The vote count is underway after polling time ended at 5 pm in the by-elections to eight National Assembly and three Punjab Assembly seats on Sunday.
There was intense political activity as the polling started at 8 am and continued peacefully in some constituencies, with sporadic clashes in others. Scores of candidates contested for the seats up for grabs across the country.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) said that overall, the polling process remained peaceful, and the commission’s central control room received 15 complaints of code violations.
A spokesperson for the commission said that most of the complaints were about workers of political parties clashing and other minor issues. “The complaints were resolved immediately.”
The constituencies where polling took place 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.
The by-poll on NA 45, a tribal area seat, has been postponed over the law and order situation.
The lower house seats were vacated after Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf had accepted the resignations of PTI MNAs — nine on general seats and two on reserved seats for women.
Moreover, by-elections are also being held on three Punjab Assembly seats — PP-241 Bahawalnagar-V; PP-209 Khanewal-VII, and PP-139 Sheikhupura-V.
PTI Chairman Imran Khan is contesting seven of eight NA seats.
As the polling process started, Imran Khan urged the people in the constituencies where the by-election is being held to come out in large numbers to vote.
“This is a referendum for Haqiqi Azadi from the cabal of crooks. We are contesting against all of PDM, the Election Commission and ‘namaloom afraad’,” he said in a tweet.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif asked the voters to decide wisely about who they are voting for as the “development and welfare of your country depends on it”.
He also urged the people to participate fully in the polling.
“This [by-polls] is a constitutional and legal process and only people have the right to elect who they want,” he wrote on Twitter.
Meanwhile, reports of sporadic clashes and other incidents involving PTI and Awami National Party marring peaceful by-polls were received during polling at different constituencies across the country.
PTI Karachi President Bilal Ghaffar suffered a nasal fracture after he was attacked during the voting process at one of the polling stations in Malir.
PTI leader Jamal Siddiqi accused PPP’s Saleem Baloch of attacking Ghaffar in the Bakra Piri area. He alleged that more than two dozen men attacked Ghaffar with bricks when he went to inspect a polling station near Bakra Piri, leaving him “seriously injured.”
Meanwhile, a PTI spokesperson also confirmed the attack and said he was being treated at a nearby hospital.
Reacting to the matter, Sindh Minister for Labour Saeed Ghani said that Ghaffar tried to deteriorate the situation due to the fear of defeat.
He claimed that Baloch arrived at the spot after reports of hooliganism at the polling station.
The minister urged the ECP to take notice of the matter.
In response to the “attack” on his party worker, PTI Sindh President Ali Zaidi penned a letter to the ECP and demanded action against PPP.
Presiding Officer Mazhar Bhatti admitted that fake votes were cast in a polling station in Ansoo Goth.
“During lunchtime some people entered the room and tried to tamper the ballot papers,” he said, adding that the police officials were called in after hearing the noise; however, they managed to escape.
He revealed that upon seeing the ballot papers it was noticed that 12 to 15 fake votes were cast and the suspects stamped on PPP’s party symbol ‘teer’.
A leader of the Awami National Party Samar Bilour violated the ECP’s code of conduct by releasing a video of casting a vote at a polling station in Peshawar’s NA-31 Peshawar-V
Responding to the matter, Bilour said that a worker had made the video which she shared on social media. She said that she wasn’t aware that making or posting such a video is a violation of the ECP code.
“I deleted the video when I got to know about the ECP rules,” Bilour said.
In Punjab, the polling process at a polling station in NA-157, Sardar Pur area of Multan was stopped as the workers of two political parties engaged in a quarrel following allegations of rigging.
However, the polling was resumed soon after.
Meanwhile, PTI leader Farrukh Habib levelled allegations of differences in the voters’ list available with the presiding officer and those provided to the candidates.
He claimed that the presiding officer’s list did not include the names of PTI voters but a list with these names was provided after the party workers protested.
Also, District Monitoring Office (DMO) in Faisalabad directed Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah to exit the premises of the constituency — NA-108 Faisalabad-VIII.
The DMO ordered him to exit the premises as he addressed a press conference within the constituency’s limits, which was a violation of the election code.
Three people were arrested over the violation of ECP’s code of conduct in the provincial constituency PP-139 in Sheikhupura. District Police Officer (DPO) Faisal Mukhtar said that the arrests were made over the recovery of arms during the blockade.
The ECP has also summoned PML-N MNA Iftikhar Nazir for violating the ECP’s code of conduct in Khanewal. According to the DRO, Iftikhar Nazir, on board a government vehicle, arrived at the polling station.
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikander Sultan Raja has ordered the authorities to immediately arrest the individuals involved in rioting and interfering in the polling process.
“Any government official if found involved in rigging will be arrested right away and no leniency will be shown to him,” CEC Raja said while directing the authorities concerned to ensure peaceful voting.
He also urged the people to come out to vote without any fear.
A spokesperson of the election commission said that Raja is personally monitoring the polling process which will continue without intervals till 5pm.
The by-polls are the latest twist in political wrangling that began after Khan’s April 10 ouster via a parliamentary no-confidence vote — making him the first prime minister to be voted out of office.
Candidates can stand for multiple seats in elections. If they win more than one, they choose which to keep, and a separate vote must later be held for those forfeited.
The by-elections come as the nation grapples with the aftermath of devastating monsoon floods that affected more than 30 million people and left a third of the country under water.
The government wanted to delay the elections for at least 90 days as it said that security personnel were busy in flood relief works, while there were also reports of terrorist activities during the polls.
But the ECP — despite two letters from the Ministry of Interior — rejected the suggestion of delaying the by-polls and asked the relevant authorities to beef up the security.
“Security arrangements should be beefed up to conduct peaceful elections […] arrangements should be put in place to maintain law and order,” the ECP.
Since the federal government was busy tackling the deadly floods, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) was not able to campaign up to the level of PTI as Khan went to every by-election-related jalsa for rallying his supporters.