The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) won the NA-120 by-election with a fair margin. It expected to bag, at least double the votes of its closest rival, but the lead was only 14,000. In the home constituency of the Sharifs, with resources of federal, provincial and district governments at its disposal, the ruling party knows deep down that it has actually lost the seat.
The most disturbing aspect for the ruling party was that biometric machines were used in 39 polling stations out of a total of 200 and the Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI) won from 38 polling stations. It provides a complete picture of the next election. It was also a fact that Maryam Nawaz, daughter of ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, used the Chief Minister’s House to run the election campaign of her mother. She also evoked sympathies of the voters for her ailing mother. All federal and provincial ministers remained active in the constituency and even appointment letters and cheques were distributed among locals. Development projects worth billions of rupees were launched overnight.
The ruling party spent billions of rupees on its campaign. The constituency was dotted with posters of Kulsoom Nawaz. It was real shame that the state television covered all rallies of Maryam Nawaz live. It also staged talk shows to influence the public opinion in the constituency. It was clear proof of the use of national resources for personal gains but neither court nor the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) took notice. The ruling party also spent billions of rupees to conduct bogus surveys and managed their coverage in newspapers and news channels. Almost all surveys painted a no-hope scenario for the rivals of the ruling party. One survey said the ruling party would bag thrice the votes of the PTI, while others claimed the margin of win for the ruling party would be double. Only one survey said the PML-N would bag more than 15pc of votes of the PTI. The bogus surveys aimed to minimize the chances of the PTI.
According to the PML-N, it was the vindication of its stance that the masses still supported Nawaz Sharf despite his disqualification. It had based its electioneering on a smear campaign against the judiciary and the establishment. PML-N leaders said it was actually a verdict against the “forces” behind Nawaz’s ouster. Maryam Nawaz termed it a verdict of the masses against the judiciary. The ruling party also accused the establishment of abduction of its 15 activists. However, it failed to identify them and named only three, who returned home next day after the election. The ruling party had announced the formation of a joint investigation team (JIT) before the by-polls on “the missing people” but abandoned the idea after the polls. According to sources, the ruling party had staged the drama to cover up a possible defeat. It could cite the “abductions” as a reason for its defeat. However, when the ruling party won, the so-called abductees came out of hiding. They should be investigated to bring out the truth.
The result was a morale booster for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which spent little money and instead relied on a door-to-door campaign. According to party sources, they had realized that they could not compete with the ruling party in terms of resources and they decided to go door to door to seek votes, like in local bodies elections. Its candidate, Yasmin Rashid, reduced the gap to 14,000, after having lost the 2013 election to Nawaz Sharif by over 40,000 votes. A tough contest in the home constituency of the Sharifs is a victory for the PTI. Panic could be seen on the faces of ministers and anchors, who are on the payroll of the government, when the initial results came in. Yasmin Rashid remained ahead of Kulsoom Nawaz till the results of 40 polling stations were left.
According to the ruling party, the military establishment had pitted religious parties against it in NA-120. The Milli Muslim League (MML) was launched as part of a strategy to mainstream jihadist parties. It was not a conspiracy against the ruling party but an international commitment. The political front of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) bagged 5,822 votes in the by-polls. If not launched, its vote could have been divided between the PML-N and the PTI. MML’s Sheikh Yaqoob received votes despite the party being declared ineligible for the polling by the Election Commission of Pakistan, after over a month of its creation. Sheikh Azhar Hussain, the candidate of the Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah, a religious group formed against the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri, obtained 7,130 votes, the third most after the PML-N and PTI candidates. If the group had not contested the polls, its members would have voted against the PML-N, which had hanged Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin of former Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. PPP’s candidate Faisal Mir got only 1,414 votes. He has accused rival groups of buying votes, but it indicates the ruling party of Sindh has no chance of revival in the Punjab in the next election.
According to the Fair and Free Election Network (FAFEN), its observers recorded an average of four violations in every polling station, considerably higher than 2.6 violations per station observed in the NA-260 election held earlier this year. In violation of the Election Commission of Pakistan rules, political party camps were observed outside 21pc of polling stations while transport was provided by candidates within the proscribed 400 metres boundary at 33pc of the polling stations. Eleven breaches of voter secrecy were reported and 129 polling booths lacked critical materials including Form XIV (Statement of Count) and Form XV (Ballot Paper Account).
The Election Commission of Pakistan failed to include the symbol of a candidate in the ballot paper, which may result in the annulment of the result and re-polling. According to the results, a list of 44 candidates was published by the ECP but the result was announced for 43. The missing symbol of a carrom board was of an independent candidate, Farooq Raja. According to legal experts, the mistake could result in the cancellation of the election, if the candidate moved the court.
According to the ECP, fingerprints of 12pc voters could not be read by electronic machines in the by-polls. The number of voters by the next general election will reach over 100 million. If the fingerprints of 12pc voters are not readable, it means around 12 million voters would not be verified through this technology. It shows the next election will be held without biometric machines or if used, results would be disputable. The ECP should remove flaws in the system or the next election will result in more lapses than in the 2013 polls.