Punjab recommends holding PA polls, NA by elections on same day

First woman chairperson elected in Balochistan LG polls

ISLAMABAD, Feb 08 (APP): Punjab authorities on Wednesday asked the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to hold Punjab Assembly and National Assembly by-elections on the same day to save money and ensure foolproof security.

Briefing the ECP meeting, chaired by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja regarding Punjab Assembly elections, Punjab chief secretary Zahid Akhtar Zaman said holding elections on separate days would not only increase the election expenditures twofold but also make the task of law enforcement agencies (LEAs) to provide fool proof security difficult. A whooping Rs 42 billion were required to maintain peace in the elections.

The provincial chief secretary stated that administrative officials, police officers and teachers have to perform duties during the polls, adding that the same employees would be performing their duties in the census as well.

Also, examinations and anti-polio campaigns would also be held, he said, adding that availability of staff for polls will be difficult. The month of Ramzan was coming during elections, in which administrative officers have to ensure price control and security arrangements for worshipers in mosques, so there was a dire need for law enforcement agencies to maintain law and order. Along with this, the security of rallies and gatherings has to be arranged during the elections.

He said that the provincial government was also facing a financial deficit. “In such a situation, law enforcement agencies cannot provide foolproof security”, the Chief Secretary said.

He assured the meeting that transparency would be ensured in the upcoming polls. The provincial government had initiated work regarding the NA by-elections, preparation of a security plan and installation of CCTV cameras in all sensitive polling stations. A control room would also be established in each district during the elections.

Punjab chief secretary pointed out that there was a “serious terrorism threat” in the province.

In his briefing to the commission, Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Dr Usman Anwar pointed out the recent terrorist attacks in the province and said that 213 incidents of terrorism were prevented since December 2022.

IG said holding elections would be a “difficult task” in the province until a police operation against militants, expected to be completed in four to five months, was over.

“It is difficult to conduct the elections until the police operation is completed”, he added.

Last week, the Punjab police had launched a grand counterterrorism operat­ion in the highly complex and inac­cessible hilly areas of Mian­wali district, hours after some heavily equipped militants of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakis­tan (TTP) attacked a police station in the area in the dead of the night.

He highlighted that Lahore, Sheikhupura, Sahiwal, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi, Multan, Bahawalpur and Dera Ghazi Khan districts were among the top “hotspots” for terrorist activity.

He said that there were various terrorist groups in Bhakkar, Mianwali and Dera Ghazi Khan, adding that a major terrorist operation was recently prevented in Lahore Police Lines and Mianwali.

IG Anwar said that 412,854 police personnel were required to ensure peaceful elections in the province while the force comprised only 115,000 officials. He said 300,000 additional officials would be needed to ensure peaceful polls.

The IG said that the services of the Pakistan Army and Rangers would be required to compensate for this shortcoming while stressing the need for their static deployment.

The electoral watchdog appreciated the input from the two officials and said that it was aware of the provincial government’s problems. However, the ECP highlighted that conducting polls was its constitutional and legal responsibility and it would utilise all resources in this regard.

“The Election Commission will hold its own separate meeting in which the decision [on holding elections] will be taken keeping in mind the security of the people and the peaceful conduct of the election,” the statement said.