‘Incumbency factor’, low turnout dent PTI in by-polls

No surprises as PML-N emerges victorious in seats vacated by PTI

RAMEEZ KHAN April 22, 2024


In a turn of events that hardly surprised anyone, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)-led coalition government emerged victorious in Sunday’s by-elections, leaving opposition parties, particularly the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), in the dust.

With sporadic incidents of violence marring the polls, the PML-N managed to reclaim even the seats vacated by PTI — a well-known trend as per political pundits, who attribute it to the advantage enjoyed by incumbents in the post-general election by-polls.

Unofficial results revealed a clean sweep for the PML-N in Punjab. Its coalition partners, the PML-Quaid-e-Azam and the Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party (IPP), also retained their respective vacated seats – PP-32, Gujrat and PP-149, Lahore.

Besides, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), another ally of the coalition government, secured victory in PP-266, Rahimyar Khan, a seat where polling was delayed during the general elections, all with staunch support from the PML-N.

Read more: PTI announces countrywide protests against ‘rigged’ by-polls

Further opening up their lead on their opposition camp, was the PML-N’s victory on PP 36 Wazirabad and the PP-93, Bhakkar, the two seats vacated by PTI leaders, Muhammad Ahmad Chattha and Amir Inayat Shahani.

The PML-N was quick to celebrate their victory, with the provincial government attributing the win to the diligent efforts of Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz. The federal government, on the other hand, credited the victory to the leadership of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, also the party president.

Despite the victory, reports suggest a noticeable decline in voter turnout, indicating a growing disillusionment among the masses with the political system. Even, the pre-vote atmosphere was surprisingly subdued, lacking the usual hustle and bustle seen before elections.

With PML-N’s campaign remained largely confined to local and targeted initiatives, the PTI, with its senior-most leadership behind bars, operated under the wing of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), merely to stay afloat in the political realm.

Also read: PML-N wins lion’s share in by-elections

However, the results hamper its ability to pose any real threat to the ruling party. Further compounding the problems for the PTI is its perception of the election and that the system was rigged in favour of the PML-N, rendering its votes inconsequential.

This time around, the PTI candidates not only suffered defeat in Punjab but also faced a troubling reality: the margin of their loss widened compared to previous elections, indicating a failure of the party or their candidates to rally their supporters.

Former caretaker Punjab chief minister and political analyst Hasan Askari stated that the incumbency factor had favoured the ruling government, noting that the outcome of these elections was no different from the previous by-elections.

However, he pointed out that a low turnout was a worrying sign, which reflected a lack of trust in the political system. He also highlighted that incidents of violence were indicative of growing frustration among the public.


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