Govt’s warning to foreign observers, media: Code of conduct
LAHORE, Feb 16: The Punjab government has warned against any attempt to disrupt Monday’s elections, warning that foreign observers and media persons will be deported if found violating the Election Commission of Pakistan’s code of conduct.
Chief Secretary Salman Siddique and Provincial Election Commissioner Ayaz Beg gave the warning at a news conference during which Home Secretary Khusro Pervaiz Khan elaborated on security arrangements for the elections at the Civil Secretariat on Saturday.
IGP Ahmad Nasim, Additional Chief Secretary Naguibullah Malik and other senior officials of the provincial government and the election commission were also present during the briefing.
“The government will show zero tolerance to any attempt by the APDM, the contesting candidates or anyone else to disrupt elections and consider it as a criminal activity. Our core objective right now is to conduct the polling in a peaceful, fair and transparent manner,” Mr Siddique said while replying to a question.
While elaborating on the code of conduct for the foreign observers and media persons, Ayaz Beg said the former had been warned against talking to the media and the latter had been asked not to interfere in the electoral process. They were required to just observe the process and return to their countries to send their observations directly to the ECP, he made it clear.
“The government will cancel the visas and deport those found violating the code of conduct,” he reiterated.
The chief secretary said there was no plan to ban pillion riding at the moment. However, it could be considered provided the police recommended it. The government, he said, would allow all the detained persons to cast their votes as it was their basic constitutional right.
The IGP said the police were engaging only a limited number of private vehicles for the polling staff and would pay for them. “We are not impounding transport for any candidate,” he added.
According to the home secretary, the security plan had been made while keeping in mind risk of terrorism, violence by those boycotting the election and by the contesting candidates or their supporters. “There can be attacks on vital installations, grenade attacks at polling stations or indiscriminate firing and suicide bombing. The biggest threat, however, is rumours which the media should not pay heed to in order to maintain peace before, during and after the elections. The next three days are very important and any propaganda should be shunned to avert any major disturbance,” he said.
He said the people knew that the elections were being held at a time when military operation was being conducted in Swat, Balochistan and Waziristan, “and we also face terrorism threat.”
Referring to the recent spate of suicide bombings in Punjab and elsewhere in the country, he said the Punjab government had foiled 60 to 70 such attempts during the past three months, arresting 37 suicide bombers and their patrons. Eleven of them had been convicted by anti-terrorist courts, and the government had also been massively arresting proclaimed offenders and fugitives.
The home secretary praised the boycotting parties and groups for lodging their protest in a democratic way, hoping that they would continue to do so during the elections and refrain from forcing the people to boycott.
He said the police would basically be responsible for maintaining law and order during the election process all over the province with the assistance of Rangers and army.
The security plan conveyed to all field police officers and the district administration was geared towards protecting all key installations and premises, foreign observers and media persons, high-profile personalities, polling staff and stations. Special security arrangements had been made for the political leaders facing threats, giving them bulletproof screens and rostrums for their public meetings.
The police would maintain the ‘sanctity’ of the polling stations and protect the polling staff and material not only during the elections, but also during their transportation to the returning officers. In view of the sabotage threat, the home secretary said, the IGP had provided dedicated resources to all field formations, making separate teams for protecting polling stations and handling any untoward incident so as to ensure continuation of the election process even during any eventuality.
Special arrangements had been made for all flashpoints carrying the possibility of violence. He said all presiding officers had been given powers of Magistrate Class I, binding police and other government agencies to provide them all possible assistance if required by them to ensure unhindered polling.
He said separate teams of police would be alert to any hooliganism around the polling stations after the counting of votes, ensuring that the results were accepted gracefully by all.
He said the ban on carrying or brandishing weapons during the next two days would be strictly imposed.
He said 40 companies of Rangers and 48 battalions of army had been deployed in all districts in Punjab. One each brigade would be available at all the brigade headquarters to provide rapid assistance in case of any emergency. Besides assisting the police in maintaining law and order, the Rangers and army could also arrest the miscreants and hand them over to the police under Section 129 of CrPc.
He said all DCOs too had completed arrangements for the election, arranging for transport for the polling officers, and staff and police for the polling stations. They had also visited each and every polling station to provide missing facilities there, making alternative transport and staff arrangements.
He said the instructions regarding the election arrangements were given to all DCOs and the IGP on Feb 9. They were given another reminder by the chief secretary on Friday, making them realise that it was their constitutional duty to help the election commission in holding fair, free and peaceful elections.
He said all districts in Punjab had sensitive polling stations but they were more in Lahore than in any other district.
When the attention of the Punjab election commissioner was drawn towards showing of ballot boxes and papers by a PPP candidate at a news conference earlier in the day, he said the material could be stolen from the stock provided for training. “We are maintaining complete record of everything and nothing can go missing,” he said.
The chief secretary said the election commission had sent to the provincial government 250 election-related complaints by the opposition. It had already sent it reports on 156 complaints. The response to the rest of the complaints would be given by Sunday evening. By that time the government was also going to put all the related reports on its website, he said.