• Almost all other parties point accusing finger at ECP
• Result brings PML-N, PTI on same page over transparency
• Bilawal asks losing parties to provide proof of wrongdoing
• Miftah, Afridi challenge poll results, file applications with RO
KARACHI: While the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) won the NA-249 by-election with a narrow margin, almost all other parties pointed an accusing finger at the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that announced the result of the low-turnout poll after a considerable delay.
The result brought the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) at the Centre on the same page as far as the transparency of the vote count process is concerned, but the former chose not to target the PPP in the same way as the latter targeted the winning party.
However, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari advised them to furnish proof of wrongdoing in the by-election or stop levelling allegations.
According to unofficial election results, PPP’s Abdul Qadir Mandokhail won the election by securing 16,150 votes. PML-N’s Miftah Ismail was the runner-up with 15,473 votes. Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan’s Mufti Nazeer Kamalvi was on third position with 11,125 votes, followed by Mustafa Kamal of the PSP (9,227), PTI’s Amjad Afridi (8,922) and Hafiz Mursaleen of the MQM-P (7,511).
Total 77,749 votes were cast and the turnout was 21.54 per cent. The number of rejected votes (731) was higher than the winning margin of 653 votes.
The PML-N and PTI candidates on Friday challenged the results and submitted applications to the returning officer (RO) for recounting, repolling as well as thumb verification of voters.
PML-N rejects result
In her immediate reaction following the announcement of the result, PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz tweeted in the wee hours of Friday that election was “stolen from PMLN by only a few hundred votes. ECP must withhold the results of one of the most disputed & controversial elections”.
Later in the day, Ms Nawaz did not directly criticise the PPP and so did her father, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. She also tweeted that the PML-N would concede the defeat only when the people reject it; otherwise, the party would fight till last the decision that came from rigging and stealing of ballot box.
She said it was not easy to target the PML-N and the tactics used to defeat the party would come in front of everyone soon. “PML-N will take back the right of the people of NA-249,” she tweeted.
In his reaction, Nawaz Sharif tweeted that his party was winning the election but then results were delayed for hours like Daska by-poll and then the PML-N was defeated with 683 votes which were lower than the number of rejected votes.
PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif thanked the people of NA-249 constituency. “We all know the odds against which @MiftahIsmail contested the election. Kudos to him and his team for a campaign that found traction with people. Hope ECP will uphold transparency,” he tweeted.
Bilawal wants rigging evidence
Although the criticism was not directly at the PPP, Mr Bhutto-Zardari responded to it at a press conference held at Bilawal House on Friday.
Rejecting the PML-N’s allegation of rigging, he said some “irresponsible statements” came out on the success of the PPP in NA-249, but the accusers should prove and show where the irregularity had taken place. “Some people described this as Daska-II, but they failed to point out where the incidents like firing, violence, disappearance of the presiding officers took place in this constituency, as happened in Daska,” he said.
The PPP chairman said former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was himself present in the returning officer’s office and witnessing the defeat. He asked his opponents to either present evidence of rigging if they have or accept their defeat and stay silent.
He said the PML-N should think as to why its votes were reduced by more than a half compared to the number of votes bagged by Shehbaz Sharif during the 2018 general elections. “Had PML-N won in NA-249, I would have called Shehbaz Sharif and congratulated him,” he added.
While the PPP is the ruling party in Sindh and it has defeated the PML-N, the people proved once again that they are not with the “selected” government, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said. “The by-election results are a sign of a new direction in Pakistan’s politics now moving towards more and stronger democracy.”
The PTI, which had won the NA-249 seat in the 2018 general elections and now stands at number fifth in the by-election, blamed the ECP for failing to hold the transparent by-election in the constituency.
Leader of the Opposition in the Sindh Assembly Haleem Adil Sheikh told a press conference that the “fake” victory was made possible by a “nexus of PPP, ECP and police”.
Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry tweeted that the PPP had held the entire system hostage just for one seat. He stressed the need for election reforms, saying: “I ask the opposition once again to think about [Prime Minister] Imran Khan’s proposal. The voting percentage indicates that the people are losing confidence on the electoral system.”
PTI minister Ali Zaidi tweeted: “It is obvious to all that the crooked PPP & the Provincial Election Commission are hand in glove in this mess! In an election held in the biggest city of Pakistan, with very low turnout, 8 hrs later every candidate is crying foul except one who was nowhere in the run! #NA249”.
Other contesting parties — TLP, PSP and MQM-P — also cast doubts over the post-polling process and refused to accept the PPP victory. They wondered how the people could vote for a party that was ruling the province for the past 13 years but failed to provide water to the entire NA-249 constituency.
TLP’s MPA Mufti Qasim Fakhri alleged that election results were changed and demanded that the ECP conduct a forensic audit of the votes.
Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2021