PML-N defends its fortress

IT was essentially a bye-election in NA-120 constituency of Lahore, a PML-N stronghold since 80s, and the low turnout of voters as compared to 2013 general election confirmed this but its nature was changed when PTI leader Imran Khan repeatedly urged people to vote in favour of his party’s candidate. The seat fell vacant after Supreme Court disqualified former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the Panama leak case. Despite many odds, Begul Kulsoom Nawaz won the seat with comfortable margin and a message has gone to all that Sharifs might have lost the legal battle but they have support of the masses to win political battles.
The outcome of the bye-election has prompted Maryam Nawaz to say “Not only have NA-120 voters rejected the Supreme Court’s decision (disqualifying Nawaz Sharif), but also rejected the court’s spokesmen,” an apparent reference to Imran Khan, whose own case is before the top court waiting adjudication for much longer period than the court took to decide Panama Papers case. PTI and its supporters are taking solace in consolation that the margin of victory was less than 2013, which showed shrinking support for PML (N) in Punjab and that PTI was successfully making inroads into the province. However, this interpretation amounts to closing eyes to the ground reality that PTI’s same candidate got less votes in the bye-election than 2013 general election despite running election campaign the way the party liked and easy access to its voters on the polling day. As against this, there were reports that many voters carrying chits of PML (N) were prevented from entering premises of the polling stations and a number of PML (N) voters who were outside polling stations at closing time could not cast their vote because the Election Commission did not allow extension of time, which would not have been a unique precedent. Again both Mian Nawaz Sharif and Mian Shahbaz Sharif were out of the country and the candidate herself undergoing medical treatment in London, factors that had dampening impact on the overall spirit of the supporters of PML (N). Now Yasmin Rashid is complaining of pre-poll rigging whereas pre-poll rigging, if done, was in favour of PTI and a new party was also fielded hastily to cause a split in the vote bank of PML (N) and the tactics worked to some extent as MML stood third in the contest securing over four thousand votes, which might, otherwise have gone to PML (N). Rejection of review petition two days ahead of bye-election and damaging statements of Ch Nisar Ali Khan also had their own implications. Anyhow, people of NA-120 Constituency represented feelings, aspirations and sentiments of people of Pakistan in giving a moral boosting verdict in the electoral battle. PML (N) deserved this victory as its Federal as well as Provincial Governments served masses in different ways in sharp contrast to those who wasted over four years in agitation politics and sit-ins. It is also relevant to point out that PML (N) defended itself successfully in almost all bye-elections especially against those seats on which PTI levelled allegations of rigging while PTI lost bye-elections even on seats vacated by Imran Khan himself in Peshawar and Mianwali. The Lahore bye-election also dashed all hopes of PPP to ground which is trying to grab some political space for itself in the province but its candidate bagged less votes than the candidate of newly formed MML. Independently, PPP has no future at all in Punjab and it could opt for face-saving in the forthcoming general election by entering into seat adjustment or alliance with PML (N). The election has also a message for PML (N) that there would be no easy win in the face of a spirited fight by PTI and its supporters. Because of people-centric policies of the government, majority of electorate is still with PML (N) but the political battle would still be very tough because of governance and economic issues, which need serious attention and tackling to make a comeback in next general election. Internal cohesion and dialogue with other parties would be among the determining factors in the coming polls next year.

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