LAHORE - The by-election in NA-120 may be free and fair but it was not transparent as neutral observers were barred from entering the polling stations to observe the polling, counting and consolidation of results despite having valid permission from the Election Commission of Pakistan.

Entry points to all the 220 polling stations were manned by the army men who would only allow the voters to get inside after checking his/her identity card and voters’ identification slip. Cops also performed guard duties at the polling stations but just played second fiddle to the army men.

Entry of neutral observers (journalists) was banned though they had the valid accreditation cards issued by the Election Commission. It was clearly written on the ECP cards that holder is “permitted to visit polling stations and offices to observe polling, counting and consolidation of results for the bye-election”.

“We don’t accept this card. We have orders not to allow any media person get inside,” they would say.  

Even some polling agents were not allowed to watch the polling process and asked to show the permission letter from the concerned union councils. However, Fafen observers were allowed to visit and interview the presiding officers at some polling stations .

Also, the PML-N leaders including Khawaja Muhammad Asif and Rana Sanaullah raised questions on transparency of the election process, saying they were rigged in favour of the opposition parties.

At some places the voters complained their votes have been shifted to other constituencies and cities. One Shahid Rafique said his vote has been shifted to Sheikhpura. Samreen Ameen complained that she has not been allowed to cast her vote on an expired identity card despite producing Nadra receipt for renewal of the card and her passport.

Although scenes of tension were observed at some polling stations at Bund Road, Saggian, Katcha Ravi Road, Sanat Nagar, Sanda, Karim Park and Saffanwala Chowk yet no serious incident of violence took place. Police and Rangers averted clash between rival groups at Sanda, Sanat Nagar and Saffanwala Chowk.

The election camps of the religio-cum-political parties, namely the JI, the MML and the Tehrike Labaik Pakistan were set up at most of the places in between the camps of the mainstream parties. They acted as a buffer zone between their charged up workers.

In Karim Park, the PPP workers complained that Punjab Minister Mujtaba Shujaur Rahman went inside the polling station. But the PML-N activists stopped the PTI MNA Jahangir Tarin from entering a polling station at Munshi Ladha, Katcha Ravi Road polling station.

A number of vehicles by the PML-N and the PTI activists roamed around the polling stations playing loud music and party songs. Some enthusiastic workers were also seen sitting on the roofs of moving vehicles dancing to the music. Workers of Tehrike Labaike Pakistan were seen carrying green flags while Milli Muslim League workers kept reciting Qalma Tayyaba in their camps.

Tight security was maintained both outside and inside the polling stations . Though the turn out remained low, yet a lively activity was witnessed at the election camps of different parties set up outside the polling stations . The army and the Rangers inside the polling stations greatly helped maintain strict security and smooth running of the balloting process.

Director General Rangers visited sensitive polling stations for checking security arrangements. Governor Sindh Muhammad Zubair also visited different polling stations without protocol.

At the start of polling in the morning, voter’s turnout was low which increased gradually as long queues of voters were seen outside polling stations in the afternoon.

In some areas such as Dev Samaj Road, Abdali Chowk and Masoom Gunj, queues of voters were seen even at the end of voting time. The situation was worse at 39 polling stations where biometrics was introduced on experimental basis. Manual checking of voters before voting through biometrics considerably slowed down the polling process.

Keen interest taken by the families in the polling process added colour to the elections. Even disabled visited the polling stations for casting their votes.

Massive traffic jams were witnessed in the close vicinity of polling stations right from the start of polling time till the end.

At some polling stations , the PML-N and PTI supporters chanted slogans against each other but they remained peaceful. PML-N’s supporters were chanting slogan: “Maryam Kay Papa Sher Hain (Maryam’s father is a lion) while PTI’s supporters were countering by saying:“ Maryam Kay Papa Chor Hain,” (Maryam’s father is a thief).

Surprisingly, a number of voters at Abdali Chowk complained that their votes had been shifted to other areas from their own Union Council-59. They said that at least 25 votes were shifted from Abdali Chowk polling station to other areas falling out of NA-120.

They also complained that election commission had circulated a message that those whose votes had been shifted to wrong areas may approach the nearby display centre and the office of election commissioner for correction but practically, the voters had no access to these offices.

Moreover, in some areas, the voters were wearing the badges of the PML-N fearing attack from the ruling party but they actually voted for the PTI’s candidate. Rao Numan and Rao Hunain, the residents of Nehro Park, Abdali Chowk, were wearing the badges of the PML-N but they said they voted for Dr Yasmin Rashid.

Muhammad Tariq, a resident of Malik Park, said that he worked for the PPP more than 35 years but finally decided to support the PTI. “I was diehard worker of the PPP but the new leadership has not only ruined the party but also never bothered to take care of its workers,” Tariq said who was sitting at a milk shop near Malik Park Chowk.

 

–MUBASHIR HASSAN, Sajid Zia, Iqtidar Gilani, Iftikhar Alam, Javed Iqbal and Fida Hussnain