After years of dilly-dallying, Sindh and Punjab will finally go to polls for local bodies today. The first stage of the three-phase local government elections will see 55,190 candidates vying for seats in the two most populous provinces of the country.
The election authorities have decided to deploy army and paramilitary troops around the polling stations declared ‘sensitive’ and ‘most-sensitive’ in both provinces. The security forces, however, will not be deputed inside polling stations despite popular demand.
The polling starts at 7:30am and ends at 5:30pm.
The Lahore High Court (LHC) has allowed the electronic media to air unofficial polling results one hour after the end of polling, overruling the election commission’s guidelines that barred the media from airing unconfirmed results until the polling officer’s announcement.
LG polls in the two biggest provinces have been due since 2009 when the nazim-based system introduced by former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf expired. On Supreme Court’s continuous insistence, polls for local bodies were held in Balochistan in December 2013 while Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa staged the elections in May this year.
Get set go!
In the first phase of polling on Saturday, 12 districts in Punjab and eight in Sindh will witness LG elections after almost a decade. A total of 45,103 candidates are up for the contest in Punjab while 10,087 contestants will try their luck in Sindh.
In Punjab, districts of Lahore, Faisalabad, Gujrat, Chakwal, Bhakkar, Nankana Sahib, Kasur, Pakpattan, Okara, Lodhran, Vehari and Bahawalpur will go to polls.
A total of 7,291 candidates are in the run for slots of chairmen and vice-chairmen with 31,410 vying for the general seats for district councils, municipal corporations and metropolitan corporations. Another 6,402 are contesting for the municipal committee wards.
The number of registered voters stands at 20,121,921 who will exercise their right to elect local representatives after a gap of over 10 years.
The election authorities have set up a total of 16,266 polling stations in the province of which 3,551 have been declared ‘highly sensitive’, 8,300 sensitive and 4,415 categorised as normal keeping in view the prevalent security threats.
In 274 union councils of Lahore, neck-and-neck competition is expected between Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz with the Pakistan Peoples Party expected to do well only in some pockets. As many as 18,000 police officials will be deployed for security duties.
Eight districts of upper Sindh – Shikarpur, Larkana, Jacobabad, Kashmore, Qambar, Sukkur, Khairpur and Ghotki – will head for elections with 4,618,512 registered voters.
To facilitate the voters, 4,019 polling stations have been set up out of which 1,053 have been tagged ‘most-sensitive’, 1,557 sensitive and 1,409 as normal. Sindh Home Minister Sohail Anwar Siyal said around 80 army troops and 700 Rangers will be deployed in these areas.
Army troops would only patrol around the sensitive and most sensitive polling stations in both provinces and would not be deployed inside the stations, Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Secretary Babar Yaqoob told the media.
Violations of rules
The ECP has deferred polls in some union council wards in Gujrat and Faisalabad districts over reports of violation of code of conduct by candidates. The secretary has written letters to the inspectors general of police of both provinces seeking a list of candidates who carried on campaigning after the deadline ended on Thursday night.
The polling authority also summoned Minister of State for Power Abid Sher Ali and his father Chaudhry Sher Ali, a former parliamentarian, over alleged violations. Both men were told to appear before the commission on October 3 along with the district returning officer and district coordination officer.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 31st, 2015.