LAHORE: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has directed the Punjab government and law enforcement agencies to assist it in holding “influence-free” by-election on 20 seats in 14 districts of the province on July 17.

The commission has written letters to the army and the Rangers for the deployment of personnel at sensitive polling stations identified in four constituencies of Lahore and one in Multan. Overall 3,141 polling stations have been set up for the polling process.

The upcoming by-election has assumed immense importance as the results will directly impact the election of the Punjab chief minister scheduled for July 22.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and PML-Q coalition has 173 votes in the Punjab Assembly and needs to win 13 seats out of the 20 to topple the Hamza Shehbaz government in the province.

On the other hand, the PML-N, PPP and others have strength of 177 votes in the Punjab Assembly and require nine seats from the by-election to save their government.

Though there are 175 candidates contesting the by-election, the real contest will be among the PTI and PML-N candidates. The PML-N has given party tickets to PTI dissidents.The by-election is being held in 14 districts with four seats in Lahore, two each in Jhang, Lodhran and Muzaffargarh and one each in Rawalpindi, Khushab, Bhakkar, Faisalabad, Sheikhupura, Sahiwal, Multan, Bahawalnagar, Layyah and DG Khan.

In the backdrop of this sensitive situation, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja personally visited Lahore on Saturday and held a detailed meeting with the top civil administration and security agencies’ representatives.

He promised prompt action in case of any irregularity.

Chairing a meeting at the Punjab Civil Secretariat, the CEC asserted that it was federal and Punjab governments’ constitutional responsibility to ensure law and order as well as provide foolproof security to the ECP staff deputed to conduct by-election.

The CEC said it would be federal and Punjab governments’ responsibility to take action and get cases registered against all those found doing uncalled for activities during the by-election. He stressed that the civil administration should not take any pressure from any quarter.

The CEC said the commission had written letters to the army and the rangers to depute personnel at sensitive polling stations in the four constituencies in Lahore and one in Multan.Earlier, Chief Secretary Kamran Ali Afzal briefed the CEC about the Punjab government’s preparations for holding the by-election and assured that the provincial government would fully assist the Election Commission of Pakistan for the holding of free and fair election.

Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2022

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