ISLAMABAD: The close contests in the by-election for NA-122 and PP-147 have prompted introspection in both major parties.
While the PML-N claims to have cemented its position and put a stop to the PTI’s “politics of protest”, the loss of a provincial assembly seat in the heart of Lahore -- as well as the defeat of a candidate who is related to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif -- has severely dented the myth of PML-N’s invincibility in the capital of Punjab.
The PTI too, while happy with the close contest it put up in Lahore and over the moon after stealing a provincial assembly seat from under the PML-N’s nose, is analysing its defeat in Okara.
For the ruling party, NA-122 had a lot of symbolic value and observers say it was imperative for the party to have National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq reclaim his constituency, albeit with a thin margin.
While both parties are claiming the moral high ground, in background discussions with Dawn, both parties’ leaderships confessed they were perturbed with the overall outcome.
According to the PML-N media cell, in NA-122, both parties’ candidates received nearly the same percentage of votes as were polled in the 2013 general elections.
Then, PML-N secured 51.6 per cent against PTI’s 46.8 per cent. This time around, the ruling party bagged 50.6 per cent of the polled vote against the PTI’s 48.7 per cent.
PML-N worried by defeat on provincial seat in heart of Lahore; PTI examining decision to award ticket to Ashraf Sohna
Since the percentage of votes polled for both parties remained the same, the PML-N claims this was proof that the 2013 elections were not rigged.
A senior PML-N leader even quipped, “This time, there was no Iftikhar Chaudhry, no returning officers from the judiciary, no ‘35 punctures’, no Nadra and the process was [conducted] under the full protection of the Pakistan Army.”
At the same time, PML-N leaders claimed that the party’s defeats in PP-147 and NA-144 (Okara) confirmed that the by-elections were held fairly.
“Of course, it was a narrow escape for the government, because a lead of 2,000-odd votes wasn’t something the party leadership was expecting. Moreover, the defeat of a relative of the PM on the provincial seat has left many in the party shocked,” a PML-N MNA told Dawn.
In particular, the MNA said, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had taken that defeat as a blow to his reputation. “Although some in the party have accepted that perhaps Mohsin Latif wasn’t the right candidate, the damage has been done.”
PTI chief Imran Khan gave his formal reaction to the election results on Monday. In a series of messages from his Twitter account, the PTI chief claimed moral victory and continued with his usual criticism of the government.
He congratulated PTI candidate Aleem Khan for his hard work and persistence against the “PML-N governmental machinery”. “This is a moral victory for PTI — successfully challenging PML-N with its govt power & provincial [election commission]. This election will strengthen PTI,” he tweeted.
Once again, the PTI chairman raised questions about the role of the PML-N government in engineering election results. “We are investigating the number of PTI votes thrown out of NA 122 at the last minute & will then approach the ECP. We will learn from our mistakes & counter those rigging tactics by PML-N that we were not prepared for,” he said.
However, a couple of PTI senior leaders told Dawn that Mr Khan was particularly unhappy over the result from NA-144 (Okara), where party candidate Ashraf Sohna -- who had joined the party after quitting the PPP -- had failed miserably, only managing fourth place.
“Mr Khan was expecting victory in Lahore and is satisfied with the close fight there. But in Okara, where the party’s candidate only secured around 7,000 votes, the leaders who recommended Sohna for a ticket will be called in for an explanation,” said a party office bearer.
APP adds: Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid said that results of the by-elections for NA-122 had validated the results of 2013 general elections and proved that Imran Khan’s allegations of rigging were unfounded.
Talking to reporters, he said that votes’ tally of the candidates of the PML-N and the PTI was almost the same as that of 2013.
About Okara by-polls, he said no PML-N leader had gone there to participate in the election campaign, still its candidate had secured 45,000 votes whereas the PTI candidate had obtained only 7,000 votes despite Imran Khan’s public meetings,.
He appealed to Imran Khan to shun negative attitude and start constructive politics because “as a nation we need to fight terrorism, energy crisis, unemployment, poverty and ignorance.
Published in Dawn, October 13th , 2015