Political parties battle it out on ballots and in streets

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Px05-059 KARACHI: Dec05 - A view of the election activity at a polling station during local government elections in Karachi. ONLINE PHOTO by Syed Asif Ali

 

  • Despite tight security in place for as many as 247 union committees and councils, violent clashes left over two dozen people wounded in six districts of the port city

Around seven million voters – 4.06 million males and 3.01 million females – exercised their franchise right in the local bodies elections amid clashes, brawls and rigging allegations in a politically-polarised Karachi on Saturday, with some operational irregularities reported on part of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

Despite the stern security checks put in place for as many as 247 union committees and councils, violent clashes left over two dozen people wounded. Over a dozen were arrested on the charge of rigging, according to a spokesperson for the paramilitary Rangers.

Besides, 7,400 Rangers personnel and 10 companies of army men, the Sindh government had deployed 35,057 policemen to provide security to 4,037 polling stations, of which 93 per cent had been declared sensitive or highly sensitive.

In all, 5,401 candidates from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Mohajir Qaumi Movement-Haqqiqi (MQM-H), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and independents, were competing for 1,472 seats across the metropolis.

Clashes, violence and bloodshed:

Overall the law and order situation remained unsatisfactory in Lyari Town where workers of the PPP, PTI, JI, PML-N and independent candidates clashed, prompting police and Rangers personnel to intervene to bring the situation under control.

In Baldia Town, a PML-N candidate, Yousaf Pathan, narrowly escaped an attempt on his life when unidentified attackers sprayed his vehicle with bullets.

In another firing incident in Korangi district’s Shamsi Society area, one person was wounded when some unidentified armed persons opened fire at his vehicle.

A clash erupted in District East’s Soldier Bazaar area when PTI workers caught four fake presiding officers. Law enforcers reached the spot and handled the situation.

Nevertheless, Korangi district appeared to be the most-disturbed district on the election-day as clashes between activists of the MQM and MQM-H left 12 injured in Landhi area. Following the clash, enraged activists set two motorcycles on fire and torched a nearby shop to give vent to their anger. A heavy contingent of police and Rangers reached the area and brought the situation under control. Sindh Police chief Ghulam Haider Jamali and Sindh Rangers Director General (DG) Major-General Bilal Akbar also reached the spot after the clash and subsequent mob-situation.

Many people were reportedly injured in another clash in Chanesar Goth. Similarly, polling was halted for an hour at a Gulistan-e-Jauhar station following a brawl between workers of two rival parties.

Security and arrests:

According to an ECP official, around 1,791 polling stations in Karachi were declared ‘highly sensitive’ and 2,116 ‘sensitive’. Of all the districts, Karachi’s District West had the highest number of highly sensitive or sensitive polling stations. Only 43 polling stations were declared to be normal in this district.

The ECP had given special powers to the Sindh Rangers and army that formed the second and third tier of security for sensitive polling stations. The Rangers had been mandated with the powers of first class magistrate and had the authority to enter any polling stations and take preventive action including arrests, whenever required.

According to a statement, the Rangers, while exercising special powers, claimed to have nabbed three persons who were posing to be polling staff in Nishtar Park.

A fake card was recovered from Ashraf Abbas who was acting as a presiding officer. Similarly, one Muhammad Hassan was arrested for trying to pose as assistant presiding officer. Another man caught by the paramilitary force for posing as staff was identified as Shah Zaman, an MQM worker of unit-5, PIB Sector. These tree impostors have been awarded three-month imprisonment.

A police statement from the SSP East said three fake polling officers were arrested from UC-27. The accused claimed they had been appointed by the returning officer. Of the three men, one was an independent candidate, Sajjad Ali, who had no official authority to preside as a polling officer at Kids Junior University in Gulistan-e-Jauhar. The two others were identified as Muhammad Bakar and Muhammd Mehdi.

In a major raid on a government school designated as a polling station in FC area, the Rangers arrested two assistant officers and a presiding officer along with bogus voters, including three men, a woman and a thirteen-year-old boy.

ECP operational irregularities:

In the third and final phase of local governments’ elections, the ECP failed to overcome operational irregularities. In the first hour, voting could not be started on time at almost 70 per cent of the polling stations. In District Malir’s UC-31 and Ahsanabad area polling could not be started even after passage of half of the polling time.

At various polling stations in Malir, Lyari, Kemari, Baldia, Orangi and Korangi, the polling staff and polling material did not reach on time. The voters were asked to wait for hours till arrangements were finalised.

Making a mockery of the ECP rules, the presiding officer in Manghopir’s UC-5 halted voting for hours for prayer and lunch breaks. Moreover, the ECP could not ensure zero per cent errors in the electoral rolls as many voters were seen moving from one UC to the other in a bid to cast their votes.

Accusations, statements of political parties:

During the polling, the MQM, PTI, MQM-H and JI held press conferences and traded rigging allegations. Speaking to journalists, MQM leader Farooq Sattar claimed that MQM workers were attacked by MQM-H activists in Landhi. He also accused the provincial government of extra-judicial murder(s) of MQM workers. He demanded the ECP to extend polling duration, claiming that polling could not be started on time at 70 per cent of the polling stations.

On the other hand, PTI’s Karachi Organiser Ali Zaidi, while speaking to journalists, said that those voting for the MQM should be ashamed of them.

He alleged that the MQM had successfully stolen the mandate of the PTI by casting fake votes. He also criticised the ECP for what he called unsatisfactory arrangements. He said that the presiding officers at many polling stations were not present, adding, “In my constituency, there are many polling stations where the presiding officers reached late.”