ISLAMABAD - The moment has finally arrived when the nation will elect its representatives for the next five years in the General Election 2018. Today’s vote will deeply reflect sentiments of the electorate about the slogans of change and development raised by the different political players.

Elaborate security arrangements have been made to avoid violence at the polling stations and thwart any terrorist bids. Unfortunately, terror struck at multiple places near the closing of the electioneering – claiming many lives and forcing candidates to restrict their campaigns.

Unlike the two-party (PML-N, PPP) democracy of the 80s and the 90s which had been blamed and kicked out time and again on corruption charges, this election fetches a multi-party democracy with 95 political parties participating in the race.

With such a large number of political parties in the foray, traditional landed gentry, tribalism and biradri (clan) factors are, for the first time, receding in their power to manipulate the elections.

Broadly speaking, it’s a three-way contest as the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of Sharif brothers, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of cricket fame Imran Khan and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of Asif Zardari and Son are the only major players among the around eight dozen political parties.

Then there are two major alliances – the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) having pockets of support across the country and the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) that wields considerable influence in rural Sindh. The rest are either vote spoilers or doing area-specific politics.

A huge number of independents are also in the run, and the winners among them are expected to play a major role in the making of federal and provincial governments by the major players.

According to political observers future of democracy will solely depend on the outcome of the elections. They believe the most serious question for the major players would be about the credibility of polls.

They are of the view that the manner these elections have been planned and conducted did not provide level-playing field to all the political parties.

Scale of election exercise

There is a public holiday today so that people could cast their votes according to their choice. Around 105.96 million eligible voters – 59.22 million male and 46.73 million female – will exercise their right to franchise to mark another democratic transition from one elected government to another.

About 11,673 candidates are vying for 270 national and 728 provincial assemblies’ seats in the 2018 elections, which are being held under a serious challenge of creating an enabling environment for all to have peaceful, free and fair.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has established 85,307 polling stations and 17,000 have been declared as sensitive polling stations across the country.

The commission has set up 23,424 polling stations for male voters and 21,707 for female voters. Around 40,133 combined polling stations and 43 improvised polling stations have also been set up. The election commission has delivered the election material to the polling stations.

As many as 800,000 security personnel including more than 370,000 army troops have been deployed to help the ECP conduct the polls. CCTV cameras have also been installed at sensitive polling stations.

Around 53,000 international, national and local observers and media persons will be monitoring the polling process.

Elections have been postponed on eight national and provincial assembly seats. The polls have been postponed on NA-60 due to the disqualification of PML-N candidate Hanif Abbasi, and on NA 103 due the death of independent candidate Mirza Muhammad Ahmed Mughal.

The election on six provincial constituencies –PK-78, PP-87, PP-103, PS-87, PK-99 and PB-35 – has also been postponed due to the death of some candidates.

Moment of truth

The big players have made big promises in their campaigns. The PTI and its allies implored for change, promising a new and corruption-free Pakistan to the people.

The PML-N, which ruled the country almost for 30 years and made the most populous Punjab province as its power bastion, ran its election campaign on the basis of its performance during the past five years and the slogan of “vote ko izzat do (respect the public mandate).

The PPP’s election campaign remained focused on its traditional slogan of making the country a welfare state.

The PML-N is being challenged by the PTI and its allies in Punjab with the largest number of National Assembly seats up for grab to make the government in centre.

The PTI is also targeting other major players, the PPP, the MMA and the Karachi-based MQM-Pakistan. Who wins and who loses will come to the fore today in the wake of 10 hours polling which will begin at 8am and end at 6pm.

 Doubts about polls credibility

Killing of three powerful candidates in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in terrorist attacks had raised many eyebrows with several key players, like PPP, PML-N, ANP and MMA, expressing their doubts about the credibility of the elections.

They blamed the caretaker governments as well as the ECP for lack of adequate security measures for political rallies and candidates. They also said that this all has been done to pitch a favourable ground for specific political parties – PTI being thought to be the major beneficiary among them.

They, however, decided not to leave the arena uncontested and are taking part in the elections and ran their election campaigns to all possible extent.

The election campaigns of the major political parties remained focused on changing Pakistan from the traditional corruption tainted democracy.

The PTI and its allies including the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) and the GDA took credit for ‘brining’ three-time elected prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family ‘to justice’.

Sharif, the informal head of his PML-N and his daughter Maryam Nawaz have been sentenced to several years in jail in a corruption reference. The former premier and his party men believe they have been targeted and victimised.

 ECP speaks of security threats, anticipates high turnover

ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob Tuesday said that they were receiving threats and facing a challenge of maintaining law and order during the polls.

Speaking to reporters here, Yaqoob said the voter turnout in 2018 election would be higher than all the previous elections.

“There still are challenges relating to maintenance of law and order; we are receiving different kinds of threats, but [we] want to see tomorrow’s election to be peaceful,” he said.

The secretary said the time for polling will start from 8am and last until 6pm, adding that results could not be announced before 7pm.

He also said the computerised national identity cards (CNICs) found in Lahore were expired, however, the matter would be probed and facts brought forth.

Yaqoob further told newsmen that the election results would be compiled under the ECP’s result management system and urged returning officers (ROs) to post their respective using the ECP’s applications.

He admitted that there had been complaints that the ROs had confusion with regard to the system.

The ECP secretary, however, urged the ROs to make the system a success, saying that immediate posting of results through these apps would dispel any doubts.

 

 

Pakistan goes to vote today