Rural more enthusiastic than urban

ISLAMABAD / RAWALPINDI: A high turnout of around 60-70 per cent was observed in the capital’s rural constituency of NA-52 on Wednesday despite poor polling conditions. The urban areas, despite better conditions, seemed to attract fewer voters.

The common complaints included lack of drinking water, clogged or overflowing washrooms, unclean and unpaved rooms and load-shedding. It added to the sufferings of the polling staff, voters and security officials at several polling stations in NA-52.

Most of the polling stations are set up in government schools, which remain deprived of basic facilities — a damning indictment of the outgoing government.

To add insult to injury, women polling staff also complained about lack of basic facilities saying first there were no rooms available for establishing polling booths and then they had to clean these rooms as well.

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Ceiling fans were out of order at some polling stations in Tarlai Kalan area, said the polling staff.

The voters, polling officials, soldiers and policemen had to work in the sweltering heat.

As the voters continued to exercise their right to vote, though polling staff suffered heat fatigue sweating profusely throughout the day.

“ECP had five years for making arrangements and they could have done a lot better,” said Presiding Officer Muntazir Mehdi. “We are here for a day or two, but at least do something for the children studying in these schools.”

Mehdi said that the polling staff had spent the night battling mosquitoes and wondered how army officials deputed at the same schools had lasted five days in the absence of proper arrangements. “There was no electricity, fan and the floor was broken in the room where we stayed. Even animals can’t stay in these rooms,” an army official standing nearby chipped in.

Mehdi added that they shifted the polling booths from the rooms allocated for the process to the hall as rooms needed a lot of cleaning.

“We did not demand anything [extra] and used the available resources to do our job,” Mehdi said, adding that they wanted to bring the conditions to notice of the RO but his number was busy throughout the day.

Another presiding officer, Dr Khalid Khan, said that the official who gave a go-ahead for polling at the school did not do his job as approving a school which does not have basic necessities is beyond understanding.

A woman presiding officer, who wished not to be named, expressed that she, along with her staff, came to the school, cleaned the rooms with the help of the only sweeper available in the school.

“I handed over my school in the best of the conditions to the authorities but the one I have got has challenged us in several ways,” she said.

Nevertheless, they all agreed that security arrangements were up to the mark and there was no untoward incident through the day in Tarlai area. Polling staff at several other polling stations expressed satisfaction over the arrangements saying “everything is just for one day and it will pass.”

A visit to several polling stations revealed that turn out remained between 60 to 70 per cent in NA 52 and staff could have performed better had the polling stations were properly equipped. It was observed that the army officials were deployed inside the polling booths as well as outside the polling stations.

This was despite the fact that most of the polling stations in the rural areas of the capital were in congested areas with cramped rooms.

“Even the federal board examinations are better managed than this national exercise which was conducted after five years with a budget of billions of rupees,” complained Tariq Iqbal, the presiding officer at the Mohammad Waqar Shaheed Model School for Boys in Kot Hathial, who was sweating due to the humid and warm atmosphere.

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He noted that after a bad experience in the local body elections, the election commission had been urged not to choose the school, operating in a rented building, to create a polling station, but to little avail.

In a complete contrast, two polling stations each were created for men and women the spacious women’s college in Sector F-7/2.

In a grand hall at the only polling booth the presiding officer, Maimoona Jabeen, said very few voters had turned up. At around 5 pm she said 300 votes were cast out of 807.

In F-7/4 Girls College too, the turnout was over 50 per cent by the evening and those who were turning up to vote were from nearby slum areas.

Mismanagement in Pindi

Lack of facilities, mismanagement and mishandling of voters by polling staff was largely observed in Rawalpindi’s NA-59 constituency.

On a hot and humid day, the sluggish electoral process resulting in long queues tormented voters who had lined up since early morning on Wednesday to complete their national duty.

There are 761,981 people living in NA-59. Of these, only 357,199 are registered as voters including 188,374 men and 168,825 women.

As many as 299 polling stations were established, including 69 reserved for men, 68 for women and 162 combined polling stations. A total of 715 polling booths were established in the constituency of which 372 were for men and 343 were for women.

There were as many as 10 candidates contesting the national assembly constituency including Ajmal Sabir Raja of the PTI-Nazriati (PTI-N), Chaudhry Kamran Khan of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Raja Qamarul Islam of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Ghulam Sarwar Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Malik Muhammad Taj of Tehreeki-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) and Maulana Abdul Ghafar Ghufar Toheedi Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). Independents from the constituency include former PML-N stalwart Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Safdar Ali Khan, Tariq Bashir Raja, and Muhammad Ameen Khan.

While polling was supposed to continue uninterrupted, voting at polling station 86 in Kotha Kallan was paused in the afternoon on the pretext of a lunch break even as voters including women and old people kept waiting.

When the Presiding Officer Iqbal Khan was about the legality of the break during voting time, he threw a fit and started hurling threats at journalists in the presence of army personnel and local police.

Arrangements at polling station 83 were comparatively better with the presiding officer noting that there were 3,058 voters at that station, including 1,640 men and 1,418 women voters. He said that by 2pm, around 700 voters had cast their votes while around 50 people were voting there per hour.

Meanwhile, a large number of voter and supporters of the PML-N, PTI and the MMA turned up at different stalls erected outside various polling stations in NA-60 to support their candidates. While the elections on the provincial assembly seat had been postponed after the PML-N candidate there, Hanif Abbasi, had been disqualified, the provincial assembly elections were set to continue.

Polling started on time at most polling stations, however, voters complaining against the sluggish pace of the process.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2018.

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