PTI’s independents surge

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PTI’s independents surge

Rizwan Shehzad

ISLAMABAD: In an unexpected twist, independent candidates supported by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) seemed to be gaining the upper hand in the preliminary results late on Thursday, causing ripples across the political landscape. This surprising turn of events occurred even as the party’s founder, Imran Khan, remained incarcerated, and despite the perceived absence of a fair playing field.

However, uncertainty loomed large following the expression of the Pakistani people’s will through their votes in the 2024 general elections, particularly amidst a temporary suspension of cellular services due to security concerns just prior to the commencement of voting.

To add insult to injury, despite assurances from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that the election results would be promptly disclosed, not a single constituency’s outcome was announced even as the clock struck 2 o’clock. This delay added frustration and uncertainty to an already tense political atmosphere.

However, in the wee hours of Friday, when very few results trickled in, all PTI-backed independents, supporters gathered at the party’s central secretariat and started “victory” celebrations. PTI Chairman Gauhar Khan claimed that its candidates were leading on 150 National Assembly seats.

The late-night results showed, PTI-backed Muhammad Nawaz Khan Allai won NA-13, Battagram, securing 24,657 votes against Rah-e-Haq Party’s Atta Muhammad, who bagged 18,096 votes, while Ali Muhammad Khan got 42,041 votes to beat ANP’s Ahmed Khan Bahadur, who got 13,845 votes in NA-23,Mardan.

Despite the media’s ongoing coverage of unofficial and unconfirmed results for both national and provincial assembly seats, the situation remained volatile as the ECP failed to announce a single official result by 2 a.m. on Friday.

Adding to the frustration, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja, who had previously declined to request the restoration of mobile phone services, insisting that the ECP system could operate without it, was reported by midnight to attribute the delay in results to the suspension of cellular services.

As the vote-counting process continued up to the filing of this report, media projections indicated that PTI-backed candidates were leading on a significant number of seats out of the total 266 general seats available in the National Assembly.

These projections were shocking, to say the least, for the party of three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. However, just like the ECP, the PML-N also remained tight-lipped.

Meanwhile, despite suspension of the mobile phone services, the military’s media wing said that 12 people, including 10 personnel of security forces and law-enforcement agencies, were killed and 39 others injured in 51 attacks in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

Apart from the security challenges, polling was held amid allegations of pre-poll manipulation, in the absence of level-playing field and suspension of cellular services across the country. The shutting down of the mobile internet, which depends on cellular services, was slammed by activists and political parties, excluding PML-N, but all their demands to restore signals were met with silence.

Amid a deafening silence by ECP and the PML-N, the PTI leadership was found vocal, seeing the initial results. PTI Chief Organiser Omar Ayub Khan, PTI Parliamentary Leader in the Senate, Barrister Ali Zafar, and PTI Central Secretary Information, Raoof Hasan, thanked the people on behalf of the “PTI chairman-for-life Imran Khan” for speaking via massive turnout despite every possible method employed to undermine the will of the people.

Read: PTI endorses 44 candidates for NA, PA seats from Lahore

Raoof Hasan, while speaking about the initial results, said that the PTI was leading on 125 National Assembly seats by significant margins, indicating a potential shot at the government formation at the Centre and in at least two provinces.

However, Hasan expressed concern over the reported slowdown in result announcements, suggesting possible efforts to tamper with the outcome, a practice seen in the past. Hasan warned of serious consequences for those allegedly attempting to manipulate election results, emphasising that the PTI and the people of Pakistan would not tolerate such interference.

In a video message shared on PTI’s official Twitter handle, Hasan strongly advised the swift and transparent announcement of the results without any attempts to withhold or tamper with them.

Meanwhile, in a joint statement, they stated that despite the use of the worst state interference in the electoral process and pre-poll rigging, Imran showed Pakistan a new path by expressing his unwavering faith in the Constitution, law and democracy.

Both the leaders expressed serious concerns as polling process in several constituencies across the country, especially in Karachi, were delayed due to constant obstructions.

However, they lauded that the people had shown their full confidence in Imran Khan and his true agenda of “Haqeeqi Azadi” through their power of votes despite the worst pre-election rigging attempts and creating numerous other hurdles.

Omar and Zafar stated that “the preliminary results were very encouraging, which clearly showed that the PTI was taking a convincing lead.”

However, they said that after clear and visible chances of victory of Imran Khan’s candidates in the preliminary results, the process of results got slowdown alarmingly, besides surfacing of reports of closure of the screens in the offices of returning officers, which was very concerning.

They warned that “an attempt to steal people’s mandate through a closed-room conspiracy would have very negative and fatal consequences.”

Even PMLN senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed posted on X that the poll results were probably “the biggest election upset in Pakistan’s political history in the last 50 years,” saying it was extremely important that the ‘February 8 Surprise’ be transformed into an opportunity for a much-needed “Healing Touch” reinforcing National Unity & Stability by respecting Popular Will & Mandate of People of Pakistan! “Repeating mistake of 2018 polls, when Election Commission’s RTS suddenly conked off before midnight, with results withheld,” he said, “would be a recipe for disaster!”

The results were so delayed that ECP appeared to be violating ECP act of 2017 as Section 13 (3) (Establishment of results management system) states that The Returning Officer shall compile the complete provisional results as early as possible and shall communicate these results electronically to the Commission. Provided that if, it adds, for any reason, the results are incomplete by 02:00 a.m. on the day immediately following the polling day, the Returning Officer shall communicate to the Commission provisional results as consolidated till that time along with reasons for the delay, in writing, while listing the polling stations from which results are awaited and thereafter shall send the complete provisional results as soon as compiled but not later than 10:00 a.m.]

The delay on announcing the results frustrated the ECP so much that it had to issue an official statement at 2:32am, directing the all the Provincial Election Commissioners and Returning Officers to declare all the results within the next half an hour otherwise strict action will be taken against them.