Army deployed for by-election security

Published April 21, 2024
LAHORE: Polling staff and policemen carry election material from the University of Technology, on Saturday. By-elections are scheduled to be held on 21 seats of the National Assembly and the four provincial legislatures on Sunday.—Murtaza Ali / White Star
LAHORE: Polling staff and policemen carry election material from the University of Technology, on Saturday. By-elections are scheduled to be held on 21 seats of the National Assembly and the four provincial legislatures on Sunday.—Murtaza Ali / White Star

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: As 21 national and provincial seats go to by-polls today (Sunday), the interior ministry has allowed the suspension of mobile internet services to “maintain law and order” in 13 districts and tehsils in Punjab — on the recommendations of the provincial government — as well as approved the deployment of the army as the quick response force.

The Punjab home department had on Friday written a letter to the interior ministry stating that the by-elections had been scheduled for April 21 (Sunday) in Punjab’s four districts and nine tehsils and there was a need to suspend the mobile internet services to maintain law and order and avoid any untoward incident.

The home department sought the suspension of mobile internet services in Gujrat, Kasur, Sheikhupura and Lahore districts as well as in Talagang, Chakwal, Kallar Kahar, Ali Pur Chatha, Zafarwal, Bhakkar City, Sadiqabad, Kot Chutta and Dera Ghazi Khan City tehsils.

Sources in the home department said the Pakistan Telecommunication Aut­hority would surely suspend mobile internet services to maintain law and order.

All set for polling for 21 National Assembly, provincial seats today; cellular internet services to go out in Punjab for ‘law and order’ reasons

Army troops as QRF

The interior ministry also decided to deploy the army and civil armed forces at a request made by the Election Comm­ission of Pakistan (ECP) almost two weeks ago.

As per an order issued by the interior ministry, under articles 220 and 245 of the Constitution and sections 4 and 5 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, the government would use the armed forces as a quick response force.

It stated that the civil armed forces and the Pakistan Army units would be used as second and third tiers of security and would be available till April 22.

“The exact number of troops, date/period, area and mode of deployment would be worked out by the ECP in consultation with all concerned stakeholders based on ground requirement/assessment,” the order read.

A PTI spokesman said the electoral rules and regulations were being flouted as was the case during the general elections, besides victimising the party leaders, workers and supporters.

‘Unconstitutional and illegal’

The PTI, however, termed the move as a preparation to steal the by-elections. Its spokesperson said the suspension of internet services in districts and tehsils, where by-election had been scheduled for Sunday, was not only unconstitutional and illegal, but also a move “to steal the elections”.

Reacting to the Punjab government’s move, the PTI’s central media department has alleged that the establishment was preparing to steal the by-elections through an “unholy alliance” of the Election Commission of Pakistan, and ‘unelected’ governments at the Centre and in Punjab.

According to a code of conduct issued by the ECP, the armed forces and civil armed forces will ensure a secure and peaceful environment during the by-elections. The security forces will ensure a secure environment for easy access of voters to the polling stations, wherein the police will be first-tier responders while the “civil armed forces/armed forces as second- and third-tier responders, respectively”.

The troops would provide security to enable district returning officers (DROs), returning officers (ROs), presiding officers (POs) and polling staff in the accomplishment of their assigned tasks. .

“In case, the presiding officer does not act to prevent the commission of any reported irregularity/issue /malpractice, the security staff will immediately inform the returning officer concerned.”

It read, “[They will] not disallow any eligible voter to enter the polling station, except the ones found in possession of weapon or explosive or undesirable items or ones who create disturbance and incitement to act of violence or an action which are prejudice to national safety/interests of Pakistan.”

The troops cannot assume the duties of polling staff. “Not take into his/her custody any electoral material including ballot papers marking aid stamps, official code mark stamps, electoral rolls, ballot boxes Form-45 and Form-46 etc,” it added.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2024

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