As the Cantonment Board elections approach, the police kick into action to avert any untoward incident
Amid warnings by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) that it would launch an agitation if the government tries to rig the cantonment board elections scheduled to be held on September 12, the Lahore Police are finalising security measures so that the polls take place peacefully.
As many as 4,126 policemen are set to perform security duties during the elections.
The PML-N smells a rat. It has already accused the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) of violating the code of conduct and undertaking a number of development projects in different parts of the Lahore Cantonment including distribution of funds, construction of roads and use of NADRA vans. The PML-N has vowed to protect what it claims to be its political citadel, Lahore, and not allow the government to engineer the polls.
The residents of cantonment areas have been eagerly waiting for the polls since 2019. The elections have been postponed, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and a fresh demarcation of wards in the cantonments.
All the major political parties, including the PTI, the PML-N, the PPP, the PML-Q, the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and the Jamiat Ulema-i- Islam (F) have fielded their candidates in two major areas of the cantonment of Lahore, known to be a stronghold of the PML-N. None of the political parties have made any seat adjustments or entered into alliances for the polls. Both the PTI and the PML-N claim to have fielded candidates for all the constituencies.
So far, as many as 164 candidates have filed nomination papers in 10 wards of the Lahore Cantonment Board and another 189 in 10 wards of Walton Cantt Board. Two seats for women are reserved for each board.
Operations DIG Capt Muhammad Suhail (retired) tells TNS that in the light of the directions given by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and considering the sensitivity of the polls, the city police have taken “extraordinary measures to ensure peaceful holding of the election.”
Replying to a query, he says, “We are fully aware that the responsibility for maintaining law and order [during the cantonment polls] lies on our shoulders. The police are fully prepared to discharge their duties as per law and in accordance with the aspirations of the citizens of Lahore.
“We have ramped up the security, and under no circumstances it [the security] will be compromised.”
He says police officers have held a number of meetings with the ECP officials as well as the concerned government departments to review the security arrangements for the elections.
Moreover, according to the DIG, “all the candidates contesting the election have been asked to follow the code of conduct issued by the ECP, in letter and spirit. No violation [of the code of conduct] will be tolerated.
“The ECP has mandated that only corner meetings are allowed. Thus, the police haven’t let any candidate hold a public meeting during the run for the election.”
The cantonment areas are divided into two major parts — Lahore Cantonment Board and Lahore Walton Cantonment Board. There are 20 wards in both the cantonment areas, each boasting 10 wards. All these [20 wards] fall in the jurisdiction of the two major divisions of the Lahore Police called Cantt Division and Model Town Division.
He says the cantonment areas are divided into two major parts — Lahore Cantonment Board and Lahore Walton Cantonment Board. There are 20 wards in both the cantonment areas, each boasting 10 wards. All these [20 wards] fall in the jurisdiction of the two major divisions of the Lahore Police called Cantt Division and Model Town Division.”
About the total number of polling stations that fall in the jurisdiction of the two cantonment boards, he says, “There are 355 polling stations. The city police have categorised these polling stations as A, B, and C.” Category A consists of 44 polling stations declared ‘very sensitive’, while Category B has 24 ‘sensitive’ polling stations. Category C has 70 polling stations that are comparatively less sensitive. “In the light of the election schedule, all types of transfers and postings have been banned in Model Town and Cantt Divisions,” he says.
“It is the duty of the police to transport the polling material, including ballot papers, to Lahore safely from Islamabad, and the minute the election is over, take the ballot boxes back [to Islamabad].”
Saad Rafique, a leader of the PML-N, alleged in a press conference that the PTI leaders were using all official resources in cantonment boards to influence the polls. He also accused the ECP of becoming a silent spectator in the game. He termed it “pre-poll rigging.”
Rafique demanded that the results of the cantonment boards elections be announced on the day of the polling, and that the polling timings be from 8am to 5pm instead of 4pm.
Taking potshots at the government, he said that plans had been readied to rig the election on the directions of Prime Minister Imran Khan, and Governor Chaudhry Sarwar had been tasked to follow the proceedings.
The president of women’s wing of Lahore Muslim League (Q), Amna Ulfat, says she is pleased at “the overwhelming response of the voters.” She says that her party has fielded 14 candidates, leaving six wards open for candidates from other parties.
“There are great admirers of the PML-Q leadership in public, especially thanks to the development works carried out during Chaudhry Parvez Elahi’s tenure as chief minister. I am hopeful that our party will come up in the cantonment polls with a thumping majority.”
PTI leader Seema Anwaar says all allegations of rigging are a farce. She claims that by the grace of God the PTI candidates will make a clean sweep in the polls.
PTI MPA, Shawana Bashir, says that being a resident of DHA she is witness to the election process which she says is free, fair and transparent.
“The opposition parties are making a mountain out of a molehill,” she adds. “In fact, their candidates are employing all sorts of methods — from money to intimidation — to win the election.”
The writer is a senior journalist and can be reached at [email protected]