ISLAMABAD: The Pakis­tan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) appeared confident of a landslide victory in the by-elections on 20 Punjab Asse­mbly seats in light of initial results on Sunday, as its senior leader Asad Umar congratulated party supporters who “rejected the decisions made behind closed doors” through their ballots.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Vice President Maryam Nawaz, on the other hand, called for introspection following the defeat of the ruling PML-N in its political heartland.

Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, the PTI secretary general urged Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to call snap elections. After the defeat in the Punjab by-elections and imminent ouster of Hamza Shehbaz as the Punjab CM on July 22, Mr Sharif would be reduced to the “prime minister of Islamabad”, he added.

On July 22, PML-Q leader Parvez Elahi will become the chief minister of Punjab, Mr Umar said, calling the election a mere formality.

Mr Umar claimed that as per the initial results, the PTI was likely to win 16 or 17 seats out of the 20 provincial assembly seats up for grabs in the by-election. The likely victory of the PTI proved that the people of Pakistan had rejected the “decisions taken behind closed doors”, he added.

Mr Umar said the PTI chairman had called a meeting of the core committee on Monday (today) where decisions will be taken regarding the future strategy.

‘Time for introspection’

As unofficial results started pouring in showing the PTI in the lead, the PML-N vice president took to Twitter and said that the “defeat should be accepted with an open heart”. “The PML-N should take the results of the by-polls with an open heart and accept the decision of the masses,” Maryam Nawaz tweeted. She added that winning and losing was part of politics; therefore, the party should now focus on its weaknesses, identify them, and then overcome them.

“God willing, everything will be fine,” she assured her supporters.

Similarly, PML-N senior leader Malik Mohammad Ahmed Khan also accepted that PTI had clinched a “landslide victory” in the hotly-contested by-polls. “I accept that PTI has won and the party wholeheartedly accepts the verdict of the public,” he said. He further added that everybody can get into the debate of how and what happened, but “apparently current circumstances show that PTI has won the elections therefore, we congratulate them and accept our defeat.”

Imran lauds supporters

Earlier in the day, PTI Chairman Imran Khan lauded his supporters for coming out to cast their vote in large numbers despite alleged harassment by the “state apparatus at the behest of the PML-N”.

“I am pleased to see our voters coming out to cast their votes in large numbers and resisting all pressures and harassment,” Mr Khan said as he posted a series of tweets about the by-polls throughout the day. “I want all those, especially our women, who have to still come out to cast their vote to do so as this is an election for Pakistan’s sovereignty and Haqeeqi Azadi (real independence),” the PTI chairman added.

In another tweet, the former prime minister, who was ousted through a no-confidence motion in April, alleged that the Punjab government was using state machinery to rig elections and harass the PTI voters.

“Today Punjab govt has brazenly violated SC orders and election rules by openly using all govt/State machinery to rig Punjab elections through illegal ballot stamping and harassing voters while arresting PTI leaders,” Mr Khan said, alleging the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had turned a blind eye to these irregularities. He urged courts to and act against the alleged rigging.

“Courts must open now and act,” his tweet read.

The PTI chief was referring to the arrest of his aide Shahbaz Gill, who was arrested in Muzaffargarh for allegedly carrying and displaying weapons on his visit to polling stations PP-272 and PP-73 during the by-elections. According to Mr Khan, his aide was arrested to instill fear. He vowed that these tactics would not work and urged “handlers of the imported government” to realise the damage they were doing to the nation.

Zaki Abbas in Islamabad also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, July 18th, 2022

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