Voter turnout remains 50pc in Lahore

Published February 9, 2024
Pakistan’s women wait in a queue to cast their votes at a polling station during national elections in Lahore on February 8, 2024. — AFP
Pakistan’s women wait in a queue to cast their votes at a polling station during national elections in Lahore on February 8, 2024. — AFP

LAHORE: The observers’ estimates put the voter turnout at around 50pc, given the pace and pattern of the entire day’s exercise at the end of polling in the provincial capital.

Almost all 14 NA constituencies along with 30 provincial assembly seats in the city saw a slow start in the morning and it only picked up some pace late afternoon.

The massive turnout hopes were based on the PTI revenge vote to foil the establishment’s design. The PTI was slow to wake up to its promise as most of its candidates, fearing backlash, kept gauging ‘reaction’ before converging to polling stations and the voters gathered courage to reach the booths. Rumours of police interfering with party tent-offices outside the polling booths only made the voters extra careful.

“A lingering risk was always at the back of our mind,” explained Muhammad Sadiq at the Ayesha Degree College in the Timber Market area of Ravi Road.

Polling doesn’t pick until afternoon due to various factors

“We were also supposed to bring our own vehicle, which doubled the risk in case of any mishap. In the morning, our party’s people conveyed that the party tent was removed – heightening fears. All these reasons were in our mind before we decided to come out and vote,” he said.

Most of the voters were expected to reach the polling stations by themselves, without any logistical support from their candidates. It only helped slowing down the process by leaving voters to choose time of their own convenience.

The Lahorites’ habit of waking up late in the afternoon only made the process slower. By 12 noon, most of the presiding officers reported casting of 10pc of votes, which slowly picked up some momentum.

By 4pm, the turnout was reported to have increased to 35 to 40pc. But, by that time, long queues had also built up as fears of police interference and general kind of violence receded, giving people confidence of exercising their right. But, by then it was too late to up the turnout percentage by substantive margin.

Other parties, especially the PML-N, also contributed to the slow pace.

“It was never in their favour, at least it was the perception, to build up momentum because many analysts had predicted that high turnout – youth and new voters coming out in droves – would favour the PTI and hurt traditional parties. Thus, the PML-N deliberately kept it a low key affair so that the PTI does not, in any way, benefits from additional votes,” said Bilal Yousuf at Model Town APS School polling station.

Smaller parties like the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and the Jamaat-i-Islami did field some candidates but their voters were hardly enough to affect the overall average in the city.

NA-117 and NA-128

Some sporadic individual polling stations developed queues in the afternoon but generally the voting was a quiet, thin and smooth affair for a better part of the day.

The PTI and the PPP presence could only be felt in the vicinity of polling stations – even that was not for all polling stations. The TLP was more active around polling stations and had agents in most of the polling stations, even in female polling stations.

Most of the voters Dawn spoke to were middle-aged (male and female) and supporters of the PML-N.

The scene, however, reversed as one entered NA-128, spread over posh areas – Model Town, Lahore and Walton Cantts and Gulberg. Well-known lawyer Salman Akram Raja is pitted against the IPP’s Awn Chaudhry – a first-timer supported by the PML-N. Liaquat Baloch of Jamaat-i-Islami is also in the run but the contest seems to be straight between Raja and Chaudhry.

Young, enthusiastic and vocal individuals and families dominated the scene here and they were not shy of revealing their political preferences. Massive rush built up in the afternoon in areas like Gulberg, Model Town and Cantt.

“It is part of party philosophy, which says turnout is the best revenge of all excesses committed against us,” said Nabila Ahmad at Model Town school. “We are here, came on our own vehicle and would not leave without casting our votes. This is the third station where I finally found my vote, but I am here to cast it at every cost even if it means staying beyond 5pm,” she insisted.

NA-129

The polling in NA-129 started with a low turnout in the first half of the election day; however, the overall atmosphere remained peaceful in the constituency with a contest between PML-N’s Hafiz Nauman and PTI-backed independent Mian Azhar. The voters thronged the polling stations in the second half that also slowed the voting process.

The prominent localities of the constituency, including Gulshan-i-Ravi, Chauburji and Awan Town, gave a festive look with banners of the candidates besides hustle and bustle of the voters.

The PTI had announced its support to Mian Azhar instead of his son Hammad Azhar, who was elected MNA from the same constituency in 2018. Hammad was declared a proclaimed offender in the May 9 riots cases.

Besides him, Aurangzeb Burki (PPP) and Ahmad Jameel (JI) are in the contest.

The PML-N’s Rana Mashhood Ahmad Khan, PTI-backed independent Misbah Wajid, Asif Nagra of PPP and Adnan Chattha of JI are in the run for PP-172, one of the four Punjab Assembly constituencies falling under the NA-129.

Mian Aslam Iqbal, who has been declared a proclaimed offender in May 9 cases, contested as an independent candidate with the support of PTI from PP-171 against Mehr Ishtiaq of the PML-N. Imran Dawood and Shahid Malik were the candidates of the PPP and JI, respectively from the same provincial assembly constituency.

Faisal Khokhar (PML-N), Tariq Saeed (PPP), Nadeem Bara (PTI-backed), and Zikarullah Mujahid (JI) contested from PP-168. From PP-169, Khalid Khokhar (PML-N), Mian Mahmoodur Rasheed (PTI-backed), Akram Rana (PPP) and Salman Baloch (JI) were the candidates from PP-169.

Mr Rasheed, a former provincial minister, is behind bars for his alleged involvement in the May 9 riots.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2024

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