AS the clock ticks down on the by-elections scheduled for next month on recently vacated Punjab Assembly seats, tensions are quickly rising between the two main contenders. The PTI’s central Punjab president, Yasmin Rashid, has accused the PML-N of using the state apparatus to ‘fix’ the results of the upcoming by-polls in its favour. She has specifically accused the Lahore DIG operations and deputy commissioner of facilitating the ruling party and has demanded that they be suspended from service.
Her concerns may not be without grounds. The party positions in the Punjab Assembly are quite precariously balanced, and the by-elections are going to be make or break for the incumbent government. Perhaps this is why the PTI stalwart fears that the PML-N “is desperately trying to steal the mandate of the PTI”. It is also worth noting that some of the most serious allegations the PTI is now levelling against the PML-N are likely informed by the former’s own experience of ‘managing’ the Daska by-election early last year. The Daska fiasco had seen every weakness of the electoral system thrown into the limelight. The PTI had made brazen use of state resources to force an outcome in its favour. The local administration was used to strong-arm voters and election staff. The entire exercise was periodically disrupted by violence and culminated in the mysterious disappearance of an entire group of presiding officers late in the night. There is no reason, therefore, for the PTI to not believe that the PML-N will not try to pull a similar heist now that it is in power. However, it was the ECP which had taken a strong stance against manipulation of the electoral process back then, and it ought to be the ECP which should make every preparation to avoid a similar situation now. As the constitutional body mandated with holding free and fair elections, it must ensure that a Daska-like situation does not arise when Punjab heads to by-polls next month.
Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2022