No direct role of armed forces in conduct of elections: DG ISPR says

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RAWALPINDI : The armed forces will only support the electoral process and have “no direct role in conduct of elections,” Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said in a press conference on Tuesday.

This will be the third election in Pakistan and it will ensure the continuation of the democratic process, the director general (DG) Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said.

DG ISPR said that the armed forces will support the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) according to the code of conduct provided by the commission itself.

He recalled that this is not the first time that the forces are being deployed in elections.

He said that 192,000 troops were deployed in 1997 elections for 25,000 polling stations as it was a full deployment. Then in 2002, the deployment was less than 35,000 troops for 64,470 polling stations “because the ECP only tasked it [the Army] with overall security”. Then, in 2008, only 39,000 troops were deployed, even though the number of polling stations was much higher (64,100) because the troops were only in charge of overall security.

He added that the 2013 elections were difficult security-wise because of the war on terror which led to many politicians receiving threats and an Awami National Party (ANP) leader being killed. 75,000 troops were deployed for security at 70,185 polling stations in the past elections, he said.

Gen Ghafoor explained that this time around, the ECP has entrusted the Army with six tasks, which include the maintenance of overall security of the country, provision of security to printing presses inKarachi, Islamabad and Lahore, and aiding transportation of the printed material.

He clarified that the Army will not take over any printing material during the entire process and 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 the polling day, troops must be stationed inside and outside the polling stations.

DG ISPR said that the Army has, with the ECP, set up an Army Election Support Centre and a cell has also been set up which is coordinating with the commission.

He said that in the 2018 elections, there are 105.95 million eligible voters who will be able to exercise their right to vote at 85,300 polling stations where 371,388 security forces officials will be deployed. Two security officials would be present inside and two outside sensitive polling stations, he said.

The troops, he said, would ensure that only polling staff and voters can enter the stations.

But considering the situation on our borders, the civil armed forces and retired personnel are also being for the purpose, he said.

“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 clarified that counting is entirely the ECP’s job, with the Army having no hand in it. 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 that helicopters and airplanes will also be used for transportation if the need arises.

“If you see any irregularity, please make a note and bring it to our notice,” he said. “Report it to the ECP and report to us. Please leave the soldiers deployed to election duty alone.”

“Go out and vote for whatever party and whatever leader you want to vote for. Let’s try to ensure that if the election turnout has been 40pc in the past, it is much higher this time around.”

Responding to some tough questions on electoral engineering and the role of establishment, Gen Ghafoor said that there had been no election in the country’s history when it was not said that rigging is taking place.

He reminded the audience of how the security situation has vastly improved in the country and the upcoming elections are much safer than they were in 2013.

He also said that people switch partied before elections every time and there is nothing new about this. He also disassociated the Army from any role in allotment of the ‘Jeep’ symbol to certain independent candidates, saying that it was the ECP which allots symbols to candidates.

“The jeep you are trying to paint as ours is not even our jeep,” he quipped.

He also said that PML-N’s candidate from Multan, who had backtracked on his statement of being pressurised by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), is being investigated by the agriculture department for around 15 years.

He also said that the Army was monitoring cyber threats, especially those coming from other countries.

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