The ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) emerged with the highest number of winning candidates on Sunday in the first phase of Sindh’s local government elections, unanimously rejected by the opposition parties and marred by firing, scuffles and deaths.

At least two people were killed and several others were injured on the polling day, which also saw the kidnapping of polling staff members by armed bandits, rigging allegations and assault on election camps, putting a question mark over the performance of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the security administration.

With already 885 out of 946 representatives elected unopposed, the PPP was leading the elections, in which 21,000 candidates contested for 6,277 seats of 101 town committees, 23 municipal committees, 14 district councils, four municipal corporations, eleven town municipal corporations and 887 union councils and union committees.

However, its victory came with serious allegations of rigging, violence and the use of government machinery.

The opposition parties — the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), Sindh United Party (SUP), Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F), Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) and Majlis Wahdat-ul-Muslimeen (MWM) — rejected the entire electoral process and demanded the ECP declare the election null and void and call a fresh one.

However, the provincial government ruled out such a possibility and described the demand as an “escape” from opposition parties after they “failed” to field candidates in all districts.

“The rigging allegations are coming from those [opposition parties] who didn’t have candidates to contest polls,” Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Inam Memon said while talking in news channel’s show.

He said the scale of violence was “nominal”, as the incidents were reported at only a few polling stations.

Sindh Inspector General of Police Ghulam Nabi Memon agreed with the minister, insisting that scuffles broke out in only 40 of the 9,000 polling stations.

He said the situation was much worse during the 2015 local government elections when “more than a dozen were killed and scores were injured”.

The elections were held in 14 districts of the four divisions — Sukkur, Larkana, Shaheed Benazirabad and Mirpurkhas — include Ghotki, Sukkur, Khairpur, Larkana, Qambar-Shahdadkot, Kashmore-Kandhkot, Shikarpur, Jacobabad, Naushahro Feroze, Shaheed Benazirabad, Sanghar, Mirpurkhas, Umerkot and Tharparkar in the first phase.

In the second phase, voting will take place in the Hyderabad division along with provincial metropolis Karachi on July 24.

SCUFFLES: In the first phase elections, scuffles and heated arguments between workers of rival parties, with mostly PPP activists engaging with PTI and GDA members were rampant.

The situation turned tense in most districts a couple of hours after the polling started and worsened after the reports of the deaths of two people, including the brother of a PTI candidate.

“I can confirm the death of Qaiser, the brother of our party’s candidate Asghar Gandapur in Tando Adam,” said Mushtaq Junejo, PTI’s divisional president from Tando Adam.

The candidate was contesting in ward-13 of the Tando Adam municipal committee.

In Sukkur, one man was killed and three sustained serious injuries during clashes at different polling stations. The deceased was identified as Abdul Qadeer Jagirani.

Three towns — Jeay Shah, Maki Shah, and Nisar Siddui — emerged as the main battlegrounds.

“At the Dubar Allah Juriyo polling station in Rohri town committee, two groups of the Jagirani community engaged in a dispute and resorted using clubs and straight firing, leaving Abdul Qadeer dead on the spot and three others wounded,” said an area police official.

At a Dirab polling station, JUI-F’s candidate for the chairmanship, Gulzar Ahmed Kato, was injured, according to residents. Several party activists also clashed at New Goth, New Pind, Old Sukkur, Bandar Road and other areas.

Another clash was reported outside a polling station in UC-63 Asgharabad of Hashim Khaskheli village in Sanghar’s Shahdadpur taluka, where scuffles broke out between GDA and PPP supporters.

Moreover, armed men took away electoral material from polling station No. 26 of Nawabshah, which was set up in a dispensary. Polling was stopped after the incident.

Electoral proceedings were also postponed in UC-6 H.M. Khawaja and UC Soomar Khan because electoral symbols were allegedly changed on ballot papers in the latter constituency, showing PPP’s symbol against GDA. PPP’s candidate was Qurban Ali and GDA’s was Arif Dahiri, whereas the symbol of TLP’s candidate Abdul Sattar was not printed.

Another scuffle was reported between supporters of the JUI-F and PPP at polling station Fareed Mahar in Panu Aqil taluka. Polling was stopped after an altercation in Khairpur’s Faiz Ganj taluka.

STAFF KIDNAPPED: Kashmore was among the most-affected districts in terms of violence, where an armed clash was reported in the katcha — riverine area known as Durrani Mahar — of the Kashmore-Kandhkot district in upper Sindh.

Reports were received that around 10 polling staff members were kidnapped in Durrani Mahar by armed men, though the area’s police officer denied it outright.

However, sources said the police tried to cover up the issue as the polling staff was only released after successful negotiations between the police and bandits.

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