By-election NA-48: Presiding Officers chill out as few voters turn up for polls

Islamabad – Presiding Officers supervising the NA-48 by-elections seemed to have an easy day at the job on Thursday as the voter response in the capital remained slow and peaceful throughout.

The officers, who were granted the powers of Magistrate first class powers, said they did not feel the need to use their express authority as there were little or no aggressive incidents from polling agents or political workers.

“The proceedings are going smoothly and we did not face any difficulty in setting up the polling arrangements,” said Ghazala Naveed, a Presiding Officer at the Islamabad Model School G-9/2 polling station who said only 104 votes had been polled by noon at the station out of around 1,100 registered votes.

At the men’s side of the same polling station, Presiding Officer Ghulam Ali said they did not face any difficulties in getting polling material from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) because the scale and extent of the by-polls is much smaller than the general elections. He said he was aware of the Presiding Officer’s powers but had not felt the need to exercise them.

The officers also seemed lax in preventing voters from carrying their cell phones to the polling booths.

Some presiding officers said they would not use their police-like authority to jail miscreant voters anyway because of potential negative consequences.

“If I take the extreme route in dealing with rowdy political workers, they might come after me afterwards,” one presiding officer told The Express Tribune. “It is better to tackle them with tact and civility.”

There were no reports of rigging incidents or fighting between rival political groups in NA-48 and some polling staff members thought the military was responsible for the discipline.

“The presence of military personnel also prevents any untoward incidents from happening,” said Presiding Officer Haider Ali, at the Islamabad Model College for Girls F-10/2 polling station. “The Army gunmen have been proactive and they have cooperated very nicely with the polling staff.”

Security Situation

Military presence was visible inside most polling stations around the federal capital, which was on high security alert on the day of by-polls. Pakistan Army gunmen, in addition to Islamabad police constables, manned the gates of the polling stations and patrolled inside the stations.

Security frisking at the gates was almost nonexistent, however. Police were seen letting voters inside without proper checking.

Sixteen teams of the Quick Response Force (QRF), armed with submachine guns, also patrolled around the constituency during the polling hours. There were reports of some aerial firing in the G-9 area and information relayed on the police wireless indicated that security personnel were not deployed at a G-9/1 polling station when voting started in the morning. But the by-polls passed without any major incidents of violence, according to police and Rescue 1122 officials

ECP Code Violations

Just like the general elections on May 11, several violations of ECP’s Election Day Code of Conduct were witnessed in NA-48. Political parties violated ECP’s regulation that political party camps could not be set up within 400 yards of the polling stations.

Constables deputed outside an I-8/3 blamed the camps on the administration.

“The administration should not have allowed the party workers to set up the camps last night,” one constable said. “Now that they have been pitched, we do not want to create a fuss by uprooting them.”

But the constable said they would not allow anyone to set up a new camp near the polling station on polling day, even though it was apparent that all the political parties had already set up their camps.

In the sector F-7 area, supporters of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz were also seen transporting voters from their houses to a polling station in a van. The ECP has disallowed transportation of voters by candidates as candidates with more money and resources can get an unfair advantage by moving more voters to the polling booths.

An Islamabad Police officer stationed outside the polling station said he was not aware of the ECP code and later said other political parties were also transporting.

At a polling station in I-9/1, a political party’s workers were even using a vote number slip with that endorsed the party’s candidates. The ECP had only allowed political workers to use plain slips for helping voters locate their vote and block number.

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