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KARACHI, Aug 18: It is yet another tough contest for Pakistan Peoples Party to get the most in the by-elections on seven general seats in Sindh scheduled this week for which the provincial election authorities have already made a request to depute troops to ensure fair and transparent elections, it emerged on Sunday.

The Election Commission of Pakistan has set Aug 22 to conduct by-elections on 42 general seats comprising 26 provincial and 16 national assembly seats. Out of them, by-elections are being held on three national assembly (NA) and four provincial assembly (PS) seats in Sindh.

Three seats — one NA and two PS — fall in Karachi, while the rest of two NA and as many PS seats are in Sanghar, Thatta, Shikarpur and Mirpurkhas districts.

The provincial election commission said they had handed over all the material but ballot papers to the respective returning officers of the seven constituencies. The ballot papers would be handed over by magistrates and judicial magistrates along with election commission

officials to the respective returning officers before 4pm on Monday, said election commissioner Mohammad Tariq Qadri.

“We have declared all the polling stations in Karachi’s three constituencies sensitive so were a number of polling stations in the other four constituencies,” said Mr Qadri. He said he had already requested to the competent authorities for deputation of armed forces in and outside the polling stations.

“We did it in some previous by-elections and want to repeat the same as this ensures the whole process fair and transparent,” he added.

For many political observers, the PPP has a tough contest ahead as the party hopes to win at least three out of four constituencies outside Karachi. But political fragmentation within the party and strong opposition — almost everywhere — shows it is going to be highly laborious job.

Sanghar & Thatta The party has a silver lining in Sanghar’s NA-235 where its candidate Shazia Marri had previously offered a stunning contest in the May 11 general elections. Historically, the PML-F had won this seat comfortably against previous PPP contestants by large margins. However, the previous gap of some 35,000 votes reduced to 12,000 votes in the May 11 elections.

What was more astonishing was the fact that Ms Marri contested against Pir Pagaro’s younger brother, Pir Sadruddin Shah, unlike the past when the PML-F would field its little known candidates to fetch the victory. The seat fell vacant when Mr Rashdi opted to retain his Khairpur seat, NA-216. Ms Marri is again contesting against PML-F’s Khuda Bakhsh Dars. Reports suggested the people of Khipro shut their town when Pir Pagaro announced Mr Dars as his nominee. Local population are unsatisfied with Mr Dars’ performance as taluka nazim of Khipro in the past. Observers foresee a tough contest on this seat on Aug 22.

Similarly, PPP’s decision to nominate an elderly apolitical woman to contest on NA-237 of Thatta district is largely unpopular in the constituency where the party had fluctuating fortunes in the past.

PPP candidate Sadiq Memon had been conditionally allowed by a court to contest in general elections until his petition relating to his dual citizenship decided his fate. He won the election by a slim margin of some 2,700 votes against Riaz Hussain Sheerazi of then the independent Sheerazi group.

The court did not allow his petition, thus his election was declared void and the seat was declared vacant.

The PPP leadership has nominated Mr Memon’s mother, Shamsunnisa Memon, whom the local party cadres call a person unknown and unheard of in politics and call her nomination tantamount to woo a strong Memon vote. Her opponent is again Riaz Sheerazi, who is now a PML-N candidate. With additional support from Jam Gohram, who had secured more than 20,000 votes on a PS seat previously as a PML-N candidate, the observers say the contest is going to be a cliff-hanger.

Sindh Assembly seats The PPP has nominated Abid Hussain Bhayyo on Shikarpur’s PS-12 against PML-N’s Amir Hussain Jatoi.

The seat had been won by a slim margin by PPP’s Babar Bhayyo, Abid’s brother, but he had been disqualified for showing a fake degree to the election commission. Babar Jatoi reiterated with a similar claim against Abid Jatoi before the by-election and got him disqualified as well. As a result, Mr Jatoi fielded his son, Amir Hussain.

Local observers said the PPP candidate also enjoyed support from the JUI-F and had slight edge on his PML-N rival.

In Mirpurkhas, the PPP and the MQM are contesting against each other as they did historically on PS-64. The MQM had always won the seat with not-so-comfortable margin since 1988 elections.

MQM’s Zafar Ahmed Kamali, a medic and a former district naib nazim, is contesting against PPP’s Saeed Qureshi, a local businessman and a new entrant to mainstream politics.

The seat fell vacant after the death of an independent candidate ahead of May 11 elections. PPP’s local cadres are not happy with the nomination of a new entrant and their distress was so evident that it forced President Asif Zardari’s sister Faryal Talpur, an MNA, to come to Mirpurkhas to woo the distraught cadre.

On the three Karachi seats, the MQM has a visible edge as the party history suggests.

MQM candidates on NA-254 have been winning by large margins in the past. Its candidate Dr Ayub Shaikh defeated his PPP rival Sohail Abrar with a whopping 128,000 votes in 2008 elections. Observers see a comfortable win for MQM candidate Mohammad Ali Rashid.

The party has relied on its old guards again to defend its strongholds on PS-95 and PS-103. The former remained vacant when a candidate was murdered before the general elections. PS-103 fell vacant after the murder of MQM’s Sajid Qureshi who had won the seat.

Mohammad Hussain, who returned to the provincial assembly five times on MQM ticket in the past since 1992, will contest on PS-95 after skipping 2008 elections. Rauf Siddiqui, a former provincial minister, will contest on PS-103. Mr Siddiqui lost to Irfanullah Marwat on PS-114 by a painstakingly narrow margin previously.