There are 11 seats up for grabs and 101 contenders.

The stage is set for the much-delayed by-elections on eight National Assembly (NA) seats including seven abandoned by the PTI this April and three Punjab Assembly seats. Battlegrounds have been set in three provinces — Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — and 4.472 million voters are eligible to elect their representatives.

How many of them actually turn up to vote in the contest — that is being seen as a vote on who holds more political sway from among the two big contenders — the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), notably the PML-N, and Imran Khan-led PTI — is yet to be seen.

What makes the contest more interesting is that Imran is the PTI's sole candidate running for seven of the eight NA seats, an unprecedented move in the country's political history.

Will he manage to secure victory against the ruling coalition a la the July 17 Punjab by-polls? Or will his rivals prevail?

Amid this anticipation and already rising political temperatures further heating up, here's an overview of today's races.

Battlegrounds

The NA constituents where by-elections are to be held today are NA-22 Mardan-III, NA-24 Charsadda-II, NA-31 Pesha­war-V, NA-108 Faisalabad-VIII, NA-118 Nankana Sahib-II, NA-157 Multan-IV, NA-237 Malir-II, NA-239 Korangi Karachi-I.

In Punjab, by-polls are also being held on three provincial assembly seats, PP-241 Bahawal­nagar-V, PP-209 Khanewal-VII and PP-139 Sheikhupura-V.

From among the contenders, 52 are vying for six seats in Punjab, 33 have their eyes set on three seats in KP and 16 are in the race for two seats in Sindh.

Punjab

In Punjab, a major contest is exp­e­cted between the nominees of PML-N, which is leading the ruling coalition in the centre, and the PTI, which is in power in the province.

For Multan NA-157, Meher Bano Qu­reshi, daughter of PTI leader and former foreign minister Shah Mah­mood Qureshi, is the PTI’s nominee. She is facing PPP’s Ali Musa Gilani, son of former prime minister Senator Yousuf Raza Gilani.

The constituency was vacated by Shah Mahmood Qureshi's son, Zain Qureshi, who contested in Punjab Assembly’s PP-217 as MPA and defeated the PML-N’s candidate Salman Naeem in the recently held by-election.

While the constituency is considered Shah Mahmood Qureshi's stronghold, Musa Gilani had won the seat in a 2012 by-poll.

In the run-up to the election, the Qureshis and Gilanis, who are considered two political dynasties in Multan, had locked horns over the transfers of Multan commissioner, deputy commissioner and Multan Development Authority (MDA) head, with Qureshi alleging that the commissioner supported his opponents during the PP-217 by-poll in July.

The commissioner had eventually applied for leave but the Election of Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had directed that the application should not be approved.

Moreover, controversy also surrounded the nomination Meher Bano as the PTI's candidate for the seat, facing opposition from the members of her own party.

Several PTI workers had staged a demonstration outside the ECP office in Multan on August 5, denouncing her candidature as the promotion of dynastic politics. Shah Mahmood Qureshi had, however, defended her nomination, saying he would not have fielded her if the party had a "better candidate".

While the scions of two political bigwigs face each other in Multan, PML-N's Abid Sher Ali and Shezra Mansab will be competing against Imran in NA-108 Faisalabad-VIII and NA-118 Nankana Sahib-II, respectively.

Ali returned to Pakistan from London in May after three years of self-exile.

He had lost the NA-108 seat to PTI's Farukh Habib in 2018 with a margin of 1,000 votes and is contesting again after the PTI leader's resignation.

During his campaigning for today's by-poll, he was fined and served a notice by the ECP for violating the code of conduct after the electoral watchdog took notice of announcements being made on his behalf in the mosques of the constituency about the removal of fuel price adjustment in electricity bills by the federal government

For his part, Imran has been vigorously running the campaign of his party.

In a video message on the PTI's Twitter account, he linked to by-polls to his call for "Haqeeqi Azadi" (true freedom) — a campaign he has launched since his ouster, accusing the incumbent government of colluding with the US and conspiring to remove him from power.

"The election with the most important poll in the country's history as it will be decided whether Pakistan will become a truly independent country or — criminals were imposed us on through a foreign conspiracy — will we be slaves to them," he said, urging the people to come out and vote.

In Punjab, the PTI had won 15 out of the 20 provincial assembly seats in the last by-polls held in July aga­inst the expectations of all analysts.

Karachi

In Sindh, by-elections are being held on two NA seats — NA-237 Malir-II and NA-239 Korangi Karachi-I — both in the provincial capital.

Today's by-polls are of significance as they are taking place only a week before local government elections that are scheduled for October 23. The winning party will get a boost ahead of the crucial voting for the city's local government.

However, none of the contesting parties, except the PTI, have campaigned significantly in the days leading to today's polls.

Of the contested seats, the key fight is likely to be in NA-239 Korangi Karachi-I, where 22 aspirants, including Imran, Nayyar Raza of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan and Muhammad Yasin of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan, are in the race.

Meanwhile, NA-237 Malir-II, with a much larger area but fewer voters, will see Imran battle against the PPP’s Abdul Hakeem Baloch.

Khyber Paktunkhwa

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, three seats are up for grabs, with four candidates vying for NA-22 Mardan-III, as many for NA-24 Charsadda-II and eight for NA-31 Pesha­war-V.

The NA-22 Mardan-III was vacated by PTI lawmaker Ali Mohammad Khan and now, Imran is facing the PDM’s Maulana Mohammad Qasim from Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl, Abdul Wasey of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and independent candidate Mohammad Sarwar in the contest for the seat.

Political observers say though four candidates are contesting the elections in NA-22, a tough contest is expected between Qasim and Imran.

Ahead of the by-poll, the central leaders of both PDM and PTI held big power shows in the constituency's Takhtbai area on October 12 and October 13, respectively.

After the PTI's rally, the PTI chief tweeted: "Takhtbai ready for Sunday's by-election as well as our Islamabad march. Never has our country been so mobilised behind a cause as it is for Haqiqi Azadi."

In Charsadda, Imran is competing against JI’s Mujeebur Rehman, independent candidate Sparlay Mohmand and Awami National Party chief Aimal Wali Khan, who has been giving the PTI chief the toughest competition out of his three rivals.

Apart from holding rallies, the ANP leader has increased his criticism of the PTI in recent days, holding the ruling party in KP responsible for the resurgence of terrorism in the province and even accusing the PTI of using government resources for by-elections in violation of the ECP code of conduct.

In Peshawar, NA-31 candidates are former prime minister Imran Khan, ANP leader Haji Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, Mohammad Aslam of JI, Saeedullah Khan of the Rah-i-Haq Party, Abdul Qadir of the Tehreek-i-Jawanan Pakis­tan, former MNA Shaukat Ali, who vacated this seat and is a covering candidate for Imran Khan, and independent candidates Emran Khan and Shaukat Ali.

Earlier, the constituency's district monitoring officer (DMO) had warned the KP governor, the chief minister, his advisers and cabinet members against attending the PTI's public meetings and using government resources in favour of the candidates.

The DMO had also summoned the Peshawar Development Authority director-general to clarify his position about media reports and social media videos showing the use of the civic agency’s machinery for fixing the PTI's flags to electric poles and making other arrangements for a public meeting by Imran.

Meanwhile, the PDA director-general had suspended two firemen and a gardener on the matter and ordered an inquiry against them.

Election arrangements

The election campaigns concluded on Friday and voting is set to begin today amid tight security arrangements.

In Punjab, where 1,434 polling stations have been established, a sufficient num­ber of police and Rangers personnel will be deployed for maintaining law and order, according to the ECP.

The returning officers will hand over election material to the presiding officers a day before the polling, the electoral watchdog added.

In Karachi, 340 polling stations have been set up.

According to a Sindh police spokesperson, more than 6,000 law enforcement personnel ba­­cked by paramilitary Pakistan Rangers will look after security arrangements.

The ECP, he said, had also put troops of the Pakistan Army on sta­ndby as a quick response force to maintain law and order on the day of voting.

Moreover, Sindh Chief Secretary Sohail Rajput earlier told a meeting that CCTV cameras would be installed at all polling stations in the city.

In KP, where the law and order situation had worsened in recent days, out of 979 polling stations set up for today, 745 have been declared highly sensitive and 234 sensitive.

According to the ECP, 1.45m people — 808,038 men and 642,651 women — are eligible to cast vote in the KP by-polls.

The ECP said have set up control rooms at central and provincial levels to address any complaints regarding the elections.

How did we reach here?

The NA seats were vacated after speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf had, on July 28, accepted the resignations of 11 PTI MNAs — nine on general seats and two on reserved seats for women — sparking controversy over the piecemeal acceptance of resignations.

The lawmakers whose resignations were ratified were part of more than 120 who had resigned from their NA seats en masse on April 11, two days after former prime minister Imran Khan was ousted from the top office in a no-confidence vote.

However, the PTI candidate elected from Karachi’s NA-246 Abdul Shakoor Shad, who was among the lawmakers who had resigned in April, had approached the Islamabad High Court in September after which he was reinstated as an MNA.

Meanwhile, the PTI chief had announced that he would be the lone contender for NA seats vacated after the acceptance of April 11 resignations while Meher Bano from his party was nominated to contest for the seat vacated by her brother in July.

The by-elections were originally scheduled to be held in September but were postponed by the commission which cited the unavailability of security personnel in the wake of catastrophic floods across the country.

The by-election on one of the vacated seats, NA-45 Kurram, has been postponed due to the law and order situation.

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