AS Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has issued the schedule for general elections for provincial assembly of Punjab, the election campaign started on a bad note, which doesn’t augur well for smooth and peaceful conduct of the exercise. The PTI tried to hold a rally in violation of Section-144 imposed in Lahore city, sparking violence that resulted in bloody scenes with injuries to both sides as several protestors and police personnel were injured, some of them seriously. PTI also claimed that one of its workers also died of police ‘torture’ yet this was vehemently denied by provincial government including Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi.
The violence was avoidable but it seems no serious effort was made to avert it by either side. Government imposed Section-144 on the plea that a number of rallies and protests were held therein on daily basis at different places of Lahore, which not only posed serious security threats but also disrupted traffic and caused inconvenience to public at large. There was also a history of terrorist activities in the rallies and protests, wherein, a number of police officials and civilians embraced martyrdom, it noted. In this backdrop, instead of violating the ban imposed on rallies by provincial government, PTI should have contested the move in courts of law, where it gets a prompt audience. The two sides have conflicting claims about what happened and why with PTI alleging that government instigated its workers to violence to strengthen the narrative against holding elections in the province on date given by the President whereas government circles claim PTI created violent scenes to give credibility to its narrative that Imran Khan faces security threats and hence cannot appear before courts in the rising number of cases against him.
As for killing of the worker, Chief Minister has denied he was killed in police custody asserting the videos posted by Imran Khan were old and made during PTI ‘Jail Bharo Tehreek’ when deceased was arrested by the police. He has ordered an investigation and footage of safe city cameras might help resolve the controversy, which should lead to accountability of anyone found guilty of murder. The violence, however, emphasises the need for initiation of dialogue on war footings on electoral code of conduct so that entire exercise is carried out in a peaceful and secure environment. There is every justification to ban rallies as these disrupt normal life and that too at a time when there is already a slump in economic and commercial activities. We have precedents in the past when only corner meetings were allowed to help curb bitterness that is always there during electoral campaigns. The Election Commission should take a lead and invite representatives of all political parties for a meeting to deliberate on ways and means to make the campaign orderly and peaceful.