LAHORE: In the presence of heavy police deployment, led by none other than the inspector general of police himself, the embattled PTI-backed winning candidates on Friday employed different tactics to enter the Punjab Assembly premises or reach close to the gate to protest against the “snatching of their mandate through rigging in elections”.

Some policemen told Dawn they were there to provide foolproof security to the assembly’s maiden session while also hunting those involved in the May 9 arson attacks, largely blamed on PTI workers and leaders.

Even PTI nominee for the Punjab top slot, Mian Aslam Iqbal, could not reach the assembly despite an announcement by his party. There were speculations that he had been picked up by the police and finally PTI leader Amir Dogar gave credence to it when he told the media that police arrested the PTI-backed nominee for the CM position and did not let him reach the assembly hall.

According to Mr Dogar, Mr Iqbal was supposed to lead the protest by PTI-backed independent candidates, who had to join the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) to secure their reserved seats, against the ‘snatching of their mandate’ before taking the oath in the house.

A senior police officer, however, denied the allegation that police had arrested him.

Some other PTI-backed elected candidates also narrated their stories of hide-and-seek with police and how they finally managed to attend the maiden session despite being stopped from entering the assembly premises.

PTI leader Sheikh Imtiaz lamented that he and his colleagues reached the assembly in “hiding”.

The party on its X handle decried the huge deployment of police outside the assembly building, alleging that they were sent to arrest the party MPAs. A video posted on PTI handle showed a party-backed elected member, Chaudhry Mohammad Ijaz Shafi, being stopped at the main gate.

At a short distance from the assembly, workers and leaders of the rival PTI and PML-N chanted slogans against each other, with one side labelling the other ‘Mandate Chor’ — a reference to the election rigging — and the opponents responding with the slogan of ‘Ghari Chor’ — a reference to Toshakhana allegations.

Meanwhile, PTI leader Hammad Azhar, who has already been in hiding, wrote on X handle that his residence, where his parents and children were staying, had been ‘sealed’.

“Attempts are being made to arrest and silence me. They want me to hold a press conference like others,” he claimed.

Addressing the Punjab Assembly speaker in the tweet, Mr Azhar in a reference to PML-N nominee for CM slot, Maryam Nawaz, wrote she was “a stranger in the house”. He stated Ms Nawaz and her father Nawaz Sharif had lost all the seats they had contested. The PML-N could win only 17 seats in the National Assembly and 42 seats in the Punjab Assembly.

“Beyond these seats won by the PML-N, all other winning [PML-N] candidates are a product of Form-47 rigging saga,” he added.

Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2024

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