February 17, 2008

Campaign ends amid fears

Filed under: ELECTIONS - 2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 4:22 am
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FEBRUARY 17, 2008

LAHORE-The election campaign for the February 18 polls came to an end on Saturday midnight as politicians launched the final push for votes while militants launched a deadly attack on an election rally in Parachinar and election office at Mingora that heightened new fears for the security of people already terrified due to prevalent law and order situation.
PML-N, PPP and PML-Q leadership addressed their last public meetings. Allegations of rigging were also echoed.
Streets and roads besides election offices and bazaars dotted with candidates portraits and banners were illuminated throughout the night. Enthusiasm among the people was high despite attacks.
A large number of people came out of their houses to share their feelings with one another about future of political parties in the elections. Political parties supporters on motorbikes, high-pitched sloganeering and playing music to boost the moral of voters gave feeling for the first time that elections are going to be held on February 18.
Traditional public places famous for political activity look deserted some days back were with full of life. Corner meetings, public meetings addressed by party top leaders, door to door canvassing, election rallies warmed the heart of people. Rush of people was sighted at tea shops, barber shops, small hotels, pan shops and kiosks.
Lahore, heart of Punjab, was known for its elections festivity and election enthusiasm came into its blossom with election hustle and bustle.
Printing business did a booming business during the last day of campaign. Political observers said that if the tempo is kept intact the voter turn-out expected to be low would register considerable turn out
It is pertinent to mention that despite the fact it was the last day for election campaign, the Election Commission of Pakistan did not take notice of blatant violation of elections code of conduct by candidates, who used City walls, traffic signals and other prohibited places for their publicity with impunity. According to the code of conduct, no person or a political party or a candidate is allowed to hoist or fix party flags on any public property or at any public place, except with the prior permission from the authorities concerned and payment of prescribed fee.
Monday’s landmark vote is seen as decisive for the political future of President Pervez Musharraf. Most electioneering took place in the political battleground of Punjab.
Meanwhile, Asif Ali Zardari, met former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Lahore for new talks on possible power-sharing after the vote.
The supporters of APDM that is boycotting the vote, including the party of former cricketer Imran Khan, shouted anti-Musharraf slogans at a meeting in Lahore
A large number of people have put billions of rupees at stake, as the bookies are highly active regarding the upcoming general elections.
In some areas, the bookies are working under the supervision of police. PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif ‘s telephonic election campaign and PML-Q’s SMS campaign on cellular phones also ended.
Election campaign through SMS is learnt to have already been used in different campaigns during Bar Council elections, Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry campaign and Lahore Press Club elections. Different mobile phone companies have also started providing regular SMS updates for the forthcoming general elections. The SMS services provides customers with updates, profiles of various political parties and prominent political candidates and election results.
Electioneering ends with a fresh row erupting over the fairness of the polls after Human Rights Watch said it had obtained a recording of Pakistan’s Attorney General predicting the vote will be ‘massively rigged’.
After election campaign ends under Section 84 of the Representation of the People Act, 1976, no person is allowed to convene, hold or attend any public meeting within the area of the constituency during a period of 48 hours ending at midnight.
The EC laws also prohibit tampering with ballot papers, canvassing within the radius of 400 yards of the polling stations and disorderly conduct in and around the polling stations on the polling day.
The offender are liable to be tried summarily by the mobile magistrates and Presiding Officers, and awarded adequate punishment of imprisonment or fine or both, as provided under the law.
The govt has called Army and Rangers at ‘most sensitive’ polling stations in the country to oversee law and order situation.
The govt completed deployment of 81,000 Army troops and paramilitary forces to ensure law and order during the elections.
‘The Election Commission has already declared almost 30 per cent polling stations as sensitive for the upcoming general elections in the country’, the official said.
The ECP also sought help from the provinces to dispatch lists of the sensitive polling stations to the commission .
The Punjab govt has declared 2,078 polling stations in 17 districts as ‘most sensitive’ with regard to the law and order situation. The govt also declared Sargodha, Multan, Gujranwala, Vehari, Dera Ghazi Khan, Rajanpur, Muzaffargarh, Layyah, Bahawalpur, Sialkot and Narowal districts as ‘sensitive’.
Around 65,000 policemen will be posted to polling stations alongwith volunteers and Forest Department guards to ensure law and order. About 5,223 mobile squads with 18,000 policemen would also be deployed on the elections day, while 386 mobile squads with 9,463 policemen would be on standby to cope with any untoward situation.
The Foreign Ministry has formed a cell to guide foreign election observers that will provide information and other guidance to foreign observers from Feb. 16 to 19.
The electoral materials of sensitive nature including ink and ballot papers have been handed over to all District Returning Officers.

Musharraf has lost mental balance: Nawaz 

‘N’, PPP to launch drive if polls rigged
WITH just two days to go for elections, PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif has made his strongest-ever attack on President Pervez Musharraf.
Speaking to India’s NDTV, Nawaz said that Musharraf has lost his mental as well as physical balance. He added that Musharraf must exit office.
On the campaign trail, following his eight-year exile, Nawaz also said it’s not yet time to decide upon the opposition’s prime ministerial candidate. In other words, he has not ruled himself out of the race.
Pakistan People’s Party leader Benazir Bhutto’s assassination is still fresh in Nawaz Sharif and everyone else’s mind as his cavalcade ducks the main highways and crawls quietly through village interiors and back alleys. He knows that every rally is a gamble of life and death.
As the car weaves its way past the ancient city of Taxila to the remote Frontier Province, Nawaz pores over the day’s papers and seems satisfied.
He knows that his home turf holds half the seats for Parliament, and this reminds that he too can be the prime minister.
NDTV: You can’t contest, so can you be PM?
Nawaz: The constitution permits me to be PM for six months and then get elected, not that I am looking for prime ministership, but all these things can be decided later.
Nawaz’s speeches mainly target the man who put him on a plane, and pushed him out of Pakistan.
The theme song of his campaign is also to pitch Musharraf as the American stooge against his own more manly gumption.
Speaking in a rally, he says, “Musharraf gets frightened after receiving one call from America. He has not done any good to Pakistan. Nawaz does not take any order from anyone. If India carried out five tests (nuclear), then Pakistan has carried out six.”
Nawaz’s single-minded agenda is now to, somehow ensure the exit of President Pervez Musharraf.
Here is Nawaz’s talk with NDTV.
NDTV: Do you feel this election will ensure Musharraf’s exit?
Nawaz: I don’t know. Every day he comes on TV and says this or that. He looks like a man who has lost his balance.
NDTV: Mental balance?

Nawaz: Both mental and physical!
Much depends on what happens when Pakistan votes on Monday.
A good showing in Punjab could change the rules of the game. So far the lion of Punjab, as Nawaz is known, has kept to the script. But the question is, once the results are declared, will the lion roar?
What will happen if the results show no clear majority? Who will call the shot then? Will it be Nawaz Sharif or Asif Zardari?
In Pakistan, many believe that the real story begins only after the elections end.
Our Staff Reporter from Lahore adds: PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif and PPP Co-Chairman Asif Zardari Saturday agreed to launch a joint movement against rigging after February 18 elections.
“We are taking part in the elections as a protest and if the government tries to rig it strong movement will be launched,” they said this during their meeting at Sharif’s Raiwind residence on Saturday.
Both the leaders held one-on-one meeting for an hour and later PPP and PML-N leaders including Jahangir Badar, Sherry Rehman, Qasim Zia, Senator Latif Khosa, Ishaq Dar and Sadiq-ul- Farooq joined the meeting.
They also discussed upcoming elections, rigging and law and order situation in the country.
They said that if the government attempted to rig the polls on the election day it would push the country towards crisis.
Both the parties would jointly work to foil the rigging plan on the election day, they said, adding that foreign observers and media would be informed about the rigging.

‘Q’ candidates get ballots from place unknown!

LAHORE-The receipt of 1,000 postal ballots in bulk by the GPO with stamps in favour of PML (Q) candidates continues to create tremors of doubts in the City political circles over the whole exercise, especially how ballot papers in such a large numbers could be received at GPO at a time.
According to a source, more than 1,000 postal ballot papers were handed over to an official of GPO on Friday (last) by some unknown persons from the Railway Station Post Office with a directive to send these papers to the concerned Returning Officer through ‘proper procedure’.
‘One thousand postal ballots received by GPO in bulk. It is this aspect of this transaction, which creates doubts. Normally, the ballot through post should come in one or two not in bulk of 1,000 votes’, GPO sources said.
The GPO authorities claimed that it could receive postal ballot papers in bulk from a govt dept like the Punjab prison.
When contacted the IG Prison told The Nation that only 180 postal ballot papers filled by the prisoners had been sent so far. He ,however, made it clear that the papers had been sent to all the concerned Returning Officers across the province.
The source disclosed that Tanveer Hashmi, an officer of GPO picked up a bag of postal ballot papers from unknown men at Railway Station Post Office and handed over it to his senior official Chief Post Master Iram Tariq at her GPO office.
She later informed the higher authorities about the incident who directed her to keep the name of the candidate secret. Later, she sent the said bag to the concerned Returning Officer through the same official Hashmi.
The source disclosed that all the postal ballot papers were carrying stamps of a PML (Q ) candidate contesting elections from Lahore. The matter was kept secret due to the involvement of a PML (Q) candidate, the source added.
The Chief Post Master, GPO Iram Tariq told The Nation that there was no unusual thing happened as the postal ballot papers were collected from 5 to 6 post boxes placed near the Railway Station.
She denied the allegations of taking ballot papers from unknown persons and expressed her trust over the GPO official Tanveer Hashmi.
When contacted the Postmaster General Muhammad Ahmad Mian said that the matter was in his knowledge but the reports of postal ballot papers with stamps of a PML (Q) candidate were absolutely bogus and against reality. He said that at least 1,000 postal ballot papers recovered from the post boxes of Railway Station post office have been handed over to the Returning Officer Additional District and Sessions Judge Anwar Butt.


FEBRUARY 17, 2008


Polls and protests

THREE days before the elections, a bipartisan group of US congressmen arriving to monitor the polls has shown concern about their fairness and warned President Musharraf’s government of consequences if they are not free, fair and independent. On Friday a ten-member EU delegation called on Interior Minister to convey similar apprehensions. As the delegation of the Congressmen put it, they considered fair, free and transparent elections crucial to fighting extremism and were travelling to Pakistan to press for them. Over the last many years Washington had not gone beyond paying lip service to democracy in Pakistan while fight against terrorism had remained its principal concern. There seems to be a growing perception now that unless the government has popular support, it cannot pursue the fight successfully. As Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Biden, who leads the team, put it unless moderate majority has a voice in the system there is a danger they will make common cause with the extremists. PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari has also clearly conveyed that while his party wants peaceful elections despite provocations, it does not rule out mass agitation if the elections were to be stolen. Mian Nawaz Sharif who was persuaded by Benazir Bhutto to take part in the elections has also kept open the option of joining the APDM in street protests in case polls were rigged.
Concerns about election rigging have got another boost from an audiotape released by the Human Rights Watch. Attorney General Malik Qayyum has allegedly admitted in the tape that the government had plans to rig the elections. While the Attorney General has called the conversation as fabricated, the HRW maintains the tape is genuine. There are other matters too that add to the already existing apprehensions on the eve of the elections. Caretaker Information Minister Nisar Memon’s warning to foreign election monitors to remain within their limits is quite disturbing. So are the restrictions put on them to visit nearly 9000 polling stations declared sensitive. Mr Memon’s accusations of anti-Musharraf bias against Pildat, an independent organisation, too is uncalled for.
Mr Memon has advised political parties to accept whatever election results are officially announced and abstain from taking recourse to protests. Putting curbs on peaceful protests is tantamount to denying a fundamental right. This was also recognised on Friday by State Department spokesman Sean McCormick who said expression of views different from those of the government or making protests is part of democracy as long as the exercise remains peaceful.


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