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LAHORE: Polling for the by-elections in 20 constituencies of the Punjab Assembly, including four in Lahore, was held on Sunday amid stringent security measures adopted by the law-enforcing agencies, amidst reports of minor clashes at over a dozen polling stations and arrests of various persons including PTI’s Dr Shahbaz Gill from Muzaffargarh.

Polling, which started at 8 am, continued till 5 pm without any break; however, the voters inside the polling station at 5pm were allowed to cast their votes. No one was allowed to enter the polling stations after 5 pm, although some voters were seen standing outside there.

The overall turnout in various constituencies including Lahore is expected to be high (over 40-percent). In a few areas, women were not seen in polling stations. The overall polling atmosphere remained peaceful; however, minor clashes were reported at 14 polling stations out of a total of 3,140 set up across the province.

Polling in the bye-elections was held in the constituencies of the Punjab Assembly, i.e., PP-7 Rawalpindi; PP-83, Khushab; PP-90 Bhakkar; PP-97 Faisalabad; PP-125, Jhang; PP-127, Jhang; PP-140 Sheikhupura; PP-158, Lahore; PP-167, Lahore; PP-168, Lahore; PP-170 Lahore; PP-202 Sahiwal; PP-217 Multan; PP-224, Lodhran; PP-228, Lodhran; PP-237, Bahawalnagar; PP-272- Muzaffargarh; PP-273 Muzaffargarh; PP-282, Layyah and PP-288 Dera Ghazi Khan.

There were 175 candidates in the run, but the main contest was between the PML-N and PTI candidates. In these constituencies, there were a total of 4.58 million registered voters, including 2.19 million women for which over 3100 polling stations, including 738 male, 700 female and 1700 combined polling stations were established across the 20 constituencies. A total of 9,562 polling booths were set up for the by-polls.

Arrangements finalised for Punjab by-polls: Extra security personnel deployed to 676 ‘highly sensitive’ polling stations

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had declared 1304 polling stations sensitive and 690 highly sensitive. Polling stations in Lahore’s four Constituencies, i.e., PP-158, PP-167, PP-168 and PP-170, and Multan’s PP-217 were declared sensitive and CCTV cameras were installed at highly sensitive and sensitive polling stations. The contingent of Punjab Rangers also patrolled in the areas while the army was on standby to avert any untoward situation.

Since the government had imposed a ban on the carrying and exhibition of arms, some arrests were made from Lahore and Sheikhupura for carrying weapons at polling stations.

The ECP also remained alert throughout the polling day. The ECP has issued notice to senior PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi for visiting various polling stations in violation of the ECP’s code of conduct.

The ECP has sought answers from Shah Mehmood Qureshi for raiding a private factory in Multan with party workers and casting allegations that “votes were being sold there”. The ECP sought an explanation from the PTI leader on his accusations within 24 hours.

On the other hand, PML-N leader Ataullah Tarar has accused PTI’s Shah Mahmood Qureshi of trying to buy votes from workers of a factory in Multan.

Addressing a press conference in Lahore, he said the PTI had been exposed, adding that the PML-N had a definite edge over its opponent. He also insisted that not a single incident of rigging surfaced so far during the by-polls, branding PTI’s allegations against the Punjab government in this regard as false.

Tarar said that nobody will be allowed to create hurdles in the peaceful polling process of the by-elections. He stated that 10 armed people, who wanted to disrupt the polling process, have been arrested in Lahore. He urged all the political parties to follow the code of conduct for elections. He added that sensible people of the province have rejected the narrative of PTI Chief Imran Khan.

Tarar also confirmed that the Punjab police have arrested PTI leader Shahbaz Gill in Muzaffargarh.

Meanwhile, as many as 66 polling stations and 1470 polling booths were set up in 189 polling buildings for the by-elections in Lahore on four provincial constituencies. More than 750 personnel of the Anti Riot Force were deployed to ensure law and order. Monitoring was also made with the cameras installed on PRU vehicles around the sensitive polling stations. With the help of modern LTE handsets, video communication with the security personnel at all the polling stations was also made possible.

In the four constituencies of Lahore, over 9,000 personnel were deployed while the security situation was monitored through Safe City cameras. The personnel of the Anti-Riot Force and the Elite Police remained alert. Women police were deployed at the polling stations reserved for women.

Secretary Election Commission Umar Hameed Khan visited different polling stations and directed the polling staff to facilitate elderly voters. He also reviewed the security arrangements made for the by-elections in Lahore’s four constituencies. “We have the full support of state institutions for holding free, fair and transparent elections,” he said.

Chief Election Commissioner and Secretary ECP monitored the counting of votes respectively from Islamabad and Lahore.

In the provincial metropolis, the turnout in the four constituencies (PP-158, PP-167, PP-168, PP-170) is estimated to be high, as the voters after mid-day rushed to the polling stations. The balloting began at 8 am, but till noon the turnout was low. However, in the afternoon, long queues were seen outside the polling stations. In all the constituencies, women and senior citizens in a large number were also seen casting their votes.

An elderly person came to vote in a wheelchair while another had to find support to reach the polling stations. They said that casting votes is their national duty and they always had done so in the past.

Another voter with a permanent muscle disorder ailment, Abdul Moeez, was seen at a polling station in PP-167. Strapped in a wheelchair with a ventilator, he said that he has come to cast his vote, as it was his national duty. He further said that his presence here will minimise the chances of rigging. “I will vote for Imran Khan, as he was the right man for the job,” he added.

After the end of the voting time, a presiding officer at Decent High School in PP-167 has expected around 20 percent turnout. In PP-158, a large number of people were seen outside the polling stations where families, youth and senior citizens had turned up to cast their votes. The same trend was seen in PP-168 and PP-170.

Throughout the polling day, sporadic incidents took place between the supporters of PML-N and PTI; however, no major incident was reported. Overall, the by-elections were held in a peaceful environment.

In PP-168, where a close contest was expected, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s leaders including PTI senior leader and former Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary, were attacked by the supporters of Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP). Outside the Iqra School polling station in PP 168, Fawad’s car was attacked by the TLP supporters who damaged his car. However, all the PTI leaders managed to leave the place unhurt. Later, the police arrested the TLP attacker with the help of a video that went viral on social media. The police took the accused into custody and shifted him to an unknown location. “The accused was identified with the help of a video,” said SHO Asad Abbas.

While condemning the incident, PTI Punjab Central Punjab Information Secretary Mussarat Jamshaid Cheema told the media that an opponent party attacked the car of PTI leaders, including Fawad Chaudhary. “We were harassed while the police remained salient. It seems the police were facilitating the opponents,” she added.

In PP-158, the PTI and Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) workers came face-to-face while entering the Dharampura polling station. In the clash, a PML-N worker received a head injury. The injured worker alleged that he was tortured at the behest of PTI leader Jamshed Iqbal Cheema. The Lahore Police decided to arrest Cheema once a case was lodged against him.

Talking outside his office, Jamshed Cheema, flanked by PTI Central Punjab President Dr Yasmin Rashid, said that there was rigging taking place in a polling station at PP-158. He added that the PML-N activist sustained an injury when he was talking to the media.

In another incident, at Qurban Line in PP-158, PTI Councillor Nadeem accused the PML-N workers of harassing him and his colleagues sitting in the PTI camp outside the Government High School polling station. In a video message that went viral on social media and also shared by PTI leader Hammad Azhar on Twitter, Nadeem alleged that Ahsan, a PML-N worker, was forcing them to campaign for the PML-N candidate. Later, Nadeem was taken into custody by the police due to unknown reasons.

Meanwhile, in some polling stations, irregularities were observed during the balloting. Problems with the ‘Gharana’ number and polling station allocation to voters were reported in various polling stations. Some people could not trace their votes and polling stations.

There were complaints about the transfer of votes in Lahore. A PTI activist at a polling station in Chungi Amar Sidhu in Lahore’s PP-168 constituency has complained of votes being transferred. He said that he and his family had arrived at the polling station to cast their votes but the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had transferred them to another area. “We don’t know where our vote is,” he said, adding: “The voter list has been changed without any prior intimation. Very disappointed, very disappointed.” He said that out of the 10 eligible voters in his family, only two were on the list. “The rest were transferred,” he claimed.

An old man came to a polling station in PP-168 and his name on the voters’ list was not there. “This is my constituency and has been voting here for the last many years. The votes of all the members of my family were registered here, and 20 days ago when I checked the list, our names were present; however, a few days ago, the names were missing from the list.” He said that an official told him that his name was not on the list and accused the government of deliberately cancelling his vote.

In PP-168, PTI worker Malik Muhammad Waqar complained that the balloting paper was confusing; “the name our candidate and of another party was same and both were placed side-by-side on the balloting paper. Thus, it was easy to stamp on the wrong box,” he added.

The overall voting process remained peaceful in Lahore and even PTI’s Fawad Chaudhry also expressed satisfaction in this regard.

Earlier, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in a series of tweets urged the people to reject the politics of divide, hatred, and chaos through the power of their vote in by-elections of the Punjab Assembly.

The premier said the ego of an individual, incompetence, and his way of politics has ruined the beauty of Pakistani society. Expressing full confidence in people’s choice, the Prime Minister said they should vote for national development and a bright future for their children. He said Punjab was made an example of the worst kind of governance over the last four years.

Shehbaz asked people that while casting votes in Punjab’s by-elections they must think about the corruption, incompetence, economic destruction, and patronage of the mafia committed in the name of change during former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s black era of four years. He said Pakistan drifted away from its goal during the PTI regime and you can express this through your vote.

Minister for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb in a tweet said the people of 20 constituencies of the Punjab Assembly will make Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz successful in the by-elections by voting for development, progress, and prosperity.

She said the people will reject the politics of inflicting suffering on the people of Pakistan, U-turns, lies, corruption, violation of the Constitution, and snatching a relief of 100 units on electricity bills from the poor. She also attached a picture depicting the hooliganism of PTI workers in Lahore and Faisalabad, drawing the attention of the people of Pakistan to witness evidence of Imran Khan’s riotous, anarchic, hateful and criminal training. She said today the people of 20 constituencies of the Punjab Assembly will vote against chaos and anarchy. She said Imran Khan should focus on contesting elections instead of fighting people and political opponents.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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