ISLAMABAD: Low voter turnout was recorded in Pakistan on Sunday as the country held by-elections on 11 national and 24 provincial assembly seats that fell vacant after the July 2018 electoral contest.
More than 9.2 million eligible voters were expected to cast their ballot at 7,489 polling centers that were tightly guarded to deal with any security problem. While the media were barred from entering the polling stations, voter turnout remained poor according to initial counts.
“The polling station was deserted when I went to vote late morning,” said Syed Ather Ali, who voted for the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party from NA-60, a National Assembly constituency in Rawalpindi.
Some 370 hopefuls contested the by-polls, according to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which approved 645 nomination papers of the 661 submitted by different nominees.
From the four provinces of the country, 218 candidates contested from Punjab, 57 from Sindh, 36 from the sparsely populated province of Baluchistan, and 59 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
According to unofficial results, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) candidate was leading from NA-131, Lahore. Similarly, the country’s former prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, was ahead of his opponents and had bagged the greatest number of votes in NA-124, Lahore, on the PML-N ticket.
Preliminary figures also showed that the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) candidate had won NA-65, Chakwal. PTI candidates were leading in NA-243, Karachi, NA-35, Bannu, and NA-53, Islamabad.
Much like the last general elections, the political battle was once again anticipated to be between the ruling PTI party and the largest opposition PML-N faction. Going by the unofficial accounts, both parties have taken four seats each in the National Assembly of Pakistan.
Two unopposed candidates had already won the provincial seats of PP-87, Mianwali, and PP-296, Rajanpur.
The most unique feature of the 2018 by-polls was the participation of overseas Pakistanis who could vote for their favored candidate electronically via the ECP website for the first time in the country’s history. Only a little more than 7,400 people availed the facility, though the option was open to 7.9 million Pakistanis living abroad.
The results of the general elections held in July were marred by allegations of rigging by opposition parties. Some very strong contestants, who lost the electoral race, believed they had fallen victim to systematic irregularities.
Political analyst Qamar Cheema said the by-polls were vital to the ruling PTI party since it had managed to form the government at the federal level with only a narrow margin.
“These by-elections will also prove whether people have accepted or rejected all the changes that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s administration has introduced in the country,” Cheema claimed while talking to Arab News.