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Lahorites give lukewarm response to by-polls as turnout remains low

Updated October 15, 2018

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A woman casts her ballot during the by-election in Lahore on October 14. ─ AFP
A woman casts her ballot during the by-election in Lahore on October 14. ─ AFP

LAHORE: Unlike the general election on July 25, Sajida Bibi, 59, did not have to stand in a queue to cast her vote in NA-131 by-poll on Sunday, thanks to the low turnout in the constituency.

“In the July 25 election, my turn to cast the vote had come after a wait of about two hours in a long queue. But this time it took me only 10 minutes to exercise my right to franchise,” she told Dawn at the polling station set up at Al-Munir High School, Cavalry Ground.

The polling turnout was even lower in the morning hours in all four constituencies of Lahore – NA-124, NA-131, PP-164 and PP-165.

Abdur Rehman, the presiding officer at the Cavalry polling station (NA-131), told Dawn that of total 1,535 votes only 10pc (155) votes were cast.

“The polling improved in afternoon as till 3:30pm 360 votes (23pc) were cast. The polling was smooth as not a single complaint regarding voters’ lists was received,” Mr Rehman said.

A similar situation was witnessed in a number of other polling stations Dawn visited. A usual election hustle and bustle was missing outside the polling stations in the early hours of the day. However, the polling started picking up during the last couple of hours as the candidates pushed their workers to bring the voters out of their houses. Political workers were seen transporting the voters to the polling stations during the last hours of the polling. Queues were also witnessed at some polling stations in NA-131 and NA-124 during the last couple of hours.

Unlike the general election, polling agents of the PML-N and PTI were present at most of the polling booths as the main competition was between these two parties. Malik Safeer, a PML-N polling agent in Walton, said that since polls were held only on four seats in the city, the leadership had doubled the teams at the polling stations compared to the July 25 election. Both PML-N’s Safeer and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s polling agent, Muhammad Abid, termed the polling smooth.

“Unlike the general polls, we have not received any complaints from the voters regarding missing names in the voters lists. The voters were happy to see no queues. Once they got a slip of their vote from the PTI or PML-N camp, they went inside the polling booth and cast their vote in maximum 15 minutes,” Abid said.

A good number of voters were asked to comment whether they voted for the same party in the by-poll which they supported in the general election, most of them said their loyalty remained unchanged. However, a few of them were ‘swing voters’ and the reason they offered was ‘shattering of their expectations’ they had with the ruling party.

Khalida Bibi, 65, had voted for the PTI candidate (Imran Khan) in July 25 election hoping to see the ‘change’ the party had promised after coming to power.

“In the election three months back, I had voted for Imran Khan believing his words regarding the change. But the change has come only in the form of more inflation and price hike. Therefore, I decided not to vote for the PTI candidate in the by-poll,” Khalida said, expressing her anguish.

Elderly Parveen Bibi was of the view that she had voted for the PTI candidate both in general and by-poll in NA-124 as she still believed that this party would deliver at the end of the day.

There was no uniformed policy of the security personnel for the media persons at the polling stations in the four constituencies. At some stations, the security officials allowed the journalists to visit the polling stations while at others, they stopped the media persons.

Tauqeer Ahmed, a PML-N polling agent, was of the view that the security personnel’s attitude in the by-polls was ‘polite’ compared to the general elections.

In the four constituencies of Lahore, according to unofficial results at the time of filing of this report, the PML-N’s candidate on NA-124, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, won with a margin of some 35,000 votes, defeating the PTI’s Dewan Ghulam Mohiuddin. On NA-131, the PML-N’s Khwaja Saad Rafique was leading against the PTI’s Humayun Akhtar. On PP-165, the PML-N’s Malik Saiful Malook Khokhar won securing over 28,000 votes, defeating the PTI’s Mansha Sindhu (over 23,000) votes. On PP-165, PML-N’s Sohail Shaukat Butt was leading against the PTI’s Yousuf Ali.

Like Lahore, the voters turnout in NA-69, Gujrat, was also very low when compared to the general election. Chaudhry Moonis Elahi was in the run against former MPA Imran Zafar of the PML N, Raja Salamat of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan and Afzal Gondal, a disgruntled PTI leader who contested as an independent candidate.

Though the voters showed least interest in the by polls, the PML-Q supporters seemed active on most of the polling stations outside most of the polling stations. Similar enthusiasm was not witnessed from the PML-N side.

The polling was held in a peaceful manner as no incident of clash between the supporters of the candidates was reported from any part of the constituency.

(Waseem Ashraf Butt contributed from Gujrat)

Published in Dawn, October 15th, 2018