Ruling PML-N party bags by-election in Punjab, its bastion of power, in an upset win

Irshad Salim (PKONWEB Report): Considered the last bye-election in the country before upcoming elections in summer, the ruling party won an important by-poll in Lodhran district of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous and largest province and traditionally the bastion of PML-N.

Commenting on the win, former PM Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz tweeted: “Alhamdolillah million times. We bow our heads before The Almighty in gratitude. This is how The Divine responds to treachery & plotting.”

According to one political observer, “PTI defeat in Lodhran is an upset. It means Nawaz Sharif’s narrative is taking roots among people.”

Thr ruling party in the center which has been in power in Punjab for the last one decade, defeated the son of disqualified PTI leader Jehangir Tareen– Ali Tareen contested on his father’s strength and traditional support, however failed to defeat the incumbent party’s candidate considered still popular in the masses of Punjab, specially its rural belt despite several hits on accountability scoreboard.

Jahangir Tareen had arrived at his designated polling station on a helicopter. Talking to journalists after casting his vote, he said that his son would prove to be a more appropriate politician than he was. He promised to hold a victory rally in the city after his son won the election.

“It’s a surprising turn of events that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) won the NA-154 by-election in Lodhran with a sizeable margin on Monday, even though party chief Nawaz Sharif had been unable to participate in the election campaign as he was busy holding public gatherings across the country,” the observer added.

Commenting on the upset, Omar Quraishi, a senior journalist associated with SAMAA TV, said, “A major electoral upset happened in Pakistan today — with a few months left below the general election, the ruling party’s candidate defeated that of Imran Khan’s party for a seat seen as the latter’s stronghold – this suggests that sympathy is growing for ousted PM Nawaz Sharif.”

According to unofficial count, PML-N candidate Syed Iqbal Shah had obtained 116,590 votes, while Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Ali Khan Tareen had secured 91,230 votes.

The National Assembly seat (NA-154) seat fell vacant after the then secretary general of PTI Jahangir Tareen was disqualified for being “dishonest” by the Supreme Court in its verdict in December last year.

Celebrating the unexpected victory in the late hours of Monday, Maryam Nawaz tweeted: “This is simply majestic & sets the stage for 2018 elections. MNS message has resonated with the masses. Opponents misjudged the situation.”

PTI chief Imran Khan tried to give a positive spin to the defeat in NA-154 by-poll. He tweeted “every setback was an opportunity to learn from mistakes.”

Geo News journalist Murtaza Ali Shah comments on the Twitter was: “Ali Tareen’s defeat is bloodbath 4 Imran Khan’s politics of dherna and mud-slinging, its rejection of biased ouster of Nawaz Sharif on Iqama, voters can see that PTI has failed to deliver on the promises it made in 2013 and wasted time on getting in2 power thru backdoors.”

Journalist Gharida Farooqi said: “If Nawaz Sharif is convicted in the current milieu, will add up to sympathy-vote. Such political martyrdom will be a nightmare for his opponents. Play smart now in this game-of-chess if you wish to eliminate the king; not many options left…”

Many analysts however attribute the win more due to sustained and populist administration of CM Shahbaz Sharif– considered a very strong contender for the next PMship by many inside and outside the country, and less toward sympathy-vote or the aura of political martydom being carried by his elder brother Nawaz Sharif who was ousted as PM in July by the Supreme Court in Panama Papers Case.

Salman Sehgal, a PML-N leader based in Lahore and said to be close to Shahbaz Sharif, said, “MSS (Mian Shahbaz Sharif) excellence in PB (Punjab) is really commendable by all means. It’s just due to MSS self less outstanding performance and unparalleled achievements in Punjab that like 2013 ….even 2018 elections will be won by PMLN. This is the last by-election before general elections. May Allah Karim keep protecting and blessing him always.”

The PPP fielded Mirza Muhammad Ali Baig and the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah had backed Muhammad Azhar Sandela, an independent candidate. Mr Baig and Mr Sandela backed 3,170 and 10,181 votes, respectively. There were 10 candidates in the run with a total of 431,200 registered voters.

PPP– the country’s largest secularist party which ruled at the Center during 2008-2013, and continues to rule Sindh province in the south, for more than a decade now, has been waging struggle to make inroads in the largest province, however “PML-N’s populist performance and moves stand in their way, and on the other hand PPP “keeps disappointing us” organizationally and thought-leadership wise,” the observer added.

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