LAHORE: The opposition PML-N and the PPP are expected to have a good contest on one of Lahore’s key constituencies, NA-133, by-poll here on Sunday (today).
The PML-N expects to bag an ‘easy win’ whereas the PPP has told the Sharifs to be ready for a ‘big upset’. As the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) is out of the contest because of a ‘technical’ issue, the field is open to the PPP to give a ‘tough time’ to the PML-N.
Interestingly, both PML-N and PPP top leaders did not hold a single public meeting in the constituency unlike their past practice in the by-polls. PML-N’s Maryam Nawaz had been active in the by-polls and would address a final rally but she chose not to visit NA-133 constituency this time round.
PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari has been camping in Lahore for the last two weeks but none of its top leaders held a public meeting in the constituency.
Public resentment makes the contest all the more unpredictable
The approach has set the tongues wagging about whether it’s kind of an ‘understanding’ between the two opposition parties not to hold a public meeting in the constituency to be addressed by its top leaders to avoid maligning each other in the absence of the PTI.
Both parties’ focus remained on corner meetings and door-to-door campaigns. The PPP, however, held a few motorcycle rallies in the constituency and appeared a bit aggressive in campaigning for its candidate Aslam Gill.
On the other hand, PML-N candidate Shaista Pervaiz Malik is in ‘Iddat’ and her son MNA Ali Pervaiz Malik spearheaded the campaign.
NA-133 has more than 370,000 registered voters. A visit to some parts of the constituency by this reporter showed that both parties had spent handsome amounts on advertisement campaigns. However, on ground not much enthusiasm of the voters was seen.
“If you ask me, I am not interested in Sunday’s polling after what Imran Khan government has done to us in the form of inflation and joblessness,” Tariq Nazir, a resident of Township, told Dawn. “We are sick of hollow slogans and empty promises of the candidates. Had the PTI candidate been contesting, I would certainly have been voting against him. Now I prefer to stay back home and will not spoil my holiday,” he said.
Saleem Ahmed, a resident of Green Town, said his area had not seen any development for a long time. “The people of my area are not interested in this by-poll because they think that whosoever gets elected, cannot do any good for the constituency since he is from the opposition party,” he said and predicted a low turnout.
The PML-N and PPP have traded allegations of buying votes. The ECP has already ordered a forensic audit of the video clips that went viral on social media in which loyalties of voters were allegedly being bought for Shaista Malik in NA-133.
“Since the PPP stands no chance in this election, it is trying its best to buy the votes,” PML-N Punjab Information Secretary Azma Bokhari alleged. She told Dawn on Saturday that despite such tactics by the PPP, Ms Malik would have an ‘easy win’. Defending the party leaders for not holding a public meeting in the constituency, Ms Bokhari said: “We have not felt the need because the PTI is out of the contest.”
She also claimed that the party had identified 11 people belonging to the PTI who were buying votes, showing themselves as the workers of the PML-N.
PPP leader Usman Malik said it was an open secret now which party was buying votes. “Seeing the aggressive campaign of the PPP, the PML-N set up centres in the constituency where it offered money to voters… and the Election Commission has taken notice of it,” he told Dawn.
Mr Malik further said the PML-N should get ready for a ‘big upset’ on Sunday as the PPP’s candidate had the support of the voters who were sick of the PTI’s anti-people policies. “Besides grabbing the support of the old PPP sympathisers, Mr Gill will secure the votes of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek of Dr Tahirul Qadri, Majlis-e-Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM) and 70,000 Christians,” he said and added the PML-N’s campaign was hardly seen because of the conflict between Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shehbaz.
For the first time in the tenure of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), only the opposition parties are contesting for any by-poll. The ECP had rejected the nomination papers of former special assistant to the prime minister on food security, Jamshed Iqbal Cheema, and his wife for NA-133 on the grounds that the “proposers and seconders for the two were not residents of the constituency as required under the election laws”.
The opposition says Mr Cheema intentionally did so knowing well about the wrath of the people in the face of inflation and price hike.
The PTI has asked its voters to abstain from voting on NA-133 by-election polling day as the party candidate committed a blunder of not meeting legal requirements.
The seat fell vacant after the death of PML-N’s Lahore president Pervaiz Malik. In the 2018 general election, Pervaiz Malik had defeated PTI Central Punjab President Ejaz Chaudhry with a margin of 12,000 votes.
Meanwhile, the ECP has imposed a fine of Rs50,000 on Aslam Gill for violating the election code of conduct.
Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2021