LAHORE: Amid low turnout, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) on Sunday sailed through the NA-133 by-election, which was hotly contested by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) while a PTI candidate was knocked out on technical ground, unofficial results show.
According to unofficial results, PML-N’s Shaista Pervaiz Malik bagged 46,811 votes while PPP’s Chaudhry Aslam Gill could secure 32,313 ballots in a race that remained largely peaceful, except a couple of minor clashes between activists of the two major rivals.
However, the voter turnout remained 18.59 per cent as out of total 440,845 voters, only 80,022 used their rights to franchise. At least 898 votes were rejected.
There were nine other contestants, independent or from little known outfits, in the competition, while the candidate of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf had already been knocked out of the contest on technical grounds. The Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which had emerged as the third largest group in the 2018 general elections, preferred to remain out of the arena in the by-polls citing its lack of preparation owing to its engagement in a long march on Islamabad though it had called off after an agreement with the government on Nov 8.
Mr Gill had pooled only 5,500 votes in the 2018 general election for the same seat that fell vacant after the demise of PML-N MNA Pervaiz Malik, who had grabbed over 90,000 votes then.
Shaista Malik, the widow of Pervaiz Malik, did not personally take part in her election campaign for being in Iddat. Her son, Ali Pervaiz Malik, also MNA from an adjacent constituency, looked after the electioneering instead.
The Election Commission had set up at least 254 polling stations out of which 34 had been declared sensitive and 21 most sensitive. To counter any eventuality, election authorities had deployed over 2,000 police personnel, besides the Punjab Rangers. The polling process continued from 8am till 5pm without any break.
By noon, hardly two per cent of the votes had been cast predicting a low turnout for the rest of the time.
In an apparent bid to revive itself in the province, the PPP invested immense political and financial capital in the by-election, in deviation of its past practice at least in the Punjab capital considered as a citadel of the rival PML-N.
President Asif Ali Zardari, despite his health issues, remained camped in Lahore for days to boost morale of party activists and help in strategizing the election campaign of Mr Gill, a die-hard jiyala from a lower middle class family. Members of the cabinet of Sindh, the province being ruled by the PPP, made a beeline to the corner meetings of the party candidate to give the message to the local workers that the party leadership was taking the by-poll very seriously.
Incumbent and former office-bearers from Punjab also joined the election campaign when and where needed. Ex-Punjab chapter president Qamar Zaman Kaira manned even a polling camp on Sunday issuing chits to voters containing their vote numbers and respective polling booths.
Keeping in view Mr Gill’s financial constraints, local affluent party leaders as well as from outside Punjab made generous donations to match the PML-N vis-à-vis electioneering.
This vigorous campaign paid off the party well as it increased manifold its votes making many to wonder if the PPP has put itself on the revival path in Punjab, particularly in Lahore.
There had been allegations and counter allegations of vote buying by the two main rivals and both had submitted ‘evidence’ in the form of video clips of the illegal activity to the election authority.
PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif later congratulated party leaders on their success in the NA-133. In a statement, he also thanked voters of the constituency for reposing their trust in the PML-N, and pledged to come up to their expectations on different fronts and issues.
Congratulating Mrs Malik, Mr Sharif said the voters returned the constituency to the Malik family.
PPP Punjab chapter president Raja Parvez Ashraf had earlier in the day expressed the hope that the party would win the seat despite low turnout. A Sindh minister, accompanying Mr Ashraf, however, noted that few women voters were coming out of their homes to use their right to franchise. Women wing leader and former MNA Samina Khalid Ghurki believed it was due to wedding season, as many women instead of coming to cast votes remained engaged in preparation for attending weddings that were mostly arranged on weekly holidays. A youth, clad in traditional groom’s dress, also used his right to franchise at a polling station in Johar Town. Mian Muddasir said his baraat was about the leave for the bride’s house when he decided to first cast his vote.
The former president later congratulated Mr Ashraf by phone for increasing PPP’s vote tally by over six-fold in the by-polls. The by-election proved to be a turning point for the party, he said, calling it rebirth of the party in Lahore that would lead to a change in Punjab.