THE recent round of by-elections have thrown up quite a few surprises. They have also generated controversy over mismanagement and suspected rigging in at least one seat for the National Assembly. The PTI government is putting up a brave face but in many ways these elections have exposed a few chinks in the PTI armour. The polls in Sindh showed that the PPP retains its hold on the province and the last two years have not diluted its support among the voters. This was evidenced not just by the PPP’s victory in both the provincial assembly victories but also the impressive margin with which the party won. Also noteworthy is the fact that the runner-up in the Malir seat PS-88 was not from PTI but the TLP.

In Punjab, however, it was a straight fight between the PML-N and PTI. The two seats, NA-75 Daska and PP-51 Wazirabad, were won by the PML-N in the 2018 elections. While the PML-N has been able to retain the provincial seat, the ECP has held back the result of the Daska seat because of alleged irregularities. The ECP has, in fact, issued a strongly worded press release that is, for all practical purposes, an indictment of the Punjab government. PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz Sharif has accused the PTI government of indulging in blatant rigging while the PTI claims it has won the contest fair and square. The ECP has taken the correct stance by stating unequivocally that at 20 polling stations they suspect results may have been tampered with. The ECP also goes on to say that this entire affair seems to be a result of weakness showed by administrative and law-enforcement institutions. The government of Punjab must take this concern by the ECP seriously because it reflects adversely on the ability of the government to provide the support that the ECP requires by law in order to organise free and fair polls. It is important for the ECP to get to the bottom of this controversy and identify those responsible so that citizens’ confidence in elections is not impacted.

The biggest blow for the PTI has come in KP, the province that it considers its fortress. The Nowshera provincial assembly seat won by the party in 2018 has now gone to the PML-N candidate. This should be a wake-up call for the PTI which has been claiming that the opposition has lost ground since the last elections. These by-elections may not provide a full picture of what the electorate is thinking but it does give a peek into the prevalent mood. This mood is not going in favour of the ruling party. The PTI may need to do some soul searching in order to figure out why there is such a gap between what it says and the reality on the ground.

Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2021

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