CHAKWAL: Amid allegations of illegal canvassing and a host of irregularities, the ruling PML-N triumphed in by-polls for the Punjab assembly seat PP-20 in Chakwal on Tuesday.
According to unofficial and preliminary results, Chaudhary Sultan Haider of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) bagged 75,655 votes. Interestingly, Haider bagged more votes than the party had done during the 2013 general elections — 62,088 when the turnout was 62.48 per cent.
His opponent, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PIT) Raja Tariq Afzal could only muster 45,702 votes. In 2013, PTI’s Ali Nasir Bhatti had bagged 32,827 votes.
The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR), which first contested the NA-120 by-polls and had blocked the main road leading to Islamabad for three weeks last November, bagged 16,112 votes.
According to estimates, the overall voter turnout was around 32 per cent.
The PP-20 Chakwal-I seat had fallen vacant on October 30 after PML-N MPA Chaudhry Liaquat Ali Khan passed away. This was the first by-election to be held after the Elections Act 2017, came into effect in October last year.
Tuesday’s polls were held peacefully.
The voting started at 8am and continued until 5pm without any interval.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had set up 227 polling stations in the constituency for the 279,530 registered voters. Of the 814 polling booths, five were declared as highly-sensitive, while 45 others were termed as sensitive.
Tight security arrangements were made for the election with personnel of Rangers and police standing guard at the polling stations.
Earlier in the day, the ECP imposed a Rs50,000 fine on Haider for violating the code of ethics during his campaign.
According to the ECP, the district monitoring officer (DMO) had summoned MNAs Hamza Shahbaz, Major (Retd) Tahir Iqbal, MPA Sardar Zulfikar Ali Khan and Chakwal District Council Vice Chairman Khursheed Baig for addressing a public rally in the constituency on January 6 with Haider. The district returning officer (DRO) had subsequently summoned Haider to explain his position for violating the code.
Haider, though, failed to satisfy the DRO who then sent the case to the DMO for further action.
According to the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), incidents of illegal campaigning and canvassing on the polling day were reported from a fourth of the observed polling stations.
Further, FAFEN said that critical election materials such as ballot books, the Result of the Count (Form-45), the Ballot Paper Account (Form-46) and necessary legal packets were unavailable at around 42 polling stations.
Despite being accredited from the polling body, observers of FAFEN and the Coalition for Elections and Democracy (CPDI) were barred from entering certain polling stations to observe the counting process.
FAFEN said that most of the election violations were related to illegal campaigning and canvassing.
“Parties’ camps were witnessed outside 29 polling stations within the prescribed 400 meters boundary for campaigning and canvassing while transport was being provided by candidates and parties around 28 polling stations,” FAFEN’s report said.
The ECP conducted a pilot-test of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) at nine polling stations. FAFEN observed that these EVMs were placed outside polling booths at two instances, while the machines were run by operators of the EVM provider company instead of the polling staff.
Meanwhile, CPDI said that the polling staff started the closing process immediately and the counting started within 10 minutes of the closing at average.
CPDI’s observers noted that ECP staff at 14 per cent of polling stations did not count and record the number of unused ballot papers immediately after the start of the closing process.
Moreover, at 57 per cent of the sampled polling stations seals of the ballot boxes were damaged before opening.
Observers at 14 per cent of polling stations that the polling staff did not cross-check the number of ballots cast against the number of signatures on the counterfoil.