ISLAMABAD - Deciding not to postpone the by-elections in any of the 42 constituencies scheduled for August 22nd, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has decided to deploy military troops at the 4,526 polling stations identified as being under security threats.
The Commission has also revised the by-polls polling scheme to identify 882 more polling stations as highly sensitive and sensitive while reducing the number of polling stations from 7,622 to 7,606. The highly sensitive polling stations number has been revised from 1,657 to 1,840 while that of the number of sensitive polling stations has been revised from 1,987 to 2,686.
The decision has been taken keeping in view the recommendations from the security agencies as well as the relocation of certain polling stations. Moreover, the 16 polling stations have been abolished in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa due to floods-damages. Moreover, the ECP has rejected the requests from the Ministry of Defence and Balochistan Government for the postponement of the by-polls in two constituencies, one each in KP (Dera Ismail Khan) and Balochistan (Jhal Magsi), and has decided to go ahead with conducting polls on the scheduled date. The poll authority has also dismissed the Punjab government's request for not involving Army in the by-polls.
In a high-level meeting chaired by the Acting Chief Election Commissioner Justice Tassadduq Hussain Jilani on Monday, the ECP approved the security plan for the deployment of the military troops inside and outside the highly sensitive polling stations and troops deployment outside the sensitive polling stations only.
Finance Minister Senator Ishaq Dar, Provincial Election Commissioners, ECP members and top management, Secretaries Defence and Interior, Chairman National Disaster Management Authority, Director General Pakistan Meteorological Department, and the Chief Secretaries of all the four provinces showed up for the meeting.
According to an ECP source, the Commission wanted the troops deployment inside and outside all the 7,606 polling stations of the 42 constituencies as demanded by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). But, the source said, the General Headquarters (GHQ) expressed inability to guard the said number of polling stations citing its flood-related engagements while conveying its readiness to provide security at the highly sensitive and sensitive polling stations.
Regarding the security provision for the by-polls, the military authorities are said to have recommend to the ECP to increase the number of highly sensitive and sensitive polling stations in order to provide enhanced security at the maximum number of polling stations. Following this, the number of highly sensitive and sensitive polling stations was increased from 3,644 to 4,526.
Talking to The Nation, Secretary ECP Ishtiak Ahmed Khan said that the number of the polling stations facing security threats was increased to ensure tightened security wherever required. "We've identified maximum polling stations as being under security threat to avert any chances of security lapse. We hope the by-elections would be held in the safe and secure environment."
The military, the Secretary said, has assured its complete cooperation for the by-polls security.
"The Army would be guarding around 60 per cent of the total polling stations." Later, the Secretary ECP briefed the journalists on the Monday meeting. The three-point agenda meeting was held to discuss the Army troops deployment at the polling stations, floods situation across the country and postponement of by-polls in the security-wise sensitive/flood-hit constituencies, if required, he said.
On the polls results, the Secretary said, the Returning Officers have been directed to send the results by Thursday night.
The result management system, he said, would not be followed for the polls results compilation due to several complications.
To a query regarding the reports that PM Nawaz Sharif was to make a 'political address' to the nation on Monday night in violation of the ECP Code of Conduct for the by-polls, Ishtiak Khan said, they did not receive any complaint to this effect and the poll authority would review the matter in case the related complaints were received. During Monday meeting, Secretary Defence Asif Yasin Malik had requested the ECP for the postponement of by-polls in NA-25 Dera Ismail Khan due to security reasons while Chief Secretary Balochistan Babar Yaqoob Fateh Muhammad had made a similar request due to floods-caused damages in Balochistan’s PP-32.
The ECP, upon hearing from the candidates concerned against the by-elections postponement, turned down the two requests. Chief Secretary Punjab Javed Aslam made a renewed request on behalf of Punjab government for not deploying the military troops at the polling stations in Punjab on the grounds that the province's governmental machinery was in position to provide security at the Punjab polling stations. The ECP upheld its previous decision to dismiss the said request, contending, over a 1000 polling stations in the province had been marked as highly sensitive and sensitive and the terror threat could not be ruled out anywhere across the country.