By-polls held on 21 national and provincial seats amid allegations of rigging by PTI

Published April 21, 2024
Counting of votes is underway for 21 national and provincial seats after polling concluded. — DawnNewsTV
Counting of votes is underway for 21 national and provincial seats after polling concluded. — DawnNewsTV

By-polls were held on 21 national and provincial seats on Sunday amid allegations of “record rigging” made by PTI leaders and temporary suspension of cellular services in specific districts of Punjab and Balochistan.

According to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), by-elections were held on five vacant seats of the National Assembly, 12 of the Punjab Assembly, and two each of the Khyber Pakh­tunkhwa and Balochistan legislatures.

Separately, re-polling in all constituencies of Balochistan’s PB-50 (Qila Abdullah) was also held today.

Polling began at 8am and concluded at 5pm, following which the vote counting began, with results awaited.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had announced a day earlier that “cellular services will be temporarily suspended in specific districts of Punjab and Balochistan during the by-elections” on April 21 (today) and 22 (Monday).

It said the decision had been taken on the directives of the interior ministry to “safeguard the integrity and security of the electoral process”.

It should be mentioned that mobile and internet services were also shut down during the February 8 general elections. Meanwhile, access to social media platform X has been disrupted since Feb 17 — when the former Rawal­pindi commissioner accused the chief election commissioner and chief justice of Pakistan of being involved in rigging.

PTI bemoans ‘record rigging’

From the outset of polling, PTI claimed that the process was rigged, saying that “stuffed ballot boxes” were found in PP-32 Gujarat.

PTI President Parvez Elahi’s son Moonis Elahi said boxes had been stuffed before polling even started in Gujarat, adding that the Malkowal polling station had been closed so further ballot boxes could be stuffed.

PTI leader Hammad Azhar claimed that complete booklets of “fake votes” were found in Gujarat.

“They didn’t even bother to separate individual voter slips from its book to make it look genuine,” he said in a post on X.

In a separate post, he accused a “section of the media” of “running fake results” on TV.

Meanwhile, PTI Chairman Gohar Khan said that “rigging records were broken throughout the day”.

In a post on X, the party said that several party leaders, including Gohar and opposition leader Omer Ayub were stopped by police in Gujarat when they tried to meet the returning officer.

“The media is also not being allowed to enter the office of the returning officer,” Gohar was quoted as saying.

Another PTI leader Meher Bano Qureshi said that by-elections were “more brazen, more shameless and more of a farce” than the February 8 elections.

“Polling stalled, stations closed, ballots stuffed, fake form 45s prepared and Punjab Police doing what it knows best, intimidating and bullying citizens out to exercise their vote,” she said in a post on her X account.

The alleged rigging, she said, proved that the government has “already lost against a man they’ve locked up for 34 years on bogus charges and they’re petrified” because the nation stood with incarcerated PTI founder Imran Khan.

Iqbal condemns ‘murder’ of party worker in Narowal

Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Ahsan Iqbal condemned the “murder”“ of a PML-N worker in Narowal during the byelections.

While speaking to the media, Iqbal accused PTI workers of his party worker’s death. “The murderers would not be spared from the law,” he said adding that he would call the deceased a “political martyr”.

“He stood for the right cause, for which he was killed,” he added.

The ECP took notice of the incident and said that a formal investigation will be conducted outside Narowal’s Zafarwal polling station.

“Regional Election Commissioner Gujranwala has been appointed the inquiry officer for the probe,” an ECP spokesperson said.

The ECP also took notice of a presiding officer signing a blank form 45 in Punjab Assembly’s PP-149 Lahore constituency, it said in a press release on its wesbite.

The commission has sought an immediate report from the Election Commissioner Punjab so that this matter can be resolved and the commission can take further legal action.

Sporadic violence elsewhere

In Sheikhupura’s PP-139, the polling process was temporarily stopped after a “firing incident”.

In a statement, the Punjab election commissioner’s office said that due to a “firing incident” at a polling station (Government Primary School Nizampura), the polling process had been stopped.

However, it had later resumed after the police controlled the situation, the statement added.

 Workers of PTI-SIC and PML-N argue outside Lahore College polling station — via Mian Shoaib
Workers of PTI-SIC and PML-N argue outside Lahore College polling station — via Mian Shoaib

In Lahore, at polling station number 171 (Lahore College), workers of the PTI and Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) coalition had a scuffle with those of the PML-N on the issue of setting up polling camps. The argument was then resolved with the help of police.

The provincial election commission’s control room also took notice of reports of the polling process in Gujrat and Rahim Yar Khan’s PP-266 stopping.

In a separate statement, the spokesperson said that the police controlled the situation at the polling station in question in Gujrat.

It added that a scuffle in Rahim Yar Khan took place outside a polling station at Mohib Shah.

Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party’s (IPP’s) Shoaib Siddiqui claimed there were reports of a face-off in Union Council 184.

Separately, SIC’s Mian Shahzad Farooq claimed that his party workers were being arrested in NA-119 and that the polling agent had been forced out of the returning officer’s office after he went there to file a complaint.

Across Lahore, 24 superintendents, 45 senior deputy police officers (SDPOs) and 168 inspectors, station house officers (SHOs), and investigation in-charges will serve their duties during the by-elections.

A total of 195 pickets were established at Lahore’s entry and exit points while the security was on “high alert”.

Lahore Capital City Police Chief (CCPO) Bilal Siddique Kamyana said the security officials were providing “complete security for the peaceful conduct” of the by-election.

In a statement, the CCPO emphasised there was “zero-tolerance” for exhibition of arms and firing incidents.

He highlighted that voters would be able to enter the polling stations after getting clearance from the three-tier security arrangement.

CCPO Kamyana further said that officials of anti-riot force and reserve forces would remain alert to deal with any untoward incident.

In Bhakkar’s PP-93, District Police Officer (DPO) Mohammad Naveed visited “sensitive” polling stations of the area.

Bhakkar District Superintendent of Police (DSP) special branch Malik Tariq Awan and troops of the Pakistan Army also accompanied the DPO during the visits and gave a briefing to the officials on duty.

DPO Naveed ordered the officials to put all resources to use to ensure peaceful polling process.

In Sindh, by-elections were held in Kambar-Shahdadkot’s NA-196, where PPP’s Khurshid Junejo was contesting against Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan’s (TLP) Mohammad Ali.

Sindh Election Commissioner Sharifullah directed officials to remain alert to ensure clear, transparent and peaceful polls, urging the public to use their right to vote.

Army deployed for by-election security

A day ago, the interior ministry allowed the suspension of mobile internet services to “maintain law and order” in 13 districts and tehsils in Punjab on the recommendations of the provincial government.

The Punjab home department had on Friday written a letter to the interior ministry stating that the by-elections had been scheduled for April 21 in Punjab’s four districts and nine tehsils, adding that there was a need to suspend the mobile internet services to maintain law and order and avoid any untoward incident.

The home department had sought the suspension of mobile internet services in Gujrat, Kasur, Sheikhupura and Lahore districts as well as in Talagang, Chakwal, Kallar Kahar, Ali Pur Chatha, Zafarwal, Bhakkar City, Sadiqabad, Kot Chutta and Dera Ghazi Khan City tehsils.

The interior ministry has also decided to deploy the army and civil armed forces at a request made by the ECP almost two weeks ago.

As per an order issued by the ministry, the civil armed forces and the Pakistan Army units would be used as second and third tiers of security and would be available till April 22.

“The exact number of troops, date/period, area and mode of deployment would be worked out by the ECP in consultation with all concerned stakeholders based on ground requirement/assessment,” the order read.

A PTI spokesman said the electoral rules and regulations were being flouted as was the case during the general elections, besides victimising the party leaders, workers and supporters.

Vacant seats

The general elections for Bajaur’s NA-8 and PK-22 had been postponed because of the murder of a candidate, Rehan Zeb Khan.

As for NA-44, Dera Ismail Khan, the constituency was vacated by PTI-backed Ali Amin Gandapur, who retained his provisional assembly seat to become KP’s chief minister. Similarly, Lahore’s NA-119 was vacated by Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz, who preferred to become an MPA from PP-159.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif won polls for two NA and two provincial legislature seats. He left the NA-132, Kasur, as well as Lahore’s PP-158 and PP-164 seats vacant, and retained NA-123, Lahore, seat.

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari won two seats in the NA. He retained NA-194, Larkana, seat and left NA-196, Qamber Shahdadkot, seat vacant. PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari vacated NA-207, Shaheed Benazirabad, seat to be elected as the country’s president. Zardari’s daughter, Aseefa Bhutto Zardari, has already been elected unopposed from the seat vacated by her father.

The polls for KP Assembly seat PK-91, Kohat, were postponed after the death of an ANP leader. A Sindh Assembly seat fell vacant after the death of Abdul Aziz Junejo, who won elections from PS-80, Dadu. In Balochistan, BNP-M chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal retained the NA-256 seat and left Khuzdar’s PB-20 seat vacant.

In Punjab, PML-N leader Ghulam Abbas retained NA-53, Rawalpindi, seat and left PP-22 seat.

Similarly, PML-Q’s Chaudhry Salik Hussain retained NA-64 and vacated PP-32, Gujrat, seat.

The PP-36, Wazirabad, seat fell vacant after Muhammad Ahmad Chattha did not take oath. The PP-54, Narowal, seat fell vacant as PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal did not take oath. He preferred to retain NA-76, Narowal, seat. Shei­k­hupura’s PP-139, fell vacant because PML-N’s Ra­­­na Tanveer did not take oath. Like­wise, the prime minister’s son Hamza Shehbaz did not take oath for PP-147, Lahore.

PP-149 from Lahore fell vacant because IPP’s Aleem Khan retained the city’s NA-117 seat. The polls for PP-266, Rahim Yar Khan, were postponed because of the death of a candidate. The PP-290, Dera Ghazi Khan, was declared vacant after Awais Leghari did not take the oath.

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