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Pakistan army has blatantly hijacked the process of holding the next general elections in the country
Pakistan's 13th general elections are scheduled to be held on July 25, under the direct control and supervision of Pakistan army. The army has acquired sweeping election powers plausibly to favour Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

Before general elections are held in Pakistan, the army is also being accused of pressuring ECP, politicians and media apparently to manipulate the polls against Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and in favour of army’s preferred political party none other than PTI.

Although army’s spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor has repeatedly claimed that army will have “no direct role” in election process and had also assured it to the Senate Standing Committee on Interior (July 19, 2018) but it is visible that in the name of security and helping ECP to hold free, fair and transparent elections, army has virtually taken over the role of ECP and encroached the ECP’s prominence of constitutional autonomy. Despite Maj Gen Ghafoor’s regular pronouncements of Pakistan army’s being apolitical and would support and help ECP in non-partisan manner, the Pakistan army has virtually succeeded in exploiting ECP’s quest for holding secure and safe elections brazenly.

Significantly, first time in the history of general elections in Pakistan, a senior army officer of the rank of Lieutenant General has been given the task of overseeing elections in the country from army side as well to ensure that elections are conducted as per directions of the army by the ECP. Pakistan army has also constituted a special control room ‘Elections Support Center’ (ESP) sat the army headquarters at Rawalpindi to monitor the developments during the elections and maintain liaison with ECP.

The army chief, Gen Bajwa, also inspected (July 19, 2018) the ECP and there he denied any direct role of army in the elections and claimed that army would assist ECP strictly within the” bounds of given mandate” and as per the ECP code of conduct. Earlier, he had discussed (June 27, 2018) with Corps Commanders about the provision of security to the ECP for conducting "free, fair and transparent” general elections-2018, and directed that the armed forces should perform their duties for the upcoming election "with utmost responsibility“.

Meanwhile, army’s decision to deploy unprecedented number of 375,000 troops at 85,252 polling stations has caused apprehensions amongst majority of political parties about the army’s real intentions in “assisting” the ECP in holding the elections “free and fair”. During 2013 general elections, when militancy in Pakistan was at peak only 75,000 troops were deployed at 70,185 polling stations. Also, earlier in 2008 and 2000 general elections, at 64,178 polling stations 39,000 troops and at 64,470 polling stations only 30,500 troops were deployed, respectively. Whereas during November 1997 general elections, held after Benazir Bhutto’s government was dismissed for corruption and abuse of power, 192,000 troops were deployed at 35,000 polling stations.

Pakistan army has already started imparting training to of 375,000 troops to perform elections duties. Soldiers who will be assisted by the paramilitary the Rangers in some places, would be deployed three days before the elections at 85,252 polling stations, of which 20,831 have been identified as “sensitive” or “very sensitive”. Such polling stations would also be fitted with three to four closed-circuit television cameras across the country’s polling stations.

While two soldiers each would be deployed inside and outside a "sensitive" or "very sensitive” polling station, less number of soldiers would be deployed at a normal polling booth. Soldiers deployed inside the polling stations would be responsible that no obstacles to transparent, free and fair elections is caused as well as no unauthorized or “irrelevant“ person enters the polling station. Pakistan army has also decided to avail services of National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) to prevent any untoward incidents as well as to secure polling stations.

Unprecedentedly, the ECP has also given the first class magisterial powers to armed forces officers, along with civilian officials, who have been assigned the task of securing and conducting the election on July 25. Such powers granted to army personnel, are inter alia largely to maintenance of law and order. Hence, armed forces in charge of providing security to polling stations have been given sweeping powers to try and convict anyone who will be found breaking a rule or law during the election process.

The armed forces officers, mostly army officers, who would be given the first class magisterial powers, would have powers to arrest without a warrant and can award sentence up to six month on the spot to any individual found to be impersonating someone else or he himself would be involved in any illegality. Security personnel have also been empowered to check or frisk each voter to ensure that no person could bring mobile phones or any weapon, explosive or undesirable item, which could sabotage the polling process. Security personnel involved in elections duty have also been given another extraordinary power of transmission of the election results of the July 25 from polling stations to the ECP.

Pakistan army has also undertaken the security of printing of ballot papers since June27, 2018. Army has been deployed inside printing presses of The Printing Corporation of Pakistan, located at Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore respectively as well as Karachi based National Security Printing Press, where ballot papers are being printed under the strict vigil of soldiers. Likewise army would also be responsible for the transportation of the ballot papers and other election related material before Election Day as well as transporting election material and polling staff back to Election Commission offices.

Despite denials by the Pakistan army, ISI is being accused of intimidating PML(N) leaders and forcing them to switch over their allegiance to Imran Khan’s PTI. Over 20 former members of the National Assembly belonging to PML (N) have already defected to PTI. Pakistan army is also engaged in gagging country’s print and electronic media in a blatant or brazen manner before the elections are held. Kidnapping and thrashing of some journalists by the ISI, including a lady journalist from Lahore, have been reported and Pakistan’s most respected English daily ‘DAWN’’s circulation is being denied in a number of cities, especially in army cantonment areas of Pakistan. Moreover, the prominent TV news channel of Pakistan ’Geo’ ’s transmission went off in number of cities for about two weeks and it was finally started when ‘Geo’ management compromised with army to give favoUrable and extensive political coverage to PTI , denouncing PML(N) and its leader Nawaz Sharif.

Meanwhile, some major political parties like PML(N), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)and Awami National Party(ANP) have criticized the Pakistan army for “manipulating” the elections. Secretary-General of PPP Farhatullah Babar alleged that elections have already been rigged before the same held.He further alleged that peoples mandate has been “stolen” and “seeds of controversial and manipulated power transfer sown already”.

On the other hand, ANP’s senior leader and Senator Ilyas Ahmed Bilour expressed reservations over deploying security personnel inside the polling stations and feared that it will strengthen doubts about poll rigging for bringing a certain party into the power. Likewise PML(N) has also been fearing that elections would be “rigged” and on the directions of Nawaz Sharif the party has set up a ’anti rigging cell’ in party’s secretariat in Lahore to record complaints regarding pre-poll and polling-day rigging ahead of July 25 elections and to forward such complaints to the ECP as well as to national and international media.

Since announcement of holding general elections in Pakistan on July 25 was made, the Pakistan army has flagrantly exploited the growing political instability in the country. It has virtually taken over the control of ECP and subjugated most of its constitutional powers. On political front, PML(N) leaders Nawaz Sharif has been cornered and his brother Shahbaz Sharif  has ‘fizzled’ , PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari is facing money laundering charges and the “left over” leader Imran Khan is the only “suitable” politician to whom army would like to see as the next premier of the country. Pakistan army, which has ruled the country for over three decades since 1947, is unblushingly interfering in politics and process of general elections and trying to weaken the institution of democracy by favoring Imran Khan’s and his PTI.

Undeniably, Pakistan army is going to have biggest impact on the forthcoming general elections in favour of Imran Khan, whereas majority of Pakistani voters believe that election will not held free and fair under army’s nose.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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