KARACHI (Web Desk):- Counting is underway in the closely-watched NA-249 by-election which was held today in the city’s District West, with early counting showing a close contest between the PML-N and PPP.
PML-N’s Miftah Ismail is leading the race with PPP’s Abdul Qadir Mandokhel close behind, unofficial results from 203 of the total 276 polling stations show.
However, both parties have claimed victory for their candidates mid-way into counting, and so have captured the attention of audiences awaiting results.
The remaining prominent candidates of the 30 total contesting were the banned TLP’s Nazeer Ahmed, who for the most part maintained third place, followed by PTI candidate Amjad Iqbal Afridi, former Karachi mayor and PSP candidate Mustafa Kamal, and MQM-P candidate Hafiz Muhammad Mursaleen.
PML-N claims victory, asks ECP to look into ‘irregularities’
PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz asked how in a by-poll where voter turnout of barely 15-18% was witnessed counting was “still underway after eight hours”.
“Did fog descend here as well that the election staff reached late?”
“Do you take us for fools?” she asked.
Party spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb demanded that the Election Commission of Pakistan take note of what she claimed were irregularities in the results being reported.
She questioned what she claimed were greater vote counts than the total voter turnout percentages reported from certain polling stations.
“The PML-N and Miftah Ismail have won the election,” she claimed, adding: “We will not allow a rehearsal of ‘Daska Game Plan 2’ to take place at certain polling stations.”
Aurangzeb asked that the ECP investigate this “Daska fog of deception” which certain quarters wish to have descend into Baldia.
“Why has the counting of votes stopped for the past two hours?” she asked.
The PML-N leader claimed that the various Form 45s present in the returning office are in such a state that they “cannot be read”.
“We will not allow this rigging to take place. We will not let the election be stolen from Baldia voters,” she said.
She also claimed that PPP’s Saeed Ghani was reporting results despite the party’s presiding officer “not having reached the returning officer’s office”.
Presiding officer’s phone ‘turned off’
PML-N’s Muhammad Zubair, meanwhile, questioned how it was that amid a low voter turnout counting was taking so long.
“Until we get the Form 45s, we will not budge from here,” he said, adding: “The people have voted in favour of PML-N. The results must now be declared.”
He claimed that the party’s candidate (Miftah Ismail) and their lawyer were not being allowed into the DRO’s office.
Zubair added that the party’s polling agent “was not given the Form 45 of two polling stations” — polling stations 260 and 261.
“Both presiding officers locked up the station and left,” he claimed, adding that the phone of the presiding officer from polling station 260 “has been turned off”.
PPP’s Ghani responds
Saeed Ghani said he was sharing statistics on Twitter from the Form 45s that his party was receiving.
“It is upsetting that PML-N — which claims to be a democratic party — is casting blame on others.”
Responding to the claim by Aurangzeb of presiding officers not providing Form 45, Ghani said he had with him the Form 45 of polling station 261.
“The presiding officer in the polling station 260 did not give anyone Form 45.”
The presiding officer had asked all polling agents to take a photo of Form 45 that he had pasted on a wall, Ghani said.
He continued to share what he claimed were the latest results, each showing PPP in the lead.
As counting of votes gained momentum at night with results starting to roll in quickly, reports of a brawl between workers of the ruling PTI and the banned TLP emerged.
The workers reportedly threw chairs at each other, during a clash outside the PTI election office.
Some reports and footage of a confrontation between PTI and PML-N workers also emerged amid the counting of votes.
Later in the night, despite counting underway in more than half of the polling stations, PTI workers were reported to have wrapped up their belongings and left the election office.
Earlier in the evening, when results started rolling in and Miftah Ismail took the lead, PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz claimed that the “masses know who exactly is responsible for their troubles and woes”.
“I have said it earlier and I will say it again, Imran Khan and PTI will not be able to campaign and if they do, this is how they will be welcomed,” Maryam commented.
Her remarks were in response to a video shared by former journalist Talat Hussain showing PTI candidate for NA-249 Amjad Afridi being heckled by voters of the constituency.
Meanwhile, the Election Commission of Pakistan noted that during polling, election rules had been violated and wrote a letter to the distirct administration.
It said two Sindh government vehicles were seen roaming the streets with a party flag which is in open contravention to ECP’s Election Rules para 30.
The Deputy Commissioner of Keamari District has been tasked with probing the matter and submitting a report.
Voter turnout, despite strict security arrangements, was reported to be low, perhaps due to Ramadan and the scorching heat.
However, media reported it to be as low as 2% at others.
Counting is now underway in polling stations where no more voters are queued up waiting for their turn to cast their ballots.
Amid polling during the day, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) took strict notice of PTI lawmakers’ presence in the NA-249 constituency and directed them to leave.
According to details, six PTI MPs Firdous Shamim Naqvi, Raja Azhar, Saeed Afridi, Bilal Ghaffar, Shah Nawaz Jadoon and Shahzad Awan were found to be violating the code of conduct by being present in the constituency during polling hours.
The ECP has issued their expulsion orders, directing police to expel them from the constituency.
Meanwhile, PPP raised the issue of the presence of PTI’s Saeed Afridi in the constituency by writing to the Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, requesting him to take action against the MPA who was campaigning for his party’s candidate.
“It is obvious that PTI legislatures have made it a policy and a routine to violate election laws and their removal from the constituency is not producing any result. One goes and another enters,” PPP’s Taj Haider wrote to the CEC.
“We humbly request you to warn the party in this regard and take penal action under the law against those legislators who have violated Election Law.”
Haider also wrote to the CEC to complain about PTI lawmaker Awan’s presence inside the constituency.
Meanwhile, the provincial election commission has turned down PML-N leader Miftah Ismail’s request to extend polling hours, said sources.
Sources within the election commission told the body was unable to find any solid reason to extend polling hours beyond 5pm.
In a letter addressed to the provincial election commission, Ismail had submitted the request to facilitate voters who are fasting in the hot weather by extending polling hours.
He said the overall working efficiency of all presiding officers and their teams has been “very slow” which was affecting the polling process.
“Concurrently, majority of voters also arrived in polling stations late afternoon due to their fasting and hot weather conditions,” he wrote.
Ismail said he feared due to these factors, most voters will not be able to exercise their Constitutional right to vote for the candidate of their choice as the polling time was nearing its end.
“A large number of voters are still present at various polling stations in anticipation of casting their votes,” he said.
He requested the commission to provide an opportunity to a large number of people still present in the polling stations across the constituency to cast their votes, by extending the polling time “minimum for two hours at least”.
PML-N President and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif released a message to residents of NA-249 amid the by-poll in the Karachi constituency today.
The PML-N president appealed to the people of NA-249 to leave their homes and exercise their constitutional and democratic right to vote responsibly.
Shahbaz said the public can elect a competent and honest leader with their power to vote.
He also asked the citizens to take care of themselves and others around them in view of the spread of coronavirus.
Polling in NA-249 under way peacefully: DRO
Earlier in the day, District returning officer Syed Nadeem Haider said polling in NA-249 is under way peacefully.
He said that there were no polling agents in some places, however, there have been no complaints of delays in polling.
Voter turnout is low: Sindh election commissioner
Provincial election commissioner Ijaz Chauhan, too, visited various polling stations in the NA-249 constituency.
He said elected representatives cannot enter the constituency. Chauhan said that an MPA was found inside the constituency and was asked to leave.
Voter turnout, he said, is low so far and voters are turning up gradually. He said coronavirus SOPs are being taken care of.
PTI leading in every survey, says Naqvi
The PTI is leading in every survey related to the NA-249 constituency of Karachi, the party’s leader Firdous Shamim Naqvi told today.
He said the competition stays fierce until the last vote has not been counted. Speaking about Faisal Vawda, he said the former PTI MNA had improved the NA-249 constituency after it was neglected for 20 years.
About PPP, Naqvi said that the party had entered the playing field only two weeks ago. “I have heard that PPP has done a lot of work,” he said.
To ensure a large voter turnout, the Sindh government declared a public holiday today (Thursday, April 29) for NA-249 constituents.
The ECP deployed special staff for strict implementation of coronavirus guidelines during the polling process.
About the constituency
There are 30 candidates in the electoral arena, including PML-N’s Miftah Ismail, PTI’s Amjad Afridi, PPP’S Qadir Khan Mandokhel, Karachi’s former mayor Mustafa Kamal and MQM’s Hafiz Mursaleen, besides 18 independent candidates.
There are over 339,000 registered voters in NA-249, including 201,656 male and 137,935 female voters, who are casting their votes on 276 polling stations. The ECP has declared 184 polling stations highly sensitive and 92 others sensitive. The CCTV cameras have been installed at highly sensitive polling stations.
Some well-known areas in the constituency include Delhi Colony, Mujahid Colony, Baldia, and Saeedabad, while the prominent ethnic groups in this working-class neighbourhood comprise Urdu-speaking people, Pashtuns, Kashmiris, and the Seraiki-speaking lot.
A brief political history of NA-249
Prime Minister Imran Khan chose this constituency to contest elections for the first time in Pakistan in the year 1997.
He could only secure 2,037 votes from the area which, at that time, was named NA-184.
Since 2008 the constituency has elected a different political party to power in every general poll. In 2008, PPP’s Abdul Qadir Patel won with over 56,000 votes.
In 2013, MQM’s Muhammad Salman Baloch clinched victory with 39,000 votes, while in 2018, Muhammad Faisal Vawda bagged the constituency with over 35,000 votes.
Interestingly, Shehbaz Sharif, the former chief minister of Punjab, who was contesting polls for the first time in Karachi, lost to Vawda with only 723 votes. A candidate of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, which has now been banned by the government, ranked third in 2018 elections, with 23,981 votes.