the fact that 20 by-polls for Punjab Assembly seats vacated by de-seated lawmakers are due next month, is the state ready for this major electoral exercise? After all, the scenes witnessed in Punjab between the PML-N and PTI-PML-Q combine do not inspire confidence. In such circumstances, the administration, especially the ECP and law enforcers, and political parties have a major responsibility to guarantee peaceful polls. The ECP must ensure there is no room for electoral malpractices, while political parties need to clearly instruct their cadres to shun violence as it is the right of the voters to choose their elected representatives in an atmosphere free from violence and pressure.

Published in Dawn, June 18th, 2022

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