In a last-minute surprise, the Awami National Party (ANP) in Sindh announced that it will boycott the PS-94 by-election today if it is not postponed.
The ANP boycott comes after the official withdrawal date. This means that the ANP is still officially part of the by-election and it’s candidate’s name is still on the ballot papers.
The party said it would observe a “Black Day” on October 17, Sunday, and has asked the residents of Karachi to stay at home in protest against the polling in Orangi Town. This decision was taken after consultations with party workers and other supporters in the constituency, said ANP Sindh president Shahi Syed at a press conference at Mardan House Saturday evening. The government is not serious about conducting the elections and wants to sabotage the peace in the city indirectly, he said.
“Pir Mazharul Haq and other Pakistan Peoples Party ministers visited my house several times with an agenda,” said Shahi Syed. “The minister tried to persuade me to withdraw from the elections to favour the other major candidate.”
Shahi Syed said that as the government’s duty is to ensure that the voters are provided security on the day of the election, it should have also called upon the army for help. “They wanted us to surrender so that peace is restored in the city”.
“Why did the ruling party in the Sindh coalition government not deploy army officials to maintain peace in the constituency instead of asking one party to withdraw?” he asked.
Shahi Syed said that the ANP had waited till the last minute, but as the army had not been called in for additional security at the polling stations, the party had decided not to participate in the by-election.
Shahi Syed also criticised the government’s decision to permit pillion riding (double-sawari) in the city just one day ahead of the polling in Orangi Town.
“It is a sensitive constituency. Even the law-enforcement agencies have declared it one of the most dangerous constituencies in the city,” he said, adding that, “lifting the ban on pillion riding means that the government wants to sabotage peace in the city.”
When Shahi Syed was told that the ban on pillion riding would actually be lifted on Monday, He said that in Pakistan, no one waits for the actual notification. “Such decisions are implemented from the time a minister makes an announcement. No one really waits until a notification is issued,” he said, adding that the PPP had not played a positive role in the whole episode.
Rangers and police
The Rangers have been given no powers, said Shahi Syed. “They have been deployed at a distance of 100 metres from the polling stations and are not allowed to interfere in the [law-enforcement] affairs. How can we contest in such a scenario?”
The ANP president said that the provincial government spends millions of rupees on the Pakistan Rangers but never allows them to operate freely. “They are maligning the name of the institution [Pakistan Rangers]. People will not trust the Rangers in future if the situation continues like this,” he said.
Shahi Syed said that the recent wave of target killing was aimed at dissuading people from going to the polling stations so that the “Tappa Mafia” could freely operate. Miscreants have prepared plans to sabotage the elections through terrorism, he said.
“Why is it that whenever elections or such events come up in the city, target killings start in the city?”
More than 100 people were killed in August and 15 more were killed in September, he added. “Now, just days before the election, target killings have started once again.”
Quoting law-enforcement agencies, Shahi Syed said that miscreants have planned to create violence at polling stations. “We are peaceful and do not want to play with the lives of innocent people, so if the army is not deployed, we will boycott the elections,” as some polling stations are set up in the “no-go areas” of the constituency.
“Even the police and political workers cannot enter these areas, so how would voters go there to cast their votes?”
He said that the miscreants had even lodged fake FIRs against the ANP, the Sindh Dost Party and the Peoples Peace Committee workers.
Shahi Syed said that the ANP had reports that “the other party” had already filled the ballot boxes with votes and the elections were nothing more than “a drama”. “They appointed their own people as polling officers and the ballot boxes have already been filled with votes,” he alleged.
Sindhi Dost Ittehad candidate Zeenat Yasmeen also announced that the party would boycott the election.
Violence across the city
At least four people were killed and more than 20 others were injured in separate incidents of violence across the city, soon after the ANP made its announcement.
Two people were killed in Bukhari colony, Orangi Town, when unidentified armed men on motorcycles opened fire at a minibus. Three people were injured in the incident, police officials said. A sweet shop was also attacked by armed men in Timber Market, Baldia Town. The shop was packed with customers when two suspects opened fire. The owner of the shop, 26-year-old Waqas, was killed, while four customers were injured.
Separately, a man was killed when a restaurant was ambushed near Maskan Chowk, Gulshan-e-Iqbal. The restaurant owner, thirty-year-old Allah Daad, was killed. There were reports of firing from Banaras Chowk, Sohrab Goth, Safoora Goth, Pehalwan Goth, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Gulistan-e-Jauhar and North Nazimabad.
According to the police, three vehicles were also set ablaze by rioters.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 17th, 2010.