High-stakes by-polls to decide Punjab chief minister’s fate on Sunday

A Pakistani election official seal ballot boxes after after polls closed at a polling station in Lahore on July 25, 2018. (AFP/FILE)
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Updated 17 July 2022
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High-stakes by-polls to decide Punjab chief minister’s fate on Sunday

  • The by-polls are seen as a popularity test for the ruling PML-N and the opposition PTI parties 
  • Top leaders of both parties have addressed rallies in all 20 constituencies to sway the masses 

ISLAMABAD: By-elections for 20 high-stakes Punjab Assembly seats have dominated Pakistan’s political landscape as two major parties, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), have been vying for the maximum number of seats that will also determine the fate of Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz. 

Shehbaz won the slot in an April election with the support of 25 dissident PTI lawmakers, but the election commission later disqualified the dissidents and announced fresh polls on 20 general seats as five of them were elected on reserved seats for women and religious minorities. Of these 20 dissidents, ten won the 2018 general elections as independent candidates and later joined the PTI for the party to form the government in Punjab. 

The by-polls, which are scheduled to be held on Sunday, are also seen as a popularity test for the ruling PML-N and the opposition PTI parties. Top leaders of both parties, including PTI chairman Imran Khan and PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz, have addressed public gatherings in each of the 20 constituencies to mobilize the masses ahead of the polling day. 

Political analysts expect a close contest among PTI and PML-N candidates in each constituency, though a large number of independents and candidates of other parties, including the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Jamat-e-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Pakistan (JUI-P), Awami National Party (ANP) and Tehrik-e-Jawanan Pakistan (TJP), are also contesting the elections. 

Habib Akram, a political analyst and a TV talk show host, said the results of the by-elections on 20 seats would be crucial as they would dictate the future of the Shehbaz government in Punjab. 

“If we go by the public sentiment in each constituency, then the PTI should easily win 15 out of 20 seats,” Akram told Arab News. “People in these constituencies feel that this is a make-or-break moment for the country due to the PTI’s narrative of a ‘regime change conspiracy’.” 

He said the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), a coalition of nine parties that overthrew the Khan government in the center through a no-trust vote in April, had failed to deliver on its promises. 

“The PDM’s narrative of inflation stood defeated badly just within weeks of their government when they raised fuel and electricity prices to a record level,” Akram said. “People are now buying the narrative of PTI across the Punjab province.” 

Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, president of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), said the result of the by-elections would also impact the federal government, therefore, both parties put in their best to win the maximum number of seats. 

“This election will also determine if the PTI’s narrative of foreign conspiracy has resonated with the public. The PML-N is blaming the PTI for poor governance and inflation during its tenure and trying to persuade the public in its favor,” he told Arab News. 

“Apparently, the PTI has gained popularity in Punjab after its ouster from the government, but it is yet to be seen if this popularity would convert into votes on July 17.” 

Here is a list of all 20 constituencies and the candidates who won the 2018 general elections from there: 

PP-7 Rawalpindi 

Raja Sagheer Ahmed won the seat as an independent candidate in 2018 and later joined the PTI. Six candidates are currently contesting the election in this constituency, including two independents. 

The main contest is expected between PTI’s Mohammad Shabbir Awan and Raja Sagheer Ahmed of PML-N. Other candidates include JI’s Tanveer Ahmed, Mansoor Zahoor of TLP, Raja Waseem Ahmed and Nazakat Hussain. 

PP-83 Khushab 

Malik Ghulam Rasool Sangha won the seat as an independent candidate in 2018. A total of ten candidates are contesting the by-election in this constituency, including seven independents. PML-N has fielded Amir Haider Sangha, PTI has nominated Hassan Malik and TLP has named Zammurad Abbas Khan its candidate. 

PP-90 Bhakkar 

Saeed Akbar Khan won the PP-90 seat as an independent in 2018 and later joined the PTI. Nine candidates are currently vying for this seat, including four independents. 

Khan has this time been nominated by PML-N, Abdur Rauf by JUI-P, Irfanullah Khan Niazi by PTI, Mohammad Amjad Jamil by TLP and Naveed Ahsan Niaz by JI. 

PP-97 Faisalabad 

The seat was won by Mohammad Ajmal as an independent candidate in 2018. He too later joined the PTI. A total of 12 candidates are currently running for the provincial assembly seat, including seven independents. They include Naveed Shafee of TLP, Mohammad Sohaib Aslam of Pakistan Nazriyati Party (PNP), Mohammad Ajmal of PML-N, Ali Afzal Sahi of PTI and Ali Ahmad of JI. 

PP-125 Jhang 

Faisal Hayat won the seat as an independent candidate in 2018. A total of ten candidates are now vying for this seat, including eight independents. The main contest in the constituency is expected between Hayat, who has been nominated by the PML-N, and PTI’s Mian Muhammad Azam. 

PP-127 Jhang 

Mehar Muhammad Aslam won the seat as an independent in 2018 and later joined the PTI. A total of ten candidates are contesting the election in this constituency, including seven independents. They are Mehar Muhammad Nawaz of PTI, PML-N’s Mehar Muhammad Aslam and Muhammad Usman of TLP. 

PP-140 Sheikhupura 

Mian Khalid Mehmood won the seat as a PTI candidate in 2018, but deserted his party in 2022 and voted for Hamza Shehbaz in the chief minister’s election. 

A total of ten candidates are vying for this seat, including six independents. They include Javed Iqbal of TLP, Khurram Shahzad Virk of PTI, Muhammad Tauseef of JI and Mian Khalid Mehmood of PML-N. 

PP-158 Lahore 

Abdul Aleem Khan won the seat on PTI’s ticket in 2018. A total of 14 candidates are contesting the election in this constituency, including eight independents. They are Jamil-ur-Rehman of the PNP, Rana Ahsan of PML-N, Umair Awan of JI, Muhammad Bilal of TLP, Muhammad Zahid Khan of Awami National Party (ANP) and Mian Muhammad Akram Usman of PTI. 

PP-167 Lahore 

Nazir Ahmed Chohan won the seat as the PTI candidate in 2018. A total of 11 candidates are now contesting the election in this constituency, including six independents. They include Hasnain Ahmed Shahzad of TLP, Khalil Ahmed of JI, Shabbir Ahmed of PTI, Nazir Ahmed Chohan of PML-N and Wakif Tehmasab Kayani of TJP. 

PP-168 Lahore 

Malik Asad Ali won the 2018 election as the PTI candidate. Nine candidates are currently vying for this seat, including five independents. They are Amjad Hussain Abbasi of TLP, Usman Ghani of JI, Muhammad Nawaz Awan of PTI, and Malik Asad Ali of PML-N. 

PP-170 Lahore 

Muhammad Amin Zulqarnain won the seat as the PTI candidate in 2018. Eight candidates are currently contesting the election in this constituency, including four independents. They are Jamil Ahmed of TLP, Muhammad Amin Zulqarnain of PML-N, Malik Zaheer Abbas of PTI and Waqas Ahmad Butt of JI. 

PP-202 Sahiwal 

Malik Nauman Ahmad Langrial won the seat as the PTI candidate in 2018. Eight candidates are now contesting the by-election, including five independents. They include Umair Saleem of TLP, Muhammad Ghulam Sarwar of PTI and Malik Noman Ahmad Langrial of PML-N. 

PP-217 Multan 

Muhammad Salman won as an independent candidate in 2018. Four candidates are currently taking part in the by-election, including Zahid Hameed Gujjar of TLP, Sajid Ismail of JI, Mohammad Salman of PML-N and Makhdoom Zain Hussain Qureshi of PTI. 

PP-224 Lodhran 

Zawar Hussain Warraich won the seat as the PTI candidate in 2018. A total of ten candidates are running for the seat now, including six independents. They include Intizar Ahmad Attari of TLP, Hafiz Abdul Shakoor of JUI-P, Zawar Hussain Warraich of PML-N and Muhammad Amir Iqbal Shah of PTI. 

PP-228 Lodhran 

Nazir Ahmed Khan won the constituency as the PTI candidate in 2018. Six candidates are currently contesting the election, including Syed Arshad Ali Shah of TLP, Izzat Javaid Khan of PTI, Nazir Ahmed Khan of PML-N and three independents. 

PP-237 Bahawalnagar 

Fida Hussain won as an independent in 2018 and later joined the PTI. Six candidates are vying for the seat now, including Syed Aftab Raza of PTI, Sabir Manzoor Wattoo of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Nazriati (PTI-N), Fida Hussain of PML-N, Mian Rashid Mahmood Wattoo of TLP and two independents. 

PP-272 Muzaffargarh 

Syeda Zehra Basit Bukhari won the 2018 election as the PTI candidate. Nine candidates are currently contesting the election, including Muhammad Ibrahim of TLP, Syeda Zehra Basit Bukhari of PML-N, Mohammad Moazzam Ali Khan of PTI and six independents. 

PP-273 Muzaffargarh 

Muhammad Sibtain Raza won the seat as the PTI candidate in 2018. Six candidates are now contesting the election, including Muhammad Shafi Khan of TLP, Muhammad Sibtain Raza of PML-N, Munawar Hussain Bukhari of Pakistan Peoples Party (Shaheed Bhutto), Yasir Arafat Khan of PTI and two independents. 

PP-282 Layyah 

Muhammad Tahir won as an independent in 2018 and later joined the PTI. A total of ten candidates are taking part in the election, including Qaiser Abbas Khan of PTI, Muhammad Shahid Iqbal of TLP, Muhammad Tahir of PML-N, Muzammil Abbas of PPP (Shaheed Bhutto) and six independents. 

PP-288 Dera Ghazi Khan 

Mohsin Atta Khan Khosa won the seat as an independent in 2018 and later joined the PTI. Six candidates are now contesting the election, including Sardar Mohammad Saifuddin Khosa of PTI, Abdul Qadir Khan of PML-N, Irfanullah of TLP and three independents. 


President of ex-PM Khan party released from prison after nearly a year in custody

Updated 21 May 2024
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President of ex-PM Khan party released from prison after nearly a year in custody

  • Pervaiz Elahi was arrested on June 1 in a case relating to alleged illegal appointments in Punjab Assembly
  • His party says the anti-corruption watchdog failed to prove Elahi had accepted any money against recruitment

ISLAMABAD: Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, president of former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, was released from prison on Tuesday after the Lahore High Court granted him bail in a case relating to alleged illegal appointments, the PTI said.
Elahi was arrested on June 1, 2023 after being accused of getting results of the testing service changed to have the candidates of his choice appointed in the Punjab provincial assembly.
Justice Sultan Tanvir of the Lahore High Court accepted his bail petition while presiding over a hearing of the case on Tuesday and ordered his release.
“The anti-corruption body filed the case after a delay of two years,” the PTI said in a statement. “Anti-corruption body failed to prove that Mr. Elahi had accepted any money against recruitment or his involvement in the recruitment procedure.”
Elahi has twice served as the chief minister of Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province and dissolved the provincial assembly in January 2023 on Khan’s instructions, in a bid to force early nationwide elections.
His arrest on June 1 came amid a crackdown on Khan’s PTI party after violent clashes and attacks on government and military installations over Khan’s brief arrest in May 9.
Khan, who was ousted in a parliamentary no-trust vote in April, has been in jail since last August and convicted in multiple cases. Arguably Pakistan’s most popular politician, Khan says all cases against him are politically motivated to keep him out of politics.


Over 1,000 relief camps set up as Pakistan braces for heatwave

Updated 21 May 2024
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Over 1,000 relief camps set up as Pakistan braces for heatwave

  • The Pakistan Meteorological Department said temperatures are expected to hit as high as 50°Celsius in parts of rural Sindh
  • Extreme heat in Pakistan is often coupled by deficit in power supply, with some areas experiencing 15-hour daily loadshedding

KARACHI: Over 1,000 camps have been set up across Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh in anticipation of a severe heatwave, disaster management officials said Tuesday.
The Pakistan Meteorological Department said temperatures are expected to hit as high as 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts of rural Sindh.
“These camps have been set up to provide relief to affected people, and to help reduce instances of heatstroke and other heat-related diseases,” Ajay Kumar assistant director of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) told AFP.
“They are also equipped with places of rest, water and glucose to give to people as and when these are needed,” he added.
The heatwave will affect much of the country, building over the next week.
Extreme heat in Pakistan is often coupled by deficit in power supply, with some areas experiencing up to 15 hours a day of loadshedding, according to local media.
Pakistan increasingly vulnerable to extreme weather events, which scientists have linked to climate change.
Schools in the province have already postponed annual examinations scheduled for this week, including in the mega port city of Karachi, home to more than 20 million people.
PDMA Chief Meteorologist Sardar Sarfaraz said that “women who spend most of their time in the kitchen and in the fields in rural areas are the hardest hit.”
The heatwave also raises concern about the survival of livestock, Kumar added.


Pakistan religion minister applauds Saudi Arabia for innovation in facilitation of Hajj pilgrims

Updated 21 May 2024
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Pakistan religion minister applauds Saudi Arabia for innovation in facilitation of Hajj pilgrims

  • Hajj is one of five pillars of Islam and requires every Muslim to undertake the journey at least once
  • Around 26,711 Pakistani pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia ahead of the next month’s pilgrimage

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Minister Chaudhry Salik Hussain on Tuesday met with Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al-Rabiah and commended the innovative reforms implemented by the Saudi authorities to facilitate Hajj pilgrims, the Pakistani religious affair ministry said.
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and requires every adult Muslim to undertake the journey to the holy Islamic sites in Makkah at least once in their lifetime if they are financially and physically able.
According to Pakistan’s religious affairs ministry, 26,711 Pakistani pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia ahead of next month’s Hajj, less than two weeks after Pakistan kicked off its pre-Hajj flight operation.
Hussain arrived in Saudi Arabia last week to review Pakistan’s arrangements for Hajj pilgrims and has since toured various departments as well as met with Saudi authorities.
“Hussain appreciated the innovative and exemplary reforms of the Saudi authorities for the facilitation of Hajj pilgrims arriving in the Kingdom from across the globe,” Pakistan’s religious affairs ministry said in a statement.
The two figures had a detailed discussion regarding bilateral relations and arrangements for Hajj 2024, according to the statement. Hussain lauded the Kingdom for extending the best facilities and excellent support to the pilgrims.
He described the progress on new Pakistan Houses, which house the country’s Hajj missions, in Makkah and Madinah as “positive.”
“Saudi companies responsible for providing services under the leadership of the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah are doing a good job,” Hussain was quoted as saying in the statement.
Hussain also discussed the matter of pending transport contracts for 40,000 Pakistani Hajj pilgrims facilitated by private tour operators, to which the Saudi minister assured him the matter would be resolved within the next few days.
“Pakistan’s Hajj group operators should reform and follow Saudi directives,” Hussain urged, saying his ministry would take action if pilgrims faced inconvenience due to private operators.
Pakistan has a Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims this year, of which 63,805 people will perform the pilgrimage under the government scheme, while the rest will use private tour operators. This year’s pilgrimage is expected to run from June 14 till June 19.


Buttler keen for England to show their mettle at T20 World Cup

Updated 21 May 2024
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Buttler keen for England to show their mettle at T20 World Cup

  • Buttler’s men went to the one-day international World Cup in India in October as double world champions but lost six of their nine matches
  • A four-match T20 series against Pakistan, whom they defeated in T20 World Cup final in Melbourne in 2022, starts at Headingley on Wednesday

LONDON: Jos Buttler wants his England team to show they are still a force to be reckoned with at the T20 World Cup after last year’s shambolic 50-over title defense left them with “dented” pride.
Buttler’s men went to the one-day international World Cup in India in October as double world champions but lost six of their nine matches to exit with a whimper.
A four-match Twenty20 series against Pakistan, the team they defeated in the T20 World Cup final in Melbourne in 2022, starts at Headingley on Wednesday.
Both teams will then travel to the tournament in the West Indies and United States.
Reflecting Tuesday on the impact of their poor showing in India, England captain Buttler said: “The pride was obviously dented and it was a really disappointing competition.
“But life moves on, it’s a chapter in the book and there’s lessons you learn but we’re presented with a new opportunity now, in a different format.
“We go to the West Indies and want to give a better account of ourselves. It’s a real honor to go to another World Cup as defending champions again but it also feels like a new time.”
Buttler was a key voice in England’s decision to pull all of their squad members back from the Indian Premier League to prepare as a collective.
The hard-hitting batsman said the IPL should not clash with international cricket.
“As England captain, my main priority is to be playing for England,” he said. “It’s really important for us to spend this time together.
“Leading into a World Cup, your number one is performing for England and it feels like this is the best preparation.
“But it’s my personal opinion there shouldn’t be any international cricket that clashes with the IPL — these games have been in the calendar a long time.”
Two of England’s 15-man squad are unavailable for the opening fixture in Leeds, with Liam Livingstone and Mark Wood both working through knee problems.
Paceman Jofra Archer will make his first England appearance for 14 months but Buttler said it was important not to expect too much from a bowler who has been plagued by injuries.
“We all know what a superstar he has been, but let’s manage those expectations,” he said. “Don’t expect too much, too soon.
“A great success would be him coming through this series with a big smile on his face and his body holding up.”
There are questions over Buttler’s own availability in the coming days, with his wife Louise expecting the couple’s third child.
The vastly experienced Moeen Ali stands by to take the reins if required.
“My family comes first. I’ll be at the birth,” Buttler said. “I don’t think they quite tell you when they’re going to come, but we’ve got a plan in place and fingers crossed everything will go well.”
England launch the defense of their T20 World Cup crown on June 4 against Scotland in Barbados.


Journalists, activists decry ‘draconian’ Punjab defamation law aimed at regulating social media

Updated 21 May 2024
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Journalists, activists decry ‘draconian’ Punjab defamation law aimed at regulating social media

  • Punjab passed law on Monday, while federal government has constituted a body to propose similar amendments to existing laws
  • Journalists and digital rights activists have said the legislations are part of a “greater design” to curb dissent on social media

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani journalists and digital rights activists on Tuesday decried a “draconian” legislation aimed at regulating social media content in the country’s most populous Punjab province, calling it an attempt to “stifle the press” and demanding a thorough consultation with civil society to protect fundamental rights.
Amid opposition protests, the Punjab Assembly on Monday passed the Defamation Bill, 2024, which proposes a special tribunal to try those involved in drafting, publishing and/or airing “fake news.” The tribunal shall decide a case within six months and may impose a fine of up to Rs3 million ($10,776).
The development came as the federal government constituted a committee to discuss establishment of a Digital Rights Protection Authority by amending existing laws to promote “responsible” use of the Internet, which activists fear would be another attempt to regulate social media content and stifle the press.
Zohra Yusuf, a former chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), said the Punjab government was establishing a parallel judicial system through the defamation law to prosecute people, adding that it would be a violation of the fundamental rights of people.
“The federal and Punjab government are trying to pass the legislations to regulate content on the social media, stifle press freedom and restrict the dissenting voices,” she told Arab News.
“A slew of defamation laws and regulations already exist on violation of privacy, propaganda against the state institutions like army or judiciary. Therefore, there is no need to enact new laws.”
Punjab Information Minister Azma Bukhari and Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar did not respond to Arab News’ request for a comment.
Successive governments in Pakistan have enacted different laws and introduced amendments in the existing laws to enhance their control over the social media content and discourage the dissent by filing cases against journalists and activists for violating the laws.
Usama Khilji, a digital rights activist, said the authorities had controlled the mainstream media, but social media was becoming a “problematic platform for them being an unrestricted media.”
“The government wants to intimidate people through the legislation that if you criticize them, you’ll be fined or sent to jail,” Khilji told Arab News, adding the legislation would have a “chilling effect” on the constitutional rights like the freedoms of expression and press.
In the past, he said, courts had intervened after such legislations were made by parliament and struck them down for being in violation of the constitution. “The whole world is decriminalizing defamation laws, but we are enacting new laws to crack down on the democratic rights,” he said.
Separately, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) on Tuesday staged nationwide protests against the Punjab defamation law, urging authorities to refrain from implementing the legislation that was bound to curtail press freedom and control social media content.
“We want to cooperate with the government in promotion of responsible use of the Internet, but we cannot allow them to enact censorship laws,” PFUJ President Afzal Butt told Arab News.
“The federal government has promised to engage in meaningful consultation with journalist bodies on the proposed digital rights protection authority, but this has yet to begin.”
He said the proposed legislations were “part of a greater design” to curb dissent on social media.
Farieha Aziz, a digital rights activist, said the federal government’s committee had not shared any draft law with relevant stakeholders for discussion and it would be a disaster if they passed the law by bulldozing public opinion.
“The government is obviously making Pakistan a pariah state through these legislations as they would end up withdrawing digital rights and facilities to entrepreneurs and start-ups, besides intimidating journalists and social media activists,” she told Arab News.