Lahore: Voting began on Sunday amid tight security arrangements for the by-elections to 20 assembly seats in Punjab, which will decide who will be the next chief minister of the state.
Voting started at 8 am and will go on non-stop till 5 pm.
A tough fight is expected in all the 20 seats between the candidates of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
These seats were vacant due to the rebellion in PTI. In Punjab, the ruling party PML-N needs to win at least 10 of the 20 seats to remain in power, while the PTI needs to win at least 13 to regain its lost crown in Punjab. .
Hamza Shahbaz Sharif became the chief minister after PTI voted against the party line in 25 MPAs, 20 directly elected and five reserved seats. The hallmark of the by-elections is the presence of several political stalwarts, including seven former provincials. Ministers are contesting elections. These include Ajmal Cheema, Nauman Langriyal, Faisal Jabona, Malik Asad Khokhar, Malik Asif Bha, Haroon Sultan Bukhari and Sayeed Akbar Niwani.
Current MNA Syed Zain Qureshi, former MNA Saifuddin Khosa, Malik Zaheer Abbas Khokhar are contesting bypolls either on PML-N and PTI or as independent candidates. Four of the 20 seats are in the center of Pakistan and the provincial capital Lahore, due to which the importance of the elections has increased manifold.
The most talked about contest is being held in Multan PP-217, where PML-N’s Sheikh Salman Naeem is contesting against Syed Zain Qureshi, son of former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. In the same seat, Shah Mehmood Qureshi was defeated in the 2018 general election by Sheikh Salman Naeem, who won the seat as an independent candidate. Sheikh Salman Naeem is also known as the likes of Jahangir Khan Tareen and his victory in 2018 prevented Qureshi from becoming the Chief Minister of Punjab. Now Shah Mehmood’s son Makhdoom Syed Zain Qureshi, who is also the present MNA, is contesting from this seat to avenge his father’s defeat.
PP-272 In Muzaffargarh, two people of the same family are contesting against each other. Former provincial minister Haroon Sultan Bukhari is contesting as an independent candidate against the wife of his real brother Syed Basit Sultan Bukhari. Haroon, a three-time winner of the seat, also lost to his mother in the 2018 election from the same constituency when she was a PTI candidate. After voting for Hamza in the CM election, the incumbent MPA faced disqualification and on the vacant seat, his son Basit Sultan has now fielded his wife and is contesting against Syed Haroon.
The third major contest is being held in Dera Ghazi Khan’s PP-288 constituency, where PTI has fielded Sardar Saifuddin Khosa, son of former Punjab governor Sardar Zulfikar Ali Khosa and brother of former Punjab chief minister Sardar Dost Muhammad Khosa. The PML-N has fielded Abdul Qadir Khan Khosa from the seat, which fell vacant after MPA Mohsin Atta Khosa voted for Hamza Shahbaz.
Jahangir Khan, who was once close to Imran Khan, has also drawn attention in the elections held in two seats of Lodhraan in Tarin district. Pir Amir Iqbal Shah, former MPA from 2002 and 2008, is now the PTI candidate from PP-224, where former prison minister Punjab Jawar Wadaich was fielded as a PML-N candidate when he left the Nawaz League. And voted for Hamza Shahbaz. Amir Iqbal Shah’s father Pir Iqbal Shah defeated Ali Tareen in a by-election held in early 2018 after Jahangir Khan Tareen was disqualified. In 2015, Jahangir Tarin himself was elected by winning the by-election and this time his party is once again in the by-election.
Another Lodharan seat on PP-228 is Izzat Javed Khan of PTI contesting against former PTI MP Nazir Ahmed Khan Baloch, who voted for Hamza and was disqualified. His father Ahmed Khan Baloch has also worked as an MPA.
A very tight contest is taking place in Bhakar where former provincial minister Sayeed Akbar Niwani is contesting as a PML-N candidate after Hamza was disqualified to vote. He has been challenged by two former MPs Najibullah Khan Niazi and Irfanullah Khan Niazi, brother of Inamullah Khan Niazi. Both Najibullah and Inamullah have previously won the seat thrice in the by-elections in 1997, 2013 and 2014. The Niazis had defeated the residents in the past and this time again a very tough fight is expected.
In PP-170, Amin Zulqarnain, Imran’s once blue-eyed boy and brother of Chaudhry, is the PML-N candidate this time. He voted for Hamza and faced disqualification. Imran has fielded his veteran and former MNA Malik Zaheer Abbas Khokhar from this seat. Zaheer has served as an MNA since 2002 and this is the seat which PTI believes she will win by a good margin.
Also, in PP-83 Khushb, Shahbaz Sharif’s former provincial minister Asif Bha has challenged PML-N ticket holder Amir Haider Sangh. Amir is the brother of Ghulam Rasool Sangh, a former PTI MP from this seat, who had joined the PML-N. PTI has taken Malik Hasan Aslam, brother of current MNA Umar Aslam. A very tough competition is expected here.
Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan has also fielded candidates from almost every constituency and there is a possibility of uproar over TLP in Bahawalnagar too.
By-elections are to be held in PP-7, PP-83, PP-90, PP-97, PP-125, PP-127, PP-140, PP-158, PP-167, PP-168. PP-170, PP-202, PP-217, PP-224, PP-228, PP-237, PP-272, PP-273, PP-282 and PP-288 constituencies.
Analysts said the polls will reflect on the popularity and narrative of both the parties, PML-N and PTI.
Meanwhile, the process of delivery of voting material has started. The material has been handed over to the presiding officers of the cities where the by-elections are to be held.
Today 45 lakh voters will exercise their franchise
According to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) report, more than 45 lakh [4,596,873] Voters will exercise their franchise. ECP data showed that 175 candidates are contesting in 20 constituencies where 3,140 polling stations have been set up. Also, a total of 1,471 polling stations have been set up in all the 20 constituencies. All polling stations in Lahore have been declared sensitive, 122 polling stations in all constituencies have been declared as most sensitive. According to official sources, a control room was set up at the ECP Punjab office in Lahore to monitor the voting process.
Rangers will be deployed at polling stations in Lahore, Multan and Bhakar, while Pakistan Army personnel will also be deployed at sensitive polling stations. The ECP has issued instructions to law-enforcement agencies to enforce the code of conduct.
Installs the ECP Control Panel
The ECP said in a statement that it has also set up special control rooms at the central and provincial levels for monitoring, which will “promptly resolve” election-related complaints.
Along with this, the Punjab government had also closed the bridge connecting the state with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa before the by-election, citing security reasons.
DPO Bhakar said the bridge was closed for any kind of traffic at Dajal checkpost due to security reasons and will remain closed till the end of polling on Sunday. On the other hand, the decision to block the bridge affected the flow of traffic in the area.
Meanwhile, the army’s media wing on Saturday said that Pakistan Army personnel will perform only “quick reaction force” duties in case any law and order situation arises during Sunday’s (today) polling.
The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement that the troops carried out reconnaissance at the most sensitive locations in the areas concerned as third level responders for any law and order situation in the province.
The ISPR said the reconnaissance was carried out in accordance with the instructions of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
In the light of political tensions ahead of the by-election, the government has also decided to deploy Frontier Constabulary (FC) in addition to Rangers personnel.
The government has also decided to ban the movement of armed workers of any political party in the constituencies where by-elections are being held.
Home Minister Rana Sanaullah warned PTI President Imran Khan against disrupting the peaceful proceedings of the bypolls by inciting riots or violence. “If anyone tries to break the authority of the state by indulging in illegal activities then law will take its own course,” the minister said in a tweet.