Violence and allegations of vote rigging in recent by-elections pose a serious challenge to the government when it will hold local government elections after a few months. The defeat of the ruling party on one provincial assembly seat each in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has also exposed its vulnerability, infighting and serious threats from the opposition in local government and general elections.
It is a matter of serious concern that the police failed to ensure peace during the by-polls. At least two people were killed and three others injured in an exchange of fire at a polling station in Daska’s NA-75 constituency. One of the victims was reportedly a member of the ruling PTI while the other belonged to the PML-N. A PTI polling agent was also among the injured, according to eyewitnesses and local media. Clashes between voters and the police also broke out at polling stations and police stations several times during the day, despite the presence of a large contingent of law enforcement personnel in the area. PML-N leaders and supporters accused authorities of preventing voters from casting their ballots. The PML-N also posted a video of people, who it claimed were its supporters, protesting and banging at a polling station’s gate. In another video, police officials were seen charging at people inside a polling station. On the other hand, government spokespersons accused PML-N leaders of encouraging violence to win the seat at any cost. However, it is the failure of the provincial government that it could not maintain peace during the election.
The PML-N won the PP-51 Wazirabad by-election by a fair margin, as Begum Talat Shaukat bagged 53,903 votes, while PTI’s Chaudhry Yousuf came in second with 48,484 votes. The seat had fallen vacant after PML-N MPA Shaukat Manzoor Cheema passed away on June 3, 2020. In the 2018 elections, he won the seat with 59,267 votes. The PML-N victory in the Punjab is being seen as a big achievement, which shows its vote bank has remained intact despite several setbacks to the former ruling party since the last general election. It also indicates serious challenges it poses to the ruling PTI when local elections will be held later this year. On the other hand, the ruling party can be satisfied with the fact that its vote bank has increased since the last general election, despite the reality that people are not happy with it over rising prices and bad governance.
The biggest shock to the PTI came in Nowshera, when PML-N’s Ikhtiyar Wali won the by-election by securing 21,122 votes. He was followed by PTI’s Mian Umar Kakakhel, who bagged 17,023 votes. The seat had fallen vacant after the death of former KP Minister Mian Jamsheduddin Kakakhel. Nowshera is the home city of Defence Minister Pervez Khattak and a stronghold of the ruling PTI. However, the PTI candidate moved the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) against alleged rigging. He claimed that 6,000 votes in the constituency were missing. Earlier, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak also alleged the PML-N had used “scientific methods” to rig the election. However, infighting was the main reason behind the ruling party’s defeat in the constituency. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government acted within hours of the PTI’s defeat in the by-polls and sacked Irrigation Minister Liaqat Khattak, brother of Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, for supporting the PML-N candidate in the polls. He was at odds with his elder brother and the ruling PTI over the denial of a ticket to his son. Though the loss does affect the strength of the ruling party in the provincial assembly, yet it offers fresh hopes to the opposition.
In Kurram NA-45, PTI’s Fakharuzzaman Bangash won after receiving 16,911 votes, while independent candidate Haji Syed Jamal, backed by all opposition parties, secured 15,560 votes. The seat had fallen vacant after the death of JUI-F MNA Munir Khan Orakzai. The results of NA-75, Sialkot, were withheld after the PML-N accused PTI of rigging the by-polls. The seat had fallen vacant after PML-N MNA Iftikharul Hassan Shah died of a heart attack in August 2020. He had won the seat after securing 40,042 votes in the 2018 general election.
Meanwhile, the PPP retained both its provincial assembly seats in Karachi and Sanghar by-polls. PPP’s Yousaf Baloch won in PS-88 Malir, Karachi, and Jam Shabeer Ali in PS-43, Sanghar. The Karachi by-poll was also marred by incidents of violence, while Sindh Assembly opposition leader Haleem Adil Sheikh was arrested for violating the orders of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) during the voting process. The PPP also won by-polls for the National Assembly constituency, NA-221, Tharparkar. In this way, the PPP retained its seats it had won in the last general election. The polling process was interrupted at a polling station after a fire incident. It resumed after the police and rangers controlled the situation.
The by-poll results show the PML-N has retained its vote bank in its strongholds, especially in the Punjab. The success in Punjab is really impressive and sounds alarm bells for the ruling party in local government elections. The ruling party’s spirit is still high as its candidates have obtained more votes than the general election. However, if elections are held now, it will face a big defeat because people are annoyed with it over high prices and bad governance. The ruling party still has enough time to improve its performance and win the general election in 2023. It should also reform the process to avoid the allegation of rigging in the next election.