Security threat: Sindh govt again asks ECP to delay Karachi LG polls

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Saturday again snubbed the Sindh government and decided to hold local government elections tomorrow (Jan 15) as per schedule.

It rejected the Sindh government’s latest repeated request to postpone the local government polls in Karachi and Hyderabad on the basis of security threat to the political leaders and workers.

In an official handout signed by the ECP spokesperson, the country’s top elections body also directed the Sindh government to ensure “foolproof preparations for peaceful elections”.

With the MQM-P – a coalition partner at the Centre – sticking to their demands, the Sindh government on Saturday had again requested the ECP to postpone the local government elections in Karachi and Hyderabad, citing “threats to various political leaders and workers of political parties” as warned by law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

The moves came after the ECP on Friday rejected the Sindh government’s earlier request and decided to hold the local government polls exercise in Karachi and Hyderabad according to the schedule on January 15.

It all began in the early hours of Friday, when the provincial government announced that the long-awaited local body elections would not be held and the notification to hold the polls based on the existing delimitation had also been withdrawn on the demand of MQM-P.

The situation took an ugly turn when Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon, soon after the ECP’s announcement, contended that the electoral body could not reject the provincial government’s decision to postpone local government elections in the two cities.

And on Saturday, the Sindh Local Government Department in the letter to the ECP said a meeting was held at the chief secretary’s office on Friday wherein “the law enforcement and intelligence agencies apprised the participants of the precarious law and order situation along with specific threats to various political leaders and workers of political parties”.

It also said that the Sindh cabinet had also expressed its concern with the non-availability of Pakistan Army and civil armed forces for static deployment at polling stations.

The letter said the meeting “corroborated the fear and apprehension of the government in view of the prevalent situation, there is a greater need for the presence of troops of Pakistan Army and civil armed forces to be statically deployed at the polling stations”.

The provincial government told the ECP it had already written to the Ministry of Interior about the provision of required security.

“In light of the above, the Government of Sindh reiterates the request that the second phase of local government elections to the extent of Karachi Division and Hyderabad District be postponed till such time that the required security is available at the polling stations,” the letter reads.

The second phase of local government elections in Sindh has been postponed twice already after the previous local governments’ term expired on Aug 30, 2020 and the ECP was bound to hold elections within 120 days of this.

Later, the electoral exercise, originally scheduled for July 24, but was postponed due to the unprecedented monsoon rains and floods that inundated large parts of the province.

The ECP later rescheduled the polls for Aug 28, but they were deferred again due to the flood situation and a shortage of police personnel in Karachi.

MQM-P sticks to delimitation demand

New delimitation is a prerequisite to hold local government elections in Karachi and Hyderabad, the MQM-P said Friday, but added that the party would not boycott the process.

“If the elections are held despite our concerns then we will not boycott them. However, we will not accept the results,” MQM-P Spokesperson Ahsan Ghauri told a private TV channel.

Separately, MQM-P’s Barrister Farogh Naseem, who addressed a press conference along with other party leaders, accused the Sindh government of unfairness in determining the constituencies for the local government polls.

The constituencies where the MQM-P enjoyed vote bank consisted of 90,000 people and the others had just 20,000 population, he claimed, adding that it was an injustice to the citizens.

Speaking on the occasion, Faisal Subzwari said he doubted the transparency of elections following the discrepancies within constituencies.

“It is visible in the constituencies that the population of Nazimabad, Korangi, and Orangi Town is more compared to the seats. In some areas, the population is less and the seats are more. How will the elections be transparent?” Subzwari questioned.

ECP to go for elections

Earlier in the day on Friday, the ECP, rejecting the Sindh government’s request to postpone the local government elections, decided to hold the exercise on January 15 in Karachi and Hyderabad.

The decision was taken in a chaired by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja in Islamabad, as the ECP reviewed the situation after the provincial government’s request.

It was a result of a surprising move when the Sindh government in early hours of Friday announced that the local government elections, scheduled for Jan 15, would not be held in Karachi, Hyderabad and Dadu. However, the polls will go ahead as per plan in Tando Allayar, Tando Muhammad Khan, Badin, Thatta, Sujawal and Jamshoro.

Addressing a press conference, Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon also said the notification to hold the polls on the basis of the existing delimitation had been withdrawn on the demand of their coalition partner, the MQM-P, which had serious reservations with it.

The moves comes as the MQM-P had rejected the delimitation of local government constituencies, terming them unjustified. As a result, the second phase of local government elections in Sindh has been postponed for the third time – originally scheduled for July 24 but delayed because of the unprecedented monsoon rains and floods.

Later, the ECP rescheduled the polls for Aug 28, but they were deferred again due to the flood situation and a shortage of police personnel in Karachi.

Memon said that the provincial government had already written to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for postponing local government elections in Dadu since swathes of the district were still under floodwaters.

The decision came after an emergency meeting of presided over by PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari with Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, provincial cabinet members and others. Prior to the PPP meeting, the Sindh cabinet had postponed its meeting where the issue was expected to be taken up.

However, the term of the local governments had expired on Aug 30, 2020, and the ECP is bound to hold elections within 120 days of this.

Shortly after the announcement, an MQM-P delegation reached the Chief Minister’s House to thank the Sindh government for following through on the party’s demand to delay the local body polls.

FC deployment

In response to the ECP request, the interior ministry has approved the static deployment of Frontier Constabulary outside at all highly sensitive and sensitive polling stations to ensure the smooth conduct of said elections.

“The exact number of troops, date and area of deployment will be worked out by the Election Commission of Pakistan, Home Department Government of Sindh in consultation with Frontier Constabulary authorities, on the basis of on-ground requirement/assessment,” the letter read.

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