KARACHI: With the election season approaching, pre-poll rigging allegations and counter allegations have already started doing the rounds. While the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government mulls over shifting many polling stations in Sindh citing “flood damages” to the infrastructure, the opposition parties think it is a ploy to influence the voting results.
The political rivals of the ruling party have lodged several complaints of “pre-poll rigging” to the chief election commissioner, alleging the polling stations were to be shifted to the PPP-dominated areas in Sindh. At the forefront are the Pir Pagara-led Pakistan Muslim League-Functional’s (PML-F) Kashif Nizamani and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid’s (PML-Q) Razzaque Rahimoon and a former provincial minister, Syed Ali Bux Shah.
The complaints came to the fore following the election commission’s orders to its officials to ascertain the status of the existing polling stations in collaboration with district administration given the heavy rains and flooding, which had badly damaged the infrastructure, including the buildings notified as polling stations.
Besides, the survey will be in pursuance of the Supreme Court orders to increase the number of polling stations in provincial and national assembly constituencies. Along with the survey, the election commission officials have to submit their proposals regarding new polling stations and the status of old ones.
More than 40% polling stations in some constituencies of Badin, Khairpur, Umerkot, Tharparkar and Sanghar districts have been proposed to be shifted to areas dominated by the PPP in the past elections, according to the complainants. The polling stations, where the ruling party has always lost elections to its opponents, are being shifted.
The district administration is doing this to appease ruling party leaders, the political leaders have claimed in the petition submitted to Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim on September 7.
Instead of a proper survey, the deputy commissioners on the directives of PPP district leaders have sent proposals to shift the polling stations to the areas deemed favourable to the ruling party, alleged Kashif Nizamani, the chief organiser of the PML-F, while talking to The Express Tribune.
Even those permanent polling stations that were notified in the 1950s, where elections have always been held without any trouble, have been changed, he said. The opposition leaders also met the chief election commissioner on September 26, who assured them to resolve their grievances.
Lack of proper ventilation, electricity, road infrastructure and drinking water has been stated as the reason to shift the polling stations. Jhol, Jamrao, Khipro, Chotiari, Jam Nawaz Ali in the Sanghar district; and Faizgunj and Pir Jo Goth in the Khairpur district are among other areas wherefrom the government has recommended relocating the polling stations to other places, alleged Nizamani,
Also the deputy commissioners have been given powers of district returning officers, who can notify and change the polling stations, he added.
In Tharparkar, PML-Q leader Razzaque Rahimoon also has similar concerns. A majority of polling stations proposed to be shifted to other places in Diplo, Chhachro, Islamkot and Nagarparkar are those areas of Thar where massive pre-poll rigging has previously taken place, he says.
The decades-old polling station of Khait Lari, the village of former chief minister Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim, has been proposed to be shifted to Pukrio. “The polling station in my constituency has also been proposed to be moved nine kilometres away,” claimed Rahimoon.
Out of 116 polling stations in the PS-57 constituency in Badin, 22 have been shifted to other places, according to Syed Ali Bux Shah, who is considered a fierce rival of the ruling PPP.
When he was contesting the by-election against PPP’s Hasnain Mirza, the son of Zulfiqar Mirza, the election commission shifted around 22 polling stations to areas where anti-PPP voters have no access, the former population welfare minister of Sindh alleged.
Around 85 polling stations have also been shifted in the National Assembly seat NA-225 (Badin cum-Tando Muhammad Khan-II). Syed Ali Bux Shah termed the provincial election commissioner to be the mastermind behind the reshuffle.
PPP’s Sindh Law Minister Ayaz Soomro refuted the allegations, however, saying this was why the government had appointed Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim as the chief election commissioner – to ensure transparent elections.
“The retired judge is personally monitoring the whole election process,” he said, claiming that the opposition’s allegations were part of a ruthless campaign against the ruling party and the government. “Our opponents are already crying while thinking about their defeat in the upcoming elections.”
Sono Khan Baloch, the election commissioner in Sindh, also cast aside the claims of the opposition members. The process is still under consideration and not a single polling station has been changed so far, he said.
“Since many buildings have been swept away in rains and flooding, the election commission has directed different government departments to survey the buildings before notifying the new polling stations,” Baloch said. Each polling station would be set up to cater to around 1,000 to 1,200 voters.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 6th, 2012.