By-election surprises

February 28, 2021

ECP annuls Daska by-election, orders re-polling on March 18

Citing reports of polling-day violence and massive rigging in the NA-75, Daska, by-election, the Election Commission of Pakistan has ordered re-polling in the constituency.

By-elections for three National Assembly and four Provincial Assembly seats were held in the country on February19.

The elections and their results highlight the reality that local politics have overwhelmed the narratives supported by the government and opposition parties.

The by-elections have sprung two upsets. The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Fazl (JUIF) both lost seats, in Nowshera and Kurram, respectively, that they had won in 2018.

However, the violence-riddled NA-75 election remained the talk of the town. The media reported that five polling stations situated in Daska city remained closed for at least five hours; another five were operational for only 30 minutes. Video clips aired by Geo News and other channels clearly showed people involved in firing and physical clashes. The police were unable to stop them and maintain order.

“In our country, the history of by-elections shows that local administrations have always facilitated pro-government candidates, allowing them to commit some illegal acts,” political analyst Suhail Warraich says.

The disappearance of the presiding officers of the 23 polling stations and their apparent involvement in rigging, as a press release of the ECP states, has added another disappointing episode to the litany.

All these 23 polling stations are situated in the constituency of Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) MPA Baoo Muhammad Rizwan. The PML-Q is a coalition partner of the PTI in the Punjab and at the Centre.

In Daska city, the PML-N has maintained a strong hold. This claim is backed by the results of the last three general elections. “The firing in the air and scuffles in several parts of the city appeared to be a part of a plan to sabotage the peaceful atmosphere and deter voters,” Sialkot-based journalist Umer tells The News on Sunday.

“The presiding officers stopped the polling as soon as they heard the shots being fired outside. On every occasion, the shooting went on for a couple of hours. As a result, voters in Daska city, a PML-N stronghold, were unable to cast their votes. In every Provincial Assembly or National Assembly election held in the area since 2008, PML-N candidates have received a majority of votes,” Umer adds.

PTI’s NA-75 candidate Ali Asjad Malhi had won the general election in 2002. “Malhi looked desperate to make an impression on his party leadership by winning the election…by any means,” Warraich says.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has been stressing that most of the opposition parties and their leaders are out-and-out corrupt. Talking about the electoral process, he and his party have always pleaded for free and fair elections. However, Warraich believes that the incidents occurring during NA-75 polls and afterwards have “damaged PTI’s political image”.

“The NA-75 by-election has put a huge question mark on the capacity of civil administration to hold upcoming local government elections as well as general elections in a peaceful way. Therefore, the strong yet due role of the ECP in identifying those involved in illegal practices in this by-election can only help address these apprehensions,” he adds.

For its part, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has won two Provincial Assembly and one National Assembly seats in Sindh. PML-N has secured a Provincial Assembly seat each in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Punjab. The JUI-F has retained its Provincial Assembly seat in Pishin, Balochistan, but lost its National Assembly seat in Kurram to the PTI.

The by-election results show an increase in PPP’s votes on all seats in Sindh and a considerable decrease in the votes polled by the PTI and its allies. However, the PTI has secured more votes in Kurram, Daska and Wazirabad than in the previous election. However, it has lost a seat in Nowshera that it had won in 2018. Both PML-N and JUI-F have secured more votes than in the general elections.

Despite being in the government, the PTI and its allies have won only one of the seven seats. This does not support Prime Minister Imran Khan’s suggestion from his days in opposition that sitting provincial governments tend to win by-elections. The current trend, especially in the KP, Balochistan and the Punjab is different.

“The NA-75 by-election has put a huge question mark on the capacity of civil administration to hold upcoming local government elections as well as general elections in a peaceful way. Therefore, only the strong role of the ECP in identifying all elements involved in illegal practices in this by-election can help put these apprehensions aside,” says analyst Suhail Warraich.

The 11-party Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) is claiming that voters have rejected the PTI-led coalition and vindicated their narrative against the government.

Nevertheless, in PK-63 Nowshera, some other factors too have played a role in bringing about the defeat of the PTI candidate. “The rift between former KP irrigation minister Liaqat Khattak and his brother Minister for Defence Pervez Khattak; PDM parties’ support to the PML-N candidate, inflation and unemployment,” Nowshera-based journalist Mushtaq Paracha says. According to media reports, Liaqat Khattak wanted the party ticket for his son, Ahad Khattak. When his request was rejected, he set up the Nowshera Kalan Tehreek that supported the PML-N candidate, Ikhtiar Wali, in the by-election against his own party.

This defeat has soured the PTI’s celebrations to mark the winning of the National Assembly seat from Kurram. It also led to the expulsion of Liaqat Khattak from the provincial cabinet.

In NA-221 Tharparkar, the candidate supported by the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), the PTI and Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s Ghousia Jamait was unable to give a tough time to the PPP candidate. Qureshi had lost twice in this constituency, in 2013 and 2018 general elections, against the PPP candidate.

Journalist Farooq Soomro believes that three factors have played a role in the comfortable PPP win. “Rift between former Sindh CM Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim and PTI leadership in Tharparkar; the anti-PTI sentiment; and the development projects launched by the Sindh government that have provided jobs to locals; 172 reverse osmosis plants that supply drinking water to most of the Tharparkar district; health projects that have brought down the infant mortality rate by 40 percent, and the Mithi airport are the major elements. In addition, Bilawal Bhutto has announced plans for a university for Thar,” he says.

Traditionally in Sanghar, the political tussle is between the Pakistan Muslim League Functional (PML-F) and the PPP. “However, this time the PTI fielded its candidate for PS 43 by-election. The PML-F nominally supported the PTI candidate but its local leaders Jam Maddad Ali and Imam Din Shaukeen joined the PPP prior to election,” Soomro says.

In Kurram, the PTI managed to win the seat because of its candidate. Historically, personalities with greater tribal connections have played an important role in winning any election in the area. Political researcher Majid Nizami thinks that the selection of Malik Fakhar Zaman Khan Bangash as the PTI candidate from the area won the party one more National Assembly seat.

“In Daska, the turnout surprisingly increased. This shows that the on-going political debate in the country has brought more voters to the polling stations. Moreover, the one-on-one competition between the PML-N and the PTI candidates in Daska and Wazirabad resulted in more votes being cast for both parties,” Nizami says.

Political analysts say that local electoral alliances, political groups, baradaris, tribes, and polling management have always played an important role in by-elections. The current elections should be viewed accordingly. An important aspect of this election is that all major political parties have attracted a significant number of voters. It appears that narratives of the government against the opposition and vice versa have had little impact.

The author is a staff member. He can be reached at

Analysis: By-election surprises