THE fears that many observers had about violence and mismanagement plaguing the electoral process have again materialised — this time during the first phase of Sindh’s local government elections held on Sunday. The debacle follows closely on the heels of the spectacle witnessed during the NA-240 by-polls in Karachi on June 16, when armed supporters of various political parties fought pitched battles, resulting in one death.
The LG polls, too, were not free of deadly violence. Two people were reportedly killed in brawls in separate incidents, while numerous irregularities were recorded during the election process in 14 of Sindh’s districts. Voter turnout was also quite low, apparently due to a combination of fear of violence, voter apathy and scorching temperatures in many districts.
During the violence, the brother of a PTI candidate was killed in Tando Adam, while another individual was killed during a clash in Sukkur. There were also reports of election material being stolen from a Nawabshah polling station, while polling staff were reportedly kidnapped from an area in Kashmore. Considering these disturbing incidents, claims of a PPP victory in the first phase of the LG polls — as unofficial results indicated — sounded quite hollow.
What is more, nearly all parties, apart from the PPP, that participated in the LG polls have rejected the process as flawed. This includes the MQM-P and JUI-F, which sit with Sindh’s ruling party in the federal coalition. There are serious allegations that the PPP used Sindh’s official machinery and police force to influence the outcome of the LG polls.
PTI leader Ali Zaidi went as far as to label the Sindh Police as “PPP workers in uniforms” for their alleged role in electoral malpractices. With such a cloud hanging over the electoral process, can the first phase of the LG polls be described as free and fair?
The ECP and the Sindh government share the blame for the electoral mismanagement witnessed on Sunday. Both these state actors largely failed to provide an atmosphere where Sindh’s people could choose their local representatives freely and fairly — especially as the LG polls were held in the province after a gap of seven years, largely due to the PPP’s disinterest in the process. Firstly, both the ECP and the Sindh administration need to address the incidents of violence as well as the serious allegations of electoral malpractice, or else the process will remain stained.
Secondly, going forward, both actors need to ensure the second phase, due on July 24 in the remaining districts, is free from such maladministration. Elections in the second phase will be held in Karachi and Hyderabad, and considering the history of political violence in both cities all stakeholders, including political parties, will need to seriously improve their game to ensure that electoral malpractices and violence witnessed during the first leg of the process are not repeated.
Published in Dawn, June 28th, 2022