Memon seeks help of media, civil society and political parties -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Memon seeks help of media, civil society and political parties

KARACHI (February 10 2008): Caretaker Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Nisar A. Memon has called upon the media, civil society and the political stakeholders to help make polling on February 18 peaceful, fair, free and transparent.

To make the polling safe and the occasion free from any internal or external threat to peace, there would be “zero tolerance” and strict enforcement of law and order ethics would be imposed without any exception. More than 80,200 law-enforcement personnel, besides heavy army contingent for support services, would be deployed to facilitate 19.43 million voters in 13,405 polling stations to cast their votes.

There are 10.8 million male and 8.5 million female voters. There will be 133,656 trained officials to conduct the election. In all, there will be 430,000 transparent ballot boxes with the Election Commission of Pakistan. Out of this, Sindh will have 96,864 ballot boxes.

To provide excess to polling activities to foreign observers and newsmen, arrangements have also been made. However, the foreigners would not be allowed to visit Katcha areas for fear of security risks. “However, if their embassies ask us for permission in writing and take the responsibility of their security, we would let them go wherever they want to”, said Memon.

In his brief remarks at the opening of a conference, “Unite for elections,” organised by the Federal Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the Sindh Information Department at a local hotel on Saturday, Memon said that the government was determined to hold elections in a peaceful and transparent manner.

He said that media should perform its functions independently and with complete responsibility. “It is not needed to be the first, but to be the correct first,” he said, and added that unchecked news reports could cause irreparable damage to the country, to people and to their property.

He said that he would like media to pursue people, who had boycotted the elections to let those who wanted to exercise their right to vote, exercise it in peaceful and fair manner.

Let there be no threat to their safety and security at the hands of those, who had decided to boycott the elections, he added. Memon said that it was democratic right of the people to express their views and to decide whether to participate in an activity or remain outside of it. “In no way, they should be permitted to interfere with the lives and the decisions of others.

“In the February 18 polling, all arrangements have been made to maintain law and order and to ensure complete peace for those who go to the polling stations,” he added. He said that similar conference would be conducted in Lahore sometime next week. The last exercise of the same kind would be held in Islamabad with President Pervez Musharraf in the chair.

Sindh Home Minister Brigadier Akhtar Zamin (Retd) said that to protect people of Sindh against acts of terrorism and to provide security to 19.43 million voters, exercising their right to vote, there would be more than 80,200 law-enforcement personnel.

Heavy contingents of army would also be available to meet additional need of security personnel, he added. Giving the break-up, he said that there would 15,000 Rangers, 53,000 policemen, 600 excise policemen, 600 forest guards, and 15,000 locally raised Razakars.

He said that the arrangement of Razakars was Sindh-specific. These men, unarmed, would only manage discipline at the polling stations. Their function was to help voters make a queue, feel safe, remain at ease, and cast vote in free and peaceful atmosphere, he added.

Zamin said that constituencies and polling stations had been categorised as sensitive, less sensitive and normal. Out of 13,405 polling stations in Sindh, 2,192 polling stations are categorised as most sensitive, 5,175 as sensitive and 6,038 as normal.

These polling stations will meet the need of 19.43 million registered voters (6,626,707 voters in Karachi, 7,383,154 Hyderabad, and 5,429,657 Sukkur). There will be 61 candidates for general seats, (National Assembly) and 130, general seats, for the Sindh Assembly. There will be 14 reserved seats from Sindh, for ladies in the National Assembly and 29 reserved seats for ladies and nine for non-Muslim in the Sindh Assembly.

Out of total 13,405 polling stations in Sindh, 3472 are located in Karachi. Out of this, 825 are classified as most sensitive, 1,848 as sensitive and 801 as normal. In Hyderabad, out of 5,082 polling stations, 816 are identified as most sensitive, 1,872 as sensitive and 2,394 as normal.

In Sukkur, out of 4,851 polling stations, 551 are classified as most sensitive, 1,457 as sensitive and 2,843 as normal. Zamin said that threat perception, pre-election, had been analysed at the Home Department. In the opinion of the Home Department, public gatherings attracted terrorist activity, he said, adding during election campaigns defamation of public figures through speeches and graffiti was another source of unlawful activity.

Polling stations were the most sensitive areas where security cover would be provided for these two among many other reasons, he added. Vital installations were another areas where criminals targeted public assets, he said, and added that there were occasions when charged atmosphere during and before electioneering had caused law and order situation. Clashes on ethnic-political lines are other possibilities that have caused loss to life and property.

Transportation of election material is a risky business and the security of this material had been difficult in the past. In the coming election, foolproof arrangement to safe and secure transportation of this material is needed.

There are people and groups, which because of personal vengeance indulge in criminal activities. Theft, robbery, snatching of cars, cells phones become rampant. Damage to private property also takes place.

Zamin said that on the polling day, transportation of polling personnel to the places of their duties and maintenance of law and order during voting hours would be needed.

Possible attempts to influence/harass polling staff, possible take-over of polling stations by the strong faction of political party were also possible. Security risks while counting votes, possibility to influence results at the time of counting, possible reaction by loosing party, clashes in the streets, blaming rigging of elections, and safe transportation of polling material from polling stations to the Election Commission of Pakistan were some other consideration that matter.

He said that there were post-election perceptions as well. This include safe return of returning officers, polling staff, attempts to stage violent protests rejecting official results, assault on elected representatives, attempt for post election rigging – influencing elected representatives to change their loyalty, and terrorist activity to sabotage the new political setup. Zamin said that in view of this analysis the provincial government had prepared itself to meet with emergency situations.

He said: “Police shall have the lead role in security during elections. The PPO, Sindh, will be the overall in-charge of the security arrangements for the election process under the guidance from the Home Department.

“Pakistan Rangers, Sindh, will act in support of the police, who shall plan the overall joint deployment in mutual consultation with Director General, Rangers, Sindh. Rangers will be deployed only on the most sensitive polling stations. Remaining strength will be on mobile duties for break-up support.

“Some Frontier Corps troops would be made available at tri border areas.

Small force of Coast Guards, stationed in Sindh, will also be made available. “In addition to all these arrangements, Pakistan Army will be deployed all over the province in aid of civil power. The strategic deployment would be such that reaction time be minimal for movement in multiple direction on call,” he said.

Zamin said that security had already been provided to “high risk political leaders” and others had been advised to limit their exposure, and limit travelling to avoid chances of terrorist attack.

He said: “Police, special branch, and Rangers have already been given specific directions as regards security of political leaderships.

“Special arrangements have been made for Asif Ali Zardari, Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim, and other central leaderships, including Mian Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif, Chuadhry Pervaiz Elahi, Shaikh Rashid Ahmed, Muhammad Ali Durrani, Amir Muqam, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Asfandyar Wali and other key leaders,” he said. Sindh Information Minister Dewan Yousuf Farooqi, in his brief remarks, extended complete support to media in the coverage of elections.

He said that media cells would be set up at the Sindh Information Department and at the Sindh Home Department to provide information to newsmen in time. He said that adequate arrangements would be made to facilitate newsmen desirous of visiting different polling station.

Sindh Election Commissioner Chaudhry Qamar Zaman gave the details of arrangement the EC has made to hold the February 18 elections. A large number of representatives from the print and electronic media participated in the conference. In between the conference, during break, the participants were divided into five groups to draw recommendations to make the election process transparent.

They also framed questions to seek clarification such as deployment of Razakars, sensitivity of Kutcha areas, percentage of voters in Katcha and arid areas of Sindh, number of polling stations in these difficult areas, arrangements for foreign observers, issuance/announcement of results by the official as wee as by the private TV channels, discrimination in matters of display of arms, and security of journalist covering polling.
Source: Business Recorder