All eyes on Punjab in Pakistan ahead of ‘make-or-break’ by-polls on Sunday

Representational Image

Representational Image

Photo : ANI

Lahore: Pakistan‘s Punjab province will see key by-polls on 20 assembly seats on Sunday between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif‘s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Imran Khan‘s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the first major political battle between them since the former premier was ousted from power in April.

The 20 seats fell vacant after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on May 23 de-seated 25 PTI dissident lawmakers, including five lawmakers elected on reserved seats for women and minorities, for voting against PML-N’s Hamza Shehbaz, the son of Prime Minister Sharif, in the election for the post of Punjab chief minister.

Political pundits say a majority of the 20 defecting PTI lawmakers have hitched their wagons to the PML-N in Sunday’s tussle between the two arch-rival parties which have around the same number of seats in the Punjab Assembly, Geo News reported.

However, if either of the parties takes a major lead in the by-polls, it can form the next government easily as the elections for the chief minister are also slated for July 22. The ruling PML-N, which has a strong presence in the province, took a lead in all the by-elections held in Punjab between 2018 and 2021, despite the PTI being in power in the Centre. The PML-N emerged successful in 14 out of the 29 national and provincial constituencies up for grabs in Punjab, while the PTI won 10.

Of the 20 lawmakers who won the polls, 10 contested as independent candidates and later joined the PTI due to the efforts of businessman and politician Jahangir Khan Tareen during the 2018 general elections. This time, however, the voters, who are charged up and motivated by the ousted prime minister Khan’s foreign conspiracy narrative, could give tough competition to the PML-N in urban constituencies.

PML-N Vice-President Maryam Nawaz and PTI Chairman Khan until Saturday vigorously campaigned for their parties. Khan, during the campaign, reiterated his claims of a foreign conspiracy that led to his government’s ouster and asked his supporters to ensure that in the by-polls, the thieves and corrupt do not win.

“They will break all the records of rigging the elections,” the PTI chairman said on Friday, rallying his party workers and supporters against the government. Minister for Interior Rana Sanaullah Khan in a tweet, warning the PTI leadership to exercise restraint and avoid disrupting the peaceful proceedings of by-elections, said both Khan and his party must restrain from disrupting Sunday’s by-polls by inciting riots or violence.

“The law will take its due course if anyone tries to sabotage the writ of the state by indulging in unlawful activities,” the minister added. The Punjab Assembly a total of 371 members, with 20 seats lying vacant at the moment, bringing the total number of lawmakers down to 351, currently has 163 ruling PML-N members and 163 PTI members on the other side as the strong opposition.

As per rules, a party or coalition needs a minimum of 186 out of the 371 seats in the assembly to elect a chief minister of its choice.