Polling was carried out without any interruption on Sunday in bye-elections for 35 constituencies of national and provincial assemblies across the country.
Barring a clash between PTI and PML-N workers outside the Shamsabad police station in Rawalpindi and sporadic scuffles elsewhere, the day largely remained peaceful.
With results from more than 96 per cent polling stations of the 11 constituencies of National Assembly available with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz were ahead with four seats each. The PML-Q retained two seats vacated by its leaders while Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal snatched back the NA-35 Bannu seat previously won by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Consolidated, the coalition government gained six seats in the by-poll to the opposition's five. The break-up in the National Assembly is now 182 coalition seats to the opposition's 159. The by-election for the one remaining seat — Karachi's NA-247, vacated by President Arif Alvi — is to be held next Sunday (October 21).
Of the provincial constituencies contested, PML-N was leading on five constituencies of the Punjab Assembly and one of KP Assembly. Meanwhile, PTI was ahead on four provincial seats in Punjab and five seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The PPP-Parliamentarians was emerging victorious on the two provincial assembly seats on which by-elections were held in Sindh. In Balochistan, BNP was ahead on one seat while an independent candidate was leading on the other.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry was quick to claim that PTI had “once again emerged as the largest political party of the country in the by-election”.
Following unofficial confirmation of his victory from Lahore's NA-124 constituency, former premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi addressed his supporters and expressed reservations over the conduct of elections.
"I ask the chief election commissioner this: who is in charge at a polling station? I visited around 40 polling stations today where presiding officers were not in charge. Do you understand what I am saying? Answer me this," he demanded.
"Presiding officers had no authority whatsoever. This is what we call rigging. This is what we call the negation of public opinion. This is what we call disrespecting the people's mandate. These are the things that lead to a country's ruin," he declared.
According to preliminary results, Abbasi won comfortably with more than 75,000 votes, defeating PTI's Ghulam Mohiuddin who obtained around 31,000 votes.
Awami National Party leader Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, whose party was leading on 3 provincial assembly seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said there was "no reason for him to believe that today's by-elections were not transparent”.
Possible decline in votes for PTI
Although the voter turnout was understandably lower than the general election, the PTI seemed to have experienced a much larger decline in turnout than its rival parties in the key constituencies.
Based on the results received so far, some key points to be made:
NA-131 Lahore, previously won by PTI (Imran Khan) was likely to go over to the PML-N (Saad Rafique) after a close contest. This was not particularly surprising, given that Imran Khan's margin of victory on that seat in the July 25 election had been a wafer-thin 0.36pc and Rafique had always been a very strong contender.
NA-35 Bannu, previously won by PTI (also by Imran Khan), went to the MMA's Zahid Akram Durrani. This was, again, not surprising considering that the PTI's most bankable candidate had only managed a 2.84pc victory margin in the July 25 election. The winning candidate's father, Akram Khan Durrani, had polled over 106,000 votes in that contest.
In NA-124 Lahore, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi of the PML-N handed a thumping defeat to PTI's Ghulam Mohiuddin Dewan. The seat was considered a safe bet for Abbasi, considering it is a PML-N stronghold and had been vacated by Hamza Shahbaz Sharif, who won it by a massive margin of 25.24pc in the July 25 general election.
NA-60 Rawalpindi proved to be a real nail-biter. According to the most recent results, the PTI candidate, Shaikh Rashid Shafiq, was barely ahead of his rival, the PML-N's Sajjad Khan. This was surprising, considering NA-60 is the home ground of Shafiq's uncle, Shaikh Rashid. This ought to have been an easy fight for the PTI, but Shafiq's nomination had not sat well with the local PTI leadership.
Similarly, NA-56 Attock, where the PTI's Tahir Sadiq had won by a comfortable margin of 16pc of total votes cast in that constituency on July 25, swung strongly back to the PML-N this time. The PML-N's contender in both contests, Malik Sohail, clearly enjoys strong local backing, having received 99,000 votes (on July 25) and nearly 117,000 votes (on October 14) in the two contests. He also seems to have more successfully mobilised his voters compared to the PTI, as is evident from a higher vote count than the general election. This is a surprising feat, considering voter turnout is generally much lower in by-polls.
NA-69 Gujrat, as expected, went to the PML-Q's Moonis Elahi. Moonis' father, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, had swept the July 25 election for this seat with a comfortable 33.5pc margin of victory. The seat is a stronghold for the PML-Q, and it was expected that it would be retained.
Likewise, NA-243 Karachi and NA-53 Islamabad returned, as was expected, to the PTI. The PTI had won with margins of 41pc and 27.5pc in the July 25 election both constituencies, respectively. The turnout was considerably lower, however.
NA-63 Rawalpindi and NA-65 Chakwal were comfortably retained by the PTI and PML-Q, respectively. Both were expected to be tough fights, but the PTI seemed to have mobilised a healthy number of workers in Rawalpindi, and the PML-Q seemed to have benefited from the PML-N's withdrawal of its candidate from the Chakwal seat.
Fate of overseas votes to be decided later
The ECP will decide on Monday whether to include the votes cast by overseas Pakistanis through the i-voting facility in the final count.
The decision will be taken after Nadra briefs the commission on the i-voting exercise, which has been undertaken for the first time.
If approved by the ECP, the votes of expat Pakistanis will be incorporated in Form 48, the Consolidated Statement of Results of the Count, along with the postal ballots.
Out of 7,364 overseas nationals registered for i-voting, 6,233 cast their votes in today's by-polls, according to the ECP.