Army to electorate: ‘Vote without fear’
Military reassures ECP of full support during elections; 371,388 troops will be deployed at 85,307 polling stations
The media wing of Pakistan army on Tuesday announced that it has nothing to do with any political party and it will deploy 371,388 personnel to secure the general elections on July 25.
The Director-General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Maj-Gen Asif Ghafoor while speaking at a press conference in Rawalpindi said that the military will only provide support to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for conducting fair and free elections according to the code of conduct set by the commission.
He said the troops would provide security at 85,000 polling stations and carry out other elections-related duties. As many as 134,894 of the troops have been called up from retirement since serving members could not have been spared in such huge numbers, Ghafoor said.
He said that in the July 25 elections, 105.95 million voters will be able to exercise their right to vote at 85,307 polling stations set up in 48,500 buildings.
Ghafoor told reporters the military would not be directly involved in the voting and insisted it neither backed nor opposed any political party or politician.
“People should vote for the candidate of their choice, without any fear,” he added. “Our loyalty is only with Pakistan.”
Ghafoor’s also dismissed allegations raised on Tuesday by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who accused the military spy agency of pressuring one of his party’s candidates from Multan to change political loyalties.
In response to questions about people switching loyalties, he recalled that candidates switch parties before every election and that “there is nothing new about this.”
He also disassociated the army from any role in the allotment of the ‘Jeep’ symbol to certain independent candidates, saying that it was the ECP which allots symbols to candidates.
Responding to questions on electoral engineering and the alleged role of the so-called establishment in subverting the democratic order, Maj-Gen Ghafoor noted that there had been no election in the country’s history when political parties did not allege that some form of rigging had taken place.
Gen Ghafoor explained that this time around, the ECP has entrusted the Army with six tasks:
1. Maintenance of overall security in the country.
2. Provision of security to printing presses.
3. Transportation of the material before Election Day.
4. Transportation of material from RO’s office to polling stations as well as security of polling staff on polling day.
5. Deployments on polling day inside and outside polling stations.
6. Securely transporting election material and polling staff back to the Election Commission’s offices.
He clarified that the army will not take over any printing material during the entire process and that the ECP will have its officers present at all times, who the soldiers will only provide security to.
“The counting of ballots is the ECP’s job,” he added.
He said that on polling day, troops will be stationed both inside and outside the polling stations. Two security officials will be present inside and two outside 20,831 sensitive polling stations, he said, while the deployment will be slightly lesser at regular polling stations.
The troops have been directed, if they see anything happening against the ECP code of conduct, inside a polling booth, they should alert their officer in charge of the Pakistan Army who has the powers of First Class Magistrate and can halt the polling process until the violation is rectified.
The ISPR DG said that the army has, with the ECP, set up an Army Election Support Centre which will ensure coordination with the commission.
The troops, he said, will ensure that only polling staff, polling agents, voters and other authorised people can enter the stations.
“We have to help the ECP in a non-political, non-partisan manner,” Gen Ghafoor said.
He said no unauthorised person would be allowed at the printing presses until the printing of election material is completed by July 21.
He also said that the troops would accompany ECP officials during the transportation process only to protect material from reaching any unauthorised person.
He added that the ECP will have complete support of the armed forces and helicopters and airplanes will also be used for transportation if the need arises.
He also reminded the audience of how the security situation has vastly improved in the country and promised the upcoming elections would be much safer for candidates than they were in 2013.
To another question, Gen Ghafoor also assured that the army was monitoring cyber threats, especially those coming from other countries.