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EDITORIAL: It has become almost a ritual after every election for the losing sides to cry foul. So it has been in the case of the keenly watched NA-249 by-election in Karachi won by the PPP with a narrow margin over the runner-up, PML-N candidate Miftah Ismail. Almost all the losers have refused to accept defeat. Soon after the result was announced, PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz took to Twitter to declare the election as “one of the most disputed & controversial elections” and “stolen” from her party. In a similar vein her father, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, fired a statement from his London home claiming that his party was winning but then results were delayed for hours, like in the Daska by-poll, and the PML-N was defeated. In the case of Daska, however, it may be recalled that the Election Commission of Pakistan, now being accused by all the losing parties of favouring the PPP, had raised the first alarm. Its timely notice had paved the way for re-polling in that entire constituency and victory of the Nawaz League candidate. As expected, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has advised the objectors to furnish proof of any wrongdoing in the by-election or stop levelling allegations. The ECP, however, has stayed the announcement of the election result on a petition filed by Miftah and would hear the petition today.

Thursday’s by-election in Karachi, however, is no barometer of the participating parties’ popularity considering that only 21.61 percent of the constituents elected to cast their votes. As a matter of fact, there is nothing unusual about low voter turnout for a by-election, nor victory of a ruling party’s candidate. The PPP’s Qadir Khan Mandokhel secured just 16,156 votes against Mifta’s 15,473 votes - in the 2018 general election PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif had lost to PTI’s Faisal Vawda by about the same margin. The NA-249 Baldia constituency being home to multi-ethnic communities, the narrow victory margin is not all that surprising. What is surprising is that the PTI which won the seat in the general election has now finished at fifth place. That should give it a pause. An obvious reason for its poor showing is ever-rising prices of essential commodities and utilities, though, aware of the problems faced on this account by an overwhelming majority of households, Prime Minister Imran Khan has been promising to provide relief to the people as far as possible. What is also believed to have contributed to PTI’s electoral misfortune in NA-249 is its second tier leaders’ constant squabbling, which played out in the award of the ticket to Amjad Khan Afridi; so much so that another aspirant for the ticket, Sindh Assembly member Malik Shehzad Awan, had tendered his resignation from the assembly. The PTI’s intra-party feuds may further harm its future electoral prospects unless Imran Khan sets things in order.

As regards the bigger issue, the opposition parties need to realize it is no use to allege rigging after every election. The system needs to be reformed. The government has proposed several measures. The opposition may have reservations about its intentions, which is all the more reason for all parliamentary parties’ representatives to sit together with the other side to discuss and debate necessary improvements in the electoral system. It is about time a consensus electoral reforms law is enacted.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021