Two died and at least a dozen were injured as violence — including firing and scuffles — marred the first phase of local bodies elections in Sindh on Sunday.
The voting process began at 8pm and concluded at 5pm. However, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) said it would extend the timing at polling stations where the voting process was suspended during the originally designated hours.
According to unofficial and unconfirmed results so far, the PPP has emerged victorious in 10 wards.
The polls were held in 14 districts of Sukkur, Larkana, Shaheed Benazirabad and Mirpurkhas division. Ghotki, Sukkur, Khairpur, Larkana, Qambar-Shahdadkot, Kashmore-Kandhkot, Shikarpur, Jacobabad, Naushahro Feroze, Shaheed Benazirabad, Sanghar, Mirpurkhas, Umarkot and Tharparkar were among the districts.
Voting will take place in Hyderabad division — part of lower Sindh — along with provincial metropolis Karachi in the second phase on July 24. Hyderabad division has nine districts.
Given the grass-roots nature of the elections, such scuffles are usually anticipated. The 2015 local government polls were not free of violence, which were especially evident in districts Khairpur and Sanghar.
While polling began in the morning in all 14 districts, reports of violence, scuffles and ECP’s mismanagement started pouring in from upper and lower Sindh regions. These clashes were said to emerge out of missing election symbols as well. Polling remained suspended at various polling stations as of 4pm.
By Sunday afternoon, two deaths were reported — one each in Sanghar and Sukkur — which were confirmed by police. The deceased in Sanghar’s municipal constituency was the brother of a local PTI leader.
“I can confirm death of Qaiser, brother of our party’s candidate Asghar Gandapur in Tando Adam. Qaiser has been subjected to violence which caused his death," claimed Mushtaq Junejo, divisional president PTI from Tando Adam.
Qaiser’s brother Zafar was contesting on ward-13 of municipal committee Tando Adam.
The killing sparked a protest as supporters blocked the Tando Adam road.
DG Health Dr Juman Bahoto confirmed to Dawn.com that the deceased was brought to Tando Adam Taluka Hospital. “The cause of death can be ascertained only after a post-mortem [examination] is conducted," Dr Bahoto said.
Another clash was reported outside a polling station in UC-63 Asgharabad of village Hashim Khaskheli in Shahdadpur taluka. A scuffle took place between supporters of the GDA and the ruling PPP. A contingent of police and Rangers rushed to the spot to quell the violence.
In Nawabshah, a mob ransacked polling station no 26 set up in the Social Security dispensary. Unidentified men took way electoral material with them after scaling the walls of the polling station, local journalists said.
Polling had to be stopped and a case was lodged for alleged theft of electoral material, including ballot papers. Nine policemen were suspended by district police chief Amir Saud Magsi.
Another clash occurred in the same district at polling station Nadir Shah, where activists of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan reportedly tried to get polling stopped. They claimed that the name of their candidate was missing on ballot papers in the UC-6 constituency.
Electoral proceedings were postponed in UC-6 HM Khawaja and UC Soomar Khan because electoral symbols were allegedly changed on ballot papers in the latter constituency, showing PPP’s symbol against GDA. PPP’s candidate was Qurban Ali and GDA’s was Arif Dahiri whereas the symbol of TLP’s candidate Abdul Sattar was not printed.
In upper Sindh, the death of a man was reported in Sukkur’s Rohri taluka after a scuffle at polling station Allah Jurio Jagirani of UC-25 of the district council. Sukkur SSP Sanghaar Malik confirmed the death as well as injuries to four others. The deceased was identified as Abdul Qadeer Jagirani.
Another scuffle was reported between supporters of the JUI-F and PPP at polling station Fareed Mahar in Panu Aqil taluka. Polling was stopped after an altercation in Khairpur’s Faiz Ganj taluka.
Kashmore was among the most-affected districts in terms of violence. An armed clash was reported in the katcha —riverine area known as Durrani Mahar — of the Kashmore-Kandhkot district in upper Sindh.
Heavy aerial firing was reported there. Police, Rangers and district administration officials rushed to the area. Sabzois, Jagiranis, Bhayyo and other clans inhabit the area.
Reports were received that around 10 polling staff members were kidnapped in Durrani Mahar by armed men. But the police officer of the area denied it outright. “Polling staff had fled from the area after panic caused by aerial firing," SSP Kandhkot Amjad Ali Shaikh told Dawn.com by telephone. “Now they have returned and polling has resumed," he said.
Polling had to be stopped in UC Dunyapur of Kashmore district.
In Jacobabad district, polling was suspended at polling station-I of UC Sharanpur in Taju Dero as the candidate’s symbol was missing on a ballot paper. Polling was also stopped in Guddu town committee after a clash.
Similarly, another clash was reported in the Kaloi area of Tharparkar. Kaloi is a stronghold of former Sindh chief minister Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim. The altercation occurred at the polling station of UC Haji Booth, where Arbab’s son Arbab Inayat was present, along with his supporters. The former CM claimed that the presiding officer of the polling station was "suddenly" changed the night before.
Separately, PTI's Ali Zaidi claimed that Rahim's son was "attacked just now by #ZardariMafia goons".
"Law enforcement and ECP nowhere in sight, except Sindh Police who are actually protecting the attackers!" he added.
DC Tharparkar Nawaz Sohu confirmed to Dawn.com that a scuffle indeed took place, but insisted that the situation was under control. “Troops remain on standby. Primarily police and then Rangers are at our disposal to nip any trouble in the bud," said DC Sohu.
Another incident was reported in ward-3 of UC-44 Bapva of Islamkot taluka where the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl candidate’s symbol was missing on ballot papers.
Electoral proceedings were disrupted by an altercation at a polling station in Umerkot as well as on account of missing election symbols of a candidate.
There were reports of sporadic violence, with broadcasters airing footage of two groups attacking each other with sticks in Kandhkot. According to DawnNewsTV, 20 people were reportedly injured in the clashes, and five people were believed to be seriously injured.
There were also reports of clashes between GDA and PPP workers in Ghotki, according to a DawnNewsTV report, which said voting was paused at the Abal Garhi polling station.
Fistfights were reported from Jacobabad's Thal tehsil as well, with television footage showing a large group of people shoving and punching each other outside a polling station in Gul Sher Kandrani village. Polling was also stopped there. Two candidates were among 10 injured in the melee, according to DawnNewsTV.
PPP lawmaker from Jacobabad, Dr Sohrab Khan Sarki, categorically denied any untoward incident taking place in Thal, claiming that members of 16 union councils and district councils had already been elected unopposed.
In a video message shared by the PPP on Twitter, he said "a little confrontation" had erupted in Gul Sher Kandrani, but "the overall situation is peaceful".
He alleged that some PTI "goons" had arrived in the village and attacked PPP workers, however, he insisted that the election was underway smoothly.
Inspector General Police Sindh, Ghulam Nabi Memon, earlier said that polling was underway across the province in a "peaceful" manner.
In a statement, he said sporadic incidents of violence were reported in some areas where the situation was now "under control". He said the security situation was being monitored in all districts.
The IG said those disrupting law and order would be dealt with an "iron hand".
"A police force comprising 48,000 personnel has been deployed on election duties to maintain peace during the polling process," Memon said.
Around 12pm, the ECP said polling in Sukkur's Pano Aqil tehsil, which was suspended due to a clash between two unnamed parties, had resumed once again.
"The situation in Sukkur is peaceful," the electoral watchdog said, adding that citizens could exercise their right to vote without any fear.
The ECP also tweeted a statement from Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, in which he issued a warning against "interfering" in polling activity, which he said would not be tolerated. He urged voters to come out and exercise their right of franchise without any hesitation.
It also said the chief election commissioner was personally monitoring the local bodies' elections.
Meanwhile, in a statement, the ECP said it had postponed polling at all such polling stations where the name of contesting candidates was misprinted on ballot papers.
The electoral watchdog said it had also ordered an inquiry into the matter. "The ECP will issue a new schedule for voting on these categories of seats," the statement added. The ECP did not specify which polling stations were affected.
PPP general secretary Farhatullah Babar reacted to the ECP statement, saying it was good that the electoral watchdog ordered a probe into the matter but "it should have mentioned the deadline for completion of the inquiry, assurance of making probe findings public and punishment for those responsible".
"Such shortcomings bring disrepute to the Election Commission," he added.
MQM wants ECP to suspend voting in 3 districts
Separately, Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) leader Waseem Akhtar addressed a press conference in Karachi and called on the ECP to suspend voting in three districts, namely Sukkur, Nawabshah and Mirpurkhas.
He alleged that bandits had seized ballot boxes and papers in some parts of the province and made election staff disappear while election symbols were also not printed on some of the ballot papers. "There is chaos and violence. Is this how elections are conducted?" he asked, saying that free and fair elections could not be carried out in such a situation.
Akhtar lamented the fact that genuine candidates, who wished to work for the betterment of the province, would not get the chance to be elected. He also called on the Sindh government to take notice of the situation, saying that its silence raised questions about its governance.
He went on to say that all political parties were questioning the election process. He said that if law enforcement agencies were unable to handle the situation, then the army should be called in.
Meanwhile, the Majlis Wahdat-i-Muslimeen (MWM) rejected the first phase of local government elections due to "mismanagement and anomalies" by the ECP. MWM leader Syed Ali Hussain Naqvi said conducting elections without proper preparation was questionable and the "anomalies" hinted towards favouritism.
He said that anomalies in demarcations of constituencies, logistical inadequacy, untrained staff and feudalism were still in effect to control the electoral process and obtain desired results.
Naqvi demanded that the ECP address its shortcomings before the second phase of local body elections
Additional 450MW supplied to discos
In an effort to facilitate the election, the energy ministry said the Power Division passed orders to supply provincial distribution companies with an additional 450MW from 8am on June 25 till midnight today.
"Full efforts for uninterrupted supply are being made for polling and counting of votes," the ministry added.
'Democracy is our revenge'
Ahead of the polls, political parties released statements trying to draw voters into their camps.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari issued a statement, wishing party ticket holders luck in the polls. "Get out and vote for Bhuttoism, a peaceful, prosperous & progressive #Sindh," he said on Twitter on Saturday night.
"Our opponents after consistent losses are growing frustrated and threatening violence. I call on our supporters to remain peaceful and not get provoked, vote, democracy is our revenge," he said.
Yesterday, PTI Chairman Imran Khan said despite PPP "terrorising our candidates and not following SC orders" to devolve authority to local representatives under Article 140-A, the party was taking part in the elections. "I ask people of Sindh to vote for PTI candidates & eliminate the #ZardariMafia," he added.
PPP's Sharjeel Memon responded to the former premier, calling him a "habitual liar". He added: "You guys know that people of Sindh rejected you that’s why you are crying in advance."
PTI leader Haleem Adil Sheikh released a statement today, calling on the people of the province to exercise their right to vote. He urged citizens to cast their vote "in the right place" for their prosperity and development.
He alleged that the spirits of opposition leaders were high despite the PPP's "high-handedness". He also claimed that provincial police and the election commission were the party's "B team".
But despite these concerns, we are competing in the polls, he said.
Action will be taken against violators, ECP warns
Meanwhile, ECP Secretary Umar Hameed Khan visited a control room established to monitor the elections and directed district monitoring officers to be more vigilant.
"Immediate action will be taken against any kind of violation," the ECP secretary said.
Over 21,000 candidates are in the run for 6,277 seats of 101 town committees, 23 municipal committees, 14 district councils, four municipal corporations, 11 town municipal corporations and 887 union councils and union committees.
According to the ECP, 9,290 polling stations have been set up of which 1,985 have been declared highly sensitive and 3,448 have been declared sensitive.
The data shared by the ECP says that there are 11,643,582 voters — 6,331,383 males and 5312,199 females — registered in four divisions who will be eligible to cast their vote.
The ECP has also established a Central Control Room in Islamabad for monitoring and registering complaints related to the polls.
In the second phase, elections will be held in 16 districts of Karachi and Hyderabad divisions.
The key opposition parties, however, are continuing to doubt the fairness and transparency of the process and have accused the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party of pre-poll rigging fearing violence on the day of the polling and showing distrust in police security.
The fears of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), the alliance of five political parties Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) and Sindh United Party (SUP) have further deepened after a man was killed and at least eight people were injured in a grenade attack in Jacobabad on Maula Dad Road.
The police authorities are not sure about the motive for the attack, but they didn’t rule out the possibility of its links with Sunday’s polls.