After a long night of waiting, the PPP's Qadir Khan Mandokhail emerged victorious in the NA-249 by-election in Karachi after securing 16,156 votes, according to provisional results released early on Friday.
PML-N's Miftah Ismail came in second with 15,473 votes, followed by the candidate from the recently banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Mufti Nazeer Ahmed Kamalvi, who secured 11,125 votes, unofficial results showed.
Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) chairman Syed Mustafa Kamal was at fourth place with 9,227 votes, followed by PTI's Amjad Afridi with 8,922 votes.
NA-249, Karachi West II, was created in 2018 by amalgamating areas that previously fell in two NA constituencies (NA-239 and NA-240) during three general elections held from 2002 to 2013. The seat had fallen vacant after PTI's Faisal Vawda resigned over his dual nationality controversy and became a senator.
Reacting to the news, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari simply said: "Thank you Karachi #NA249."
Several hours later, he congratulated the party on the "historic win".
PML-N, PTI cry foul
Meanwhile, the PML-N and the PTI have rejected the results of the by-election.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that the PPP's conduct over a single seat has highlighted the need for electoral reforms. "Once again I urge the opposition to consider Prime Minister Imran Khan's suggestion. The voting percentage shows that the people are losing faith in the process."
Federal Minister for Shipping and Maritime Affairs Ali Haider Zaidi claimed it was "obvious the crooked PPP and the provincial election commission were hand in glove in this mess!"
PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz, who was active on Twitter all through the night, claimed that the election was stolen by "only a few hundred votes".
"The election commission must withhold the results of one of the most disputed & controversial elections. Even if it doesn’t, this victory will be temporary and will come back to the PML-N soon."
She also thanked the people of the constituency for "voting for Nawaz Sharif and the party and electing Miftah Ismail". "This is a very important victory for all of us," she said, adding that those who stole the people's votes will soon be held accountable.
"Congratulations @MiftahIsmail Allah has blessed you with a glorious victory & it will come to you soon," she said.
She questioned how counting of ballots could continue late into the night when voter turnout was barely 15-18 per cent. "Was it foggy here too which caused election staff to get delayed? Do they think we are fools?" she asked in a reference to the controversy surrounding the NA-75 Daska by-poll.
"In 2018, the election was stolen from the PML-N by engineering a win for the PTI which today is at a hopeless number five, its real position.
"The PPP in 2018 was a distant number six with 7,236 votes at 5.63pc of total vote cast at 39.58pc turnout. The PML-N will not allow a repeat of 2018 forgery. NO WAY," she said.
By-election held amid tense atmosphere
Though there was plenty of hype around the NA-249 by-election, there was not much enthusiasm at most polling camps as polling started in the constituency on Thursday.
According to media reports, voter turnout remained disappointingly for a host of reasons, ranging from fasting and extremely hot weather to Covid-19 pandemic.
Polling was held amid tight security under the supervision of 2,800 policemen and 1,100 Rangers personnel while shooters were also deployed around sensitive polling stations.
The polling took place peacefully as no untoward incident was reported from any area. However, at some places, tension was reported as workers of rival parties exchanged heated arguments with one another, officials said.
Witnesses said that tension and chaos was reported at polling stations 142 and 143 in Saeedabad, where workers of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan and the Pak Sarzameen Party clashed.
"The situation was very tense and contesting parties were very charged but police and other law enforcement agencies (LEAs) managed to keep the situation cool," said Karachi police chief Ghulam Nabi Memon.
He added, "We tried to implement a zero-tolerance policy especially for display or use of force."
Witnesses said that tension and chaos were reported at polling stations 142 and 143 in Saeedabad where workers of MQM-P and PSP clashed.
LEAs told to expel PTI leaders
In two separate letters, District Returning officer Syed Nadeem Haider directed law enforcement agencies to expel PTI's Firdous Shamim Naqvi and Bilal Ghaffar from the constituency till the culmination of the polling process.
"The supra member of the provincial assembly is visiting the constituency, along with workers, and creating inconvenience for voters," the letters said.
"Further, it may also be ensured that no any sitting MNAs/MPAs/senators/ministers and other public office bearers from any group or party may not be allowed to visit area falling under the territorial jurisdiction of NA-249 Karachi where the poll process is being held," they said.
In addition, PPP Central Election Cell In charge Taj Haider wrote to the chief election commissioner, claiming that around 50 voters were not being allowed to cast their ballots at the Polling Station A-1 School.
"This is a combined polling station. However, male voters are not being allowed. You are requested to kindly take notice and do the needful under the law," he said in the letter.
PTI candidate Afridi claimed that there had been 'police-gardi' in the area, regretting that the ECP was not taking notice.
Afridi said the PTI received complaints at different polling stations that their voters were being prevented from casting votes. "Police worked as representative of the PPP's candidate in the constituency," he claimed, adding that the police were allegedly harassing voters.
'PTI ahead in all polls'
As voting began on Thursday, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that all surveys had shown the PTI to be ahead of all other parties in the Karachi by-poll, adding that it would be the PTI's day.
In a statement, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif appealed to the people of the constituency to step out of their homes and exercise their "constitutional and democratic" right to vote.
He said that by exercising their right to vote, citizens could elect competent representatives that would fulfill the promises made to the people.
He assured those that cast their votes for Nawaz Sharif, Miftah Ismail or the PML-N that their basic issues would be resolved.
"I am confident that you will make the right decision, as you did in the past, and will play your part in helping to deal with the myriad of problems plaguing the country," he said. He also urged caution in light of the current coronavirus situation, and told voters to wear a face mask.