ISLAMABAD: In the ‘absence’ of former ruling party—Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) — the country finally goes to general polls today (Thursday)— in the midst of an air of uncertainty and fear drawn by security threats, allegations of massive poll-rigging, apparent denial of level playing field coupled with alleged state-sponsored coercion against the members of one political party, and undeclared curbs on the media.

Over 128.58 million citizens are the eligible registered voters for the general polls with 17,800 candidates in run for the five legislatures, and over 260 million ballot papers printed for the polls, according to Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

The electoral body says, some 90,675 polling stations, comprising of 266,398 polling booths, have been set up for the elections. Of them, 16,766 polling stations are marked as highly sensitive and 29,985 as sensitive— to be guarded by military and paramilitary forces, the data issued by the ECP suggests.

Elections 2024: all NA constituencies and their contesting candidates

All the mainstream parties, barring the PTI, are contesting the general elections. Following Supreme Court’s decision, last month, that disallowed the PTI to retain its election symbol, the PTI candidates are contesting the general elections as independents.

Reports from different parts across the country suggest that PTI members were mostly not allowed to run their respective election campaigns—by the officials of some “powerful” state institutions— who allegedly use coercive and intimidating methods to suppress dissent.

Scores of footages are doing rounds on the social media wherein the officials of law enforcement agencies could be seen manhandling the PTI-linked candidates through torture and verbal abuse, arresting these candidates and intimidating them by launching late-night raids at their residences. The videos also revealed that families of the PTI-backed candidates are being harassed by unidentified plain-clothed men apparently to dissuade them from supporting Imran Khan’s political party.

Apart from that, the ECP claims that its Election Management System (EMS) is equipped with sophisticated features for the smooth transmission of general polls’ results. However, a letter written, last week, by the returning officer of National Assembly’s seat NA-197 Kamber-Shahdadkot, to the district returning officer of the said seat, raised serious questions about the efficiency and reliability of the EMS.

“Either the EMS is an utter failure or there is someone else that controls and manages the system behind the veil,” the RO wrote. The electoral body has confirmed the authenticity of the letter but avoided commenting on this issue any further.

The general elections take place over a year after the dissolution of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies on January 14 and January 18, last year, respectively.

The National Assembly was dissolved on August 9, Sindh Assembly on August 11 and Balochistan Assembly was dissolved on August 12, last year.

Constitutionally, keeping in view the NA dissolution date, the cut-off date to hold the NA general elections within the 90-day period was November 7, last year. Article 224(2) of the constitution provides that when the NA or a provincial assembly is dissolved, a general election to the assembly shall be held within a period of 90 days after the dissolution, and the results of the election shall be declared not later than 14 days after the conclusion of the polls.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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