The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was dealt a major blow after opposition Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) emerged victorious in the much-hyped NA-75 Daska by-election with a huge margin of over 19,000 votes on Saturday.
As per the unconfirmed and unofficial results of all 360 polling stations, PML-N candidate Nosheen Iftikhar bagged 111,220 votes against PTI’s Ali Asjad Malhi, who managed to secure 92,019 votes.
Polling began at 8am and continued uninterrupted till 5pm in the constituency. After 5pm, only those voters who were inside the polling stations were allowed to cast their votes.
By-elections are usually considered a cakewalk for the sitting government, but the results in NA-75 are humiliating for the ruling party as, according to the unofficial results, its candidate was defeated with a margin of 19,201 votes. Even the announcement of a development package of Rs500 million for the constituency couldn’t change voters’ mood and save it from being pummeled.
Daska by-polls gained significant right from the attempt to gerrymandering the election results to the vanishing of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) staff and from legal fight to re-polling under strict supervision.
The Saturday contest may not be significant in terms of changing the number game in the National Assembly, but it surely was a major test for the commission whose writ was challenged during the previous round which was marred by law and order situation and controversies.
The results have cleared the fog, which played a major role during the vote count on February 19 when two people were killed and several others were injured in clashes, which the PTI and the PML-N had blamed on each other.
Political experts said that the government has maintained the Chor, Daku, corruption and NRO – a deal – narrative but it is not selling anymore as the opposition parties were able to mold the public opinion amid rising political temperature.
Soon after the announcement, PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz took to Twitter to celebrate the election victory, saying the people of Daska have won the war of “restoring the sanctity of vote”.
“Well done Daska! congratulations to the zealous and brave people of Daska! Well done! You have won the "respect the vote" battle once again today,” she wrote in Urdu on her official handle.
شاباش ڈسکہ! شاباش ڈسکہ کے غیور اور بہادر عوام! شاباش نوشین! تم نے آج ایک بار پھر "ووٹ کو عزت دو" کی جنگ جیتی۔ ساری دنیا پر واضح کر دیا کہ کس طرح 19 فروری کو کٹھ پتلی وزیراعظم کی نگرانی میں ووٹ کی عزت پر ڈاکہ ڈالنے کی کوشش کی گئی۔ pic.twitter.com/nKu7gUDhzS— Maryam Nawaz Sharif (@MaryamNSharif) April 10, 2021
She said the victory exposed the rigging tactics of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government.
In a series of tweets, Maryam said no one can save the incumbent government from people “who are suffering from poverty, inflation and unemployment”. “Fear your fate!,” she warned the incumbent rulers.
The PML-N stalwart said whenever the free and fair elections are held her party will always secure victory and added that her father and party supremo Nawaz Sharif “is the name of an ideology which has taken roots in the hearts of the people”.
“The days of this fake government are numbered and the day is not far when the people will rule in this country, not the fake ones,” she added.
جہاں جہاں ووٹ پڑے گا الحمدللہ وہاں نوازشریف جیتے گا، شیر دھاڑے گا انشاءاللہ اب مستقبل آپکا ہے,عوام نے فیصلہ کرلیا ہے کہ اب ووٹ چوروں کا ڈٹ کر مقابلہ کریں گے۔سرکاری وسائل کے بے دریغ استعمال اور منفی ہتھکنڈوں کے باوجود جیت ووٹ کی ہوئی,جیت عوام کی ہوئی۔— Maryam Nawaz Sharif (@MaryamNSharif) April 10, 2021
Senior PML-N leader and Opposition Leader in Punjab Assembly Hamza Shehbaz said in a tweet that people have announced the verdict through their vote today that “PML-N is their real representative”.
“It is now imperative to get rid of unemployment, inflation and economic destruction. Well done Noshin Bibi.”
الحمدلاللہ! ڈسکہ ضمنی اليکشن کا نتيجہ صرف شير کی جيت نہيں بلکہ عوام کی جيت ہے۔ عوام نے اپنے ووٹ سے فيصلہ سُنا ديا کہ پاکستان مسلم ليگ ن ہی انکی اصلی ترجمان ہے۔ بيروزگاری، مہنگائ، معاشی تباہی سے چھٹکارا پانا اب لازم ہے۔ شاباش نوشين بی بی۔ @SyedaNosheenPK— Hamza Shahbaz Sharif (@HamzaSS) April 10, 2021
Read more: All set for Daska re-vote today
On the other hand, even before the unofficial results were announced, the PTI leadership was seen downplaying the contest, expressing that it would accept the results whatever they may be. Some had asked people to watch the cricket match between Pakistan and South Africa while many others preferred to remain silent.
Meanwhile, Punjab government spokesperson Fridous Ashiq Awan said that in line with ECP’s directions, the provincial government took all-out steps to ensure free and fair elections. However, she said in a press conference, many irregularities were witnessed during the polling. “Goons of PML-N tried to sabotage the law and order in the area,” she alleged.
The spokesperson said the ruling PTI did not contest election against a political worker but “land grabbers and drug peddlers”. “PML-N believes in rigging and they don’t have nerves to accept their defeat.”
According to ECP, a total of 494,003 voters, including 273,006 male and 220,997 female voters were registered for the election. Out of the total 360, 106 polling stations were set up for men, 106 for women and 148 joint polling stations.
Keeping the previous polling day in view, ECP made all necessary administrative and electoral preparations for holding peaceful, free, and transparent elections. So much so, the Chief Election Commissioner of Pakistan had earlier left for Lahore to monitor the by-election from the Provincial Election Commission Office.
Out of the 360 polling stations that were set up in the constituency, total 47 were declared highly sensitive. To keep the law and order situation under control, more than 4,000 policemen were deployed at the polling stations while Rangers were on standby to deal with any untoward incidents.
The seat had fallen vacant after the death of PML-N MNA Syed Iftikharul Hassan in August 2020. Covid-19 pandemic caused a delay for six months. Later on February 19, the ECP had withheld the results due to violence, rigging and the disappearance of presiding officers and ordered a re-election in the entire constituency. The order was upheld by the Supreme Court.
During the day, the ECP issued a show-cause notice to PML-N MPA Zeeshan Rafique for violating the election code of conduct.
The district election commissioner has also sought an explanation from the MPA within a day.
On the other hand, the district monitoring officer of NA-75 Daska issued show-cause notices to PML-Q leader Chaudhry Saleem Bariar and special assistant to Punjab CM Firdous Ashiq Awan for violating the code of conduct.
PML-Q leader Bariar on April 9 announced a development package of Rs500 million for the constituency and Awan had announced the package for the constituency during a press conference.
"The announcement of development packages for the constituency is a violation of the code of conduct," the election commission said. The district monitoring officer sought a reply from both within two days.
The constituency’s returning officer has also replied to the PML-N candidate, who a day earlier had submitted an application to the chief election commissioner, alleging that certain presiding officers had been tasked by her opponents with casting bogus votes in around 100 polling stations.
The RO said that special instructions have been issued to the presiding officers to be fair and responsible in discharging their duties and that the election commission’s monitoring teams are closely monitoring all election factors.
Moreover, in order to ensure fair re-election in NA-75, the provincial election commission had assigned Pakistan Rangers the task of safe transportation of presiding officers and the polling material to the polling stations and then to the office of the returning officer.
To make the conduct of the re-poll transparent, closed-circuit TV cameras were installed at 47 highly-sensitive polling stations, out of a total of 360.
Such strict measures come in the wake of Feb 19 Daska by-polls where different incidents of alleged vote tampering, rigging and clashes were reported. The ruling party and the opposition were at odds as the former was claiming victory whereas the latter alleged massive rigging in the constituency.
Despite many differences, the Pakistan Peoples Party assured the PML-N of its support for Iftikhar, as part of its joint efforts to upset the government.
“The PPP will live up to its promise of supporting the candidate in the by-polls, just as it backed them in February. Despite differences in the PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement), we will stand by our promise,” PPP Central Punjab President Qamar Zaman Kaira was quoted as saying in a statement.
According to the political background of the NA-75, the families of PTI and PML-N candidates have been elected for the last two decades. But the PML-N candidate has a strong presence in this regard.
Syed Murtaza Amin, the husband of Nosheen Iftikhar, has been elected to the NA from here four times. It is pertinent to mention that he could not participate in the elections because of his degree. In the last three general elections, this seat has been held by the PML-N.
(With input from News Desk)