ISLAMABAD   -   The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is all set to conduct free and fair elections in the newly-merged tribal districts, but despite the strict measures taken by the ECP, the common masses in tribal districts are still having worries and ambiguity regarding the upcoming elections.

According to the local people, the date for elections was fixed by the ECP, but they were still confused and whether the elections to be held on a fixed date. Besides many other grievances and reservations, the local community asked the apex poll body to have a look into the violation of the code of conduct by many candidates and specially those who are using the government machinery in their campaign.

Talking to The Nation senior journalist Dr Ashraf Ali said that it was clear that ECP had taken many positive steps to conduct free and fair elections, but there were some serious problems which were to be dealt on urgent basis. He further added that the security checkpoints was a big issue to get maximum turn out of voters and especially of women because usually, the security forces were taking much time on body search of a single person.

He further said that many of the candidates in the newly-formed tribal districts were matric which was a point to be noted because this tribal region needed positive legislation which was only possible if there were highly qualified or at least graduated candidates.

Earlier this week a joint conference was held in Jamrud Press Club in Khyber district in which the ECP was urged to ensure the free, fair and impartial election in the newly-merged districts.

The conference was titled “upcoming provincial assembly elections in the newly-merged areas: people’s feelings, fears, and hopes”.

Parliamentarians, political, social and human rights activists, legal experts, educationalists, health professionals, policy experts, and members of civil society, students and youth organizations besides many media professionals attended the conference.

The speakers said that conducting free and fair elections would not only help to provide a representative forum to the neglected areas of society in the war-hit region but would also help to establish democratic values in the society.

Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) local leader Ghufranullah Khaiberi said that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) should provide a level playing field to all contesting candidates in order to make sure voters make the right choices when electing candidates.

He asked the ECP to take notice of the myriad of the code of conduct violations, claiming that candidates were spending millions of rupees on their campaigns.

Awami National Party (ANP) Khyber President Manzoor Afridi alleged that restoration of incentives for the tribal leaders or ‘Maliks’ at a time when elections were just a few days away was another form of pre-poll rigging.

Senior journalist Ibrahim Shinwari asked political parties to play their due role in politically mobilizing the masses to come out and cast their votes.

Engineer Saiful Islam said that residents of the newly-merged tribal districts were optimistic about the future of their areas. He noted that a rally led by women in the traditional tribal society speaks volume about how change was making its way to the frontier.

Tribal elder Malik Zeena Gul Afridi demanded an increase in the number of polling stations for women.

Some participants expressed their concerns over the slow pace of reforms and asked the government to let the merger process come to fruition.

Insaf Students Federation president Said Rahim Afridi elaborated that the people were experiencing the democratic process for the provincial assembly for the first time in the region.

Afridi, however, conceded that overnight change was impossible and that they should expect some problems.