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Bypolls: Road to a healthier democracy

Bypolls
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News Analysis |

Preparations are being finalized in order to conduct elections in nine National Assembly constituencies in Punjab and one each in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and 24 provincial assembly seats, including 11 in Punjab, nine in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and two each in Sindh and Balochistan.

Most of these seats were vacated by the candidates who won from more than one seat in the general elections held on July 25. The Pakistan Army took control of the security of polling stations ahead of Sunday’s by-polls for 11 national and 24 provincial seats. The ECP said 9.28 million voters are eligible to exercise their franchise in 35 constituencies.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Saad Rafique will be contesting from Lahore’s NA-131 against Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) Humayun Akhtar.

The polling will start at 8 AM and will continue without any break until 5 PM (local time). Prime Minister Imran Khan won five seats and vacated four which are also up for grabs. For the first time, overseas Pakistanis will participate in the election process through a special online portal designed by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

Thousands of soldiers will stand guard to provide security at 7,489 polling booths to ensure a smooth and peaceful electoral process. The ECP, while making security arrangement, designated as many as 1,727 polling stations “highly sensitive” where extra troops were deployed and security cameras installed.

Read more: Elections 2018: Pakistan’s dirtiest elections or the fairest? – Moeed Pirzada

These include 848 out of total 5,193 polling stations in Punjab, 544 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 201 in Sindh and 134 in Balochistan provinces. The deployment of troops began on Friday and they would remain on election duty till October 15. Soldiers will be deployed inside and outside the polling stations in order to avoid any untoward incident.

They also provide security during a distribution of election material and transportation. Designated army officers have powers of a magistrate first class for summarily trial of those guilty of impersonation, capturing polling stations or violation of other relevant provisions of the law.

A Tough Competition

A strong struggle is expected between the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the main opposition alliance of the Pakistan Muslims League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and some ministers are also taking part in the contest.

The party received a booster in the form of its disqualified leader Nawaz Sharif’s release and the claim by one of its leader Rana Mashood that things had been decided between the establishment and the party.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Saad Rafique will be contesting from Lahore’s NA-131 against Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) Humayun Akhtar. On the other hand, NA-124 will see a contest between former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and PTI’s Ghulam Mohiuddin.

In Karachi’s NA-243,  a close contest is likely to unfold between Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan’s (MQM-P) Amir Waliuddin Chishti and PTI’s Alamgir Khan on the national assembly seat vacated by Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Do or Die?

While there are many who portray the elections as a do or die for the government or the opposition. The reality, however, can be asserted that the victories in either will be largely symbolic. For e.g, the MQM and PTI are allies in the center. According to many, the governing PTI is likely to come out as winners plus or minus a few seats.

Read more: Maulana Fazlur Rehman finally concedes; decides not to contest by-elections

By-polls generally, the governing party is favored by the masses that tend to look at the center for a solution of their problems rather than outsiders. Another factor is that the PML-N is going through a phase of demoralization. The party received a booster in the form of its disqualified leader Nawaz Sharif’s release and the claim by one of its leader Rana Mashood that things had been decided between the establishment and the party.

However, its hopes have been dashed with the arrest of its current president Shahbaz Sharif by NAB and more arrests are expected. Not only has that demoralized the PML-N’s workers it can also deter votes as voters would not prefer to vote for a party that can’t fend for itself in the by-polls. In the end it the greatest advantage of the by-polls will be the strengthening of democracy.


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