PML-N secures lead in by-elections

One killed, 3 injured in violent clashes at polling stations across Punjab n Polling in PB-50 stopped as armed men open fire inside polling station

LAHORE  -  The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) yesterday took a lead in the by-elections held in 21 constituencies including five National Assembly and 16 provincial assemblies in three provinces amid several reports of clashes among voters of two main parties, the PML-N and Sunni Ittehad Council, from various areas of Punjab leaving one dead and three injured, unofficial results revealed.

According to preliminary reports and unofficial results, PML-N succeeded in securing 4 out of 12 seats from Punjab. The PML-N also secured two out of five NA seats, while one NA seat was bagged by each SIC, PPP and one by an independent candidate.

According to latest reports, PML-N was in leading position on almost 11 provincial seats. The ruling party also won PA seat from Balochistan and one NA seat from Lahore while Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party (IPP) secured one PA seat from Lahore. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), however, won a national assembly seat from Kamber Shahdadtkot.

The by-elections on Lahore’s one national assembly seat and four of provincial assembly seats were held amid physical confrontation, allegations of pre-poll rigging and internet outage in the provincial capital Lahore here. According to the schedule released by the Election Commission of Pakistan, the by-elections were held in five National Assembly constituencies, 12 in Punjab, two in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, two in Balochistan, and one in the Sindh Assembly constituency. Polling is being held in NA-08 Bajaur, NA-44 Dera Ismael Khan-I, NA-119 Lahore-III, NA-132 Kasur-II, NA-196 Kamber Shahdadkot-I, and NA-207 Shaheed Benazirabad-I constituencies.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly comprises PK-22 Bajaur-IV and PK-91 Kohat-II constituencies, while the Balochistan Assembly includes PB-20 Khuzdar-III and PB-22 Lasbela constituencies. A by-election was also held in the Sindh constituency PS-80 Dadu-I.

The elections were held in various Punjab Assembly constituencies, including PP-22 Chakwal-Cum-Talagang, PP-32 Gujrat VI, PP-36 Wazirabad-II, PP-54 Narowal-I, PP-93 Bhakkar-V, PP-139 Sheikhpura-IV, PP-147 Lahore-III, PP-149 Lahore-V, PP-158 Lahore XIV, PP-164 Lahore-XX, PP-266 Rahim Yar Khan-XII, and PP-290 Dera Ghazi Khan-V.

The by-elections in PB-50 constituency of Qila Abdullah of Balochistan have been marred by violence and disruptions, with armed men storming a polling station in the Majak area and firing indiscriminately, leading to the suspension of polling activities.

Following the swearing-in of the new assemblies, Pakistan’s first by-elections on 21 vacant national and provincial assembly seats were held amid sporadic incidents of clashes between workers of different political parties in Punjab.

Major political parties including PML-N, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-backed Sunni Ittehad Council and PPP participated in the by-polls.

The voting on the by-polls, conducted after the February 8 general elections, started at 8am and concluded at 5pm.

During the polling process, the federal government suspended mobile phone services temporarily in several districts of Punjab and Balochistan in a decision that was taken to safeguard the integrity and security of the electoral process.

Meanwhile, at the request of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), the government also deployed Pakistan Army and Civil Armed Forces (CAF) troops during the polling process.

In Lahore, the polling process was slow in the beginning but as soon as the clock hit 12 am, the voters and supporters of PML-N and SIC started gathering at their designated polling stations in flocks to cast their votes in favour of their candidates.  The turnout, however, remained low as compared to the one witnessed in the February 8 general election. As the day progressed the tension among the supporters of both parties simmered as several instances of physical and verbal altercation were reported outside polling stations across Lahore.

The credibility of polling process was marred by accusations of pre-poll rigging by the SIC, as the presiding officer at polling station number 127 in constituency PP 149 of Lahore obtained signatures on Form 45 from the polling agents of the SIC even before the initiation of the polling process. Presiding Officer Muhammad Iqbal admitted to carrying out the practice stating he obtained signatures of polling agents to save time while compiling the results later in the day. When the word of this unprecedented practice came out the presiding officer reportedly tore the signed form 45.

The SIC leaders upon hearing the incident reached the polling station on a complaint of Form 45 singing, leading to an altercation with the presiding officer. The SIC called it a pre-poll rigging. The SIC polling agents said that they were asked to sign Form 45 in the morning. SIC leaders alleged that polling staff in other constituencies also violated the law by getting their agents to sign Form 45.

Also, a brawl broke out between the workers of PML-N and SIC in Constituency, NA 119 in Lahore over the setting up a polling camp outside the polling station. At the time of the clash, the police detained four workers, but later after the matter was resolved and the workers were set free by the police.

Likewise, a fight also broke out between supporters of Istehkam-e-Pakistan and SIC at the polling station 171 of PP 149 Lahore, prompting the police present at the spot to arrest the workers of both parties.

Meanwhile, PTI leader and former MPA Shabir Gujjar was detained by the police while he was visiting one of the polling stations in PP-164 constituency of Lahore. Shabbir was taken into custody from Valencia Town and the reason for his arrest was not revealed by the law enforcement.

Police sources said that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Shabir Gujjar was taken into protective custody by the police.

Contrary to the police claim, Shabir’s spokesperson said that there’s no active case registered against the former member of the Punjab Assembly and no fight took place at any of the polling stations in PP-164.

Violence was also reported in Ferozewala and Zafarwal, as clashes erupted between rival political factions, resulting in the killing of one person and arrests and injuries to others.

A brawl broke out between workers of the PML-N and PTI workers in Zafarwal’s constituency, PP-54, wherein a 60-year-old man was killed after a baton hit his head. As a result of the clashes, polling was briefly stopped at the Kot Naju polling station.

A 60-year-old man, said to be a PML-N worker, injured during the dispute, died in the hospital during treatment. Rescue sources said Muhammad Yousaf was hit with a wooden stick on his head.

A presiding officer in PP-36 Wazirabad was held over a purportedly video showing alleged rigging. Election Commission of Pakistan, however, said that formal investigation to be conducted into the incident outside Narowal’s Zafarwal polling station

Another video purportedly showing alleged rigging has surfaced in Wazirabad as polling ended in the PP-36 constituency. The video allegedly depicts irregularities in the polling process.

Police have detained the presiding officer implicated in the video for further investigation. The footage raises questions about how the ballot papers were revealed before polling ended.

The SIS has voiced concerns over the incident, questioning how the ballot papers were exposed before polling ended. Additionally, the party has alleged that votes were recovered from the possession of the presiding officer.

The police have said that an inquiry into the matter has been initiated, with active investigation into the allegations of electoral misconduct.

It said the Gujranwala regional election commissioner has been appointed as the inquiry officer for the investigation. The inquiry officer will conduct an inquiry on the spot and submit a detailed report, it added.

During polling in PP-36 of Wazirabad’s 185 polling stations, three people were arrested by the police over fears of disturbance of peace.

As workers of the PML-N and PTI got into a clash in the Ahmednagar area, the polling process was stopped, and the gate of the polling station was closed by the police. The clash reportedly broke out after PTI workers accused the presiding officer of rigging.

A clash broke out at the Government Girls College Polling Station in Alipur Chattha, where workers and voters of the Sunni Ittehad Council got out of hand over voters being allowed to enter the polling station. The political workers attempted to forcefully open the gate of the polling station.

Supporters of the PML-N and Sunni Ittehad Council got into a physical brawl at polling station 311 in Khudian Khaas of NA-132 constituency here. The workers of both parties slapped each other for allegedly stopping women from casting their votes.

In Sadiqabad, Workers of two political parties engaged in a clash outside the Mohib Shah polling station in PP-266 of Sadiqabad. During the clash, the windowpanes of a car parked nearby were shattered.

Police said polling was stopped for some time due to the incident, and the clashing workers were arrested.

Meanwhile, in Ferozewala’s PP-139 constituency, a confrontation between two groups outside the Government High School Nizampura turned violent, with gunfire being exchanged. Three people sustained injuries during the altercation.

Law enforcement authorities swiftly moved in, arresting two suspects and suspending the polling process at the affected polling station. However, later the polling process resumed after over three hours.

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