All preparations related to the election day have entered the final stage. Chief among these are security measures taken to avert any untoward incident, and to make the entire polling process foolproof.
Consequently, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and Lahore City Police have shortlisted the key polling stations that are more vulnerable. Whereas, ahead of the election 2013, 21,000 polling stations across the country were declared “sensitive,” this time the number has come down to 17,007.
Interestingly, the digits in Punjab remain the same, at 5,487. But the number of sensitive polling stations in Lahore city alone has gone up — to 717, of the total 3,885 stations set up inside 1,734 buildings.
Eighty per cent polling stations are the same where election related activities took place during the previous general election. As such, it should be easier for the concerned authorities to plan things. Though, any surety about the election day would still not be possible.
Each of Lahore’s National Assembly constituencies of 124, 125, and 136 has more than seven dozen sensitive polling stations earmarked. These include areas of Shadbagh, Gwalmandi, Naulakha, Misri Shah, Gujjar Pura, and Racecourse in NA-124; Data Darbar, Shafiqabad, Islampura, Lower Mall, and Mozang in NA-125; and Raiwind, Maanga Mandi, Chungi, and Sundar in NA-136.
“The Election Commission of Pakistan has classified such polling stations as ‘Sensitive’ and ‘Highly Sensitive’,” says Huda Gohar, Public Relations Officer at ECP’s Punjab chapter.
The criterion of this division is based on “area and crime rates,” she adds. “The proportion of crime in certain constituencies, profile of the contesting candidates and events in previous elections contribute vitally to preparing the list.”
According to Gohar, CCTVs will be effective in and around the said polling stations. Besides, personnel of Army and Rangers are being deployed. “They have got special directives to patrol the areas prior to and during polling.”
The Lahore Police, on the other hand, has bracketed all sensitive polling stations in one category, called “A.” This is based on the incidences of rivalry in the said constituencies, unwarranted occurrences in the previous election that include aerial firing and brawls between party workers.
Along with the 25,000 personnel of Pakistan Army and Rangers, 36,000 Police force including 16,000 volunteers would be deployed. Most of these volunteers have previously participated in the polling day activities in May 2013. This time around, however, they are going to face rigorous scrutiny. The exercise is meant to distinguish anyone who has any political affiliations with a political party or group.
The volunteers are expected to take up administrative duties only, such as keeping the lines of voters intact, looking after the facilities available at polling stations, and helping the security forces whenever required — without use of weapons.
At least six constables shall be tasked to perform their duties on each of the Category A polling station. Their strength may increase up to eight which shall include a senior subordinate.
Moreover, the city police has been equipped with an inclusive blueprint to mark the activities of the polling day safe and innocuous.
“The plan is set for the entire polling day, especially at the sensitive polling stations,” says Ammara Athar, Superintendent Police, Security, Lahore, talking to TNS. “It includes five essential phases, chiefly installation of CCTVs, digital monitoring, an emergency helpline, alternative power supply, and advanced wireless sets with the ability to make video calls.”
Athar also speaks of meticulously pre-checking the buildings in which all polling stations would be set up, before finalising a security strategy.
This is for the first time that all polling stations have been attached to the Google Maps, and these shall be monitored from the Control Room (CR) set up especially for the purpose in Qurban Lines. Latest LTA wireless sets have been purchased to make videos inside the polling stations and to connect visually with the CR as and when required.
Athar admits that in the previous elections, “load shedding and unavailability of alternative power supply caused many problems. Back then, several polling stations had to face issues at the time of counting. Most of the candidates lodged complaints of rigging also. That is why we have equipped every polling station with alternative power supply and also provided emergency lights to the staff in case of a persistent problem.”
“The interim Punjab government is working with full competence in providing necessary help to security forces’ needs, and is trying to take all necessary actions to make the atmosphere safe for the voters,” says Ahmed Waqas Riaz, provincial minister for Information and Culture.
“To this effect, sufficient funds have been provided to concerned departments. Conducting elections is a huge task, and the government together with all concerned departments is trying its best utmost to pull it off.”
The minister also says he is seeking the cooperation of the candidates and political parties in maintaining peace on the polling day.