AS local government elections in Sindh as well as a raft of by-polls for the national and provincial assemblies draw near, questions have been raised about election security. These concerns have been amplified after deadly violence was witnessed during last week’s by-election in Karachi’s NA-240 constituency, as well as an extremely polarised political atmosphere in Punjab. The first phase of Sindh’s LG elections is scheduled for Sunday, with the second round, and also by-polls for a Karachi National Assembly and several Punjab provincial assembly seats, scheduled for next month. In this regard, the ECP has written to the army requesting security assistance for the polls. However, as the ECP secretary told the media in Karachi the other day, the military does not want to be deployed inside polling stations. Instead, troops will be available for security in the ‘third tier’.
The military’s wish to stay away from polling stations should be welcomed. While security is key to ensuring a fair and transparent election exercise, there is no reason why the police cannot offer sufficient security cover inside polling stations. Instead of approaching the army, the ECP should coordinate with the respective local administrations and police forces to ensure that personnel of civil law enforcement are around in suitable numbers to ensure a secure atmosphere on polling day. Of course, the army and paramilitary forces need to be on standby to respond to major security challenges should they arise, but it must be the police that should be primarily tasked with overseeing law and order in and around polling stations. Indeed, the events surrounding the NA-240 by-poll, in which one person was killed as rival partymen traded fire on the streets, as well as the toxic political atmosphere in Punjab, are cause for concern. There was also an armed clash in Lahore last week, involving supporters of the PTI and PML-N connected to campaigning for the PP-167 by-poll, which left a number of people injured. Political parties bear a major responsibility for ensuring that their supporters and workers do not indulge in violence on polling day. There needs to be zero tolerance for election-related violence and mischief inside polling stations, as such activities deprive citizens of their right to choose their representatives in an atmosphere free of hostility and pressure. Hence, the onus is on the administration as well as political parties to ensure polling goes ahead peacefully.
Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2022