PTI gets landslide victory in Punjab Imran asks generals to stop PML-N support

LAHORE: The PTI wrested control of Punjab back from the PML-N on Sunday with a landslide victory in the by-election on 20 constituencies.

The party won 15 constituencies, dealing a major blow to the PML-N, who only clinched four and the rest one seat by an independent candidate

The by-polls on the 20 Punjab Assembly seats were crucial as they were to decide the fate of Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz. With 15 seats in hand, PTI is likely to defeat Hamza when a recount of votes for the chief minister election takes place on July 22.

The by-polls on 20 Punjab Assembly seats are crucial as they will decide the fate of Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz or PTI’s candidate Pervaiz Elahi. 

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

In the meantime, PTI Chairman Imran Khan has directly addressed to Army generals suggesting them to stop support to PML-N.

PTI’s Zain Qureshi, the son of former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, has won Multan’s PP-217 with 46,963 votes as per the unofficial result, defeating PML-N’s Muhammad Salman Naeem, who secured 40,104 votes. 

Akin to that, PTI’s candidate Saif-ud-Din Khosa has won the by-elections in the PP-288 constituency of DG Khan, as per unofficial results, after securing 58,015 votes. Meanwhile, PML-N’s Amjad Farooq Khosa stood second by securing 32,487 votes.

The by-polls on 20 Punjab Assembly seats are crucial as they will decide the fate of Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz.  Voting began at 8am and despite some incidents of clashes, the process did not stop and continued till 5pm. The counting of votes is underway.

Imran Khan

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan on Saturday deplored the imbalance in civil-military relations, as he blamed previous PPP and PML-N governments for ceding space to the army to ‘save their skin’ in corruption cases.

Imran Khan

The former prime minister made these remarks at a seminar on freedom of expression, a day ahead of crucial by-polls in Punjab, where his party is contesting on 20 Punjab Assembly seats across the province.

“Because of this imbalance, a situation has developed that [now] the establishment isn’t realising [the consequences of] the actions it is committing,” he said, while referring to a crackdown against his party following his ouster as a result of the no-confidence motion.

“We cannot afford a weak army… we have to protect it. If the distance between the army and the public keeps increasing, which it is, then it will eventually harm the army and Pakistan.”

According to Mr Khan, democracy depended on “moral strength” and not physical strength, which he said the Pakistani military possesses.

‘Take a U-turn’

The PTI chief also urged the establishment to take a U-turn on its support for the incumbent government. He said that Pakistan stood at a critical juncture and it was very important that the “right decisions” were made today.

Election in Punjab

Mr Khan said that reinforcing a “failed” government would further widen the gulf between the people and the establishment. He, however, added that the establishment should differentiate between constructive and damaging criticism.

The PTI chairman questioned whether the decision taken by the military establishment behind “closed doors” to support the incumbent regime was beneficial to Pakistan. “Who told them that the decision [to back PML-N] was a better option?” Mr Khan said that “U-turns are even important for generals” as no one could be absolutely right.

“The nation is looking towards the establishment because they have the power,” Mr Khan claimed and warned that the current set-up would destabilise Pakistan politically and economically.

‘Missing persons’

The former prime minister also spoke about enforced disappearances and a clampdown on journalists under his regime and said that his government had nothing to do with whisking people away or restrictions on media.

“I was never afraid of media… [I] was the most criticised PM… [yet] I never tried to bribe journalists or take action against them,” the ex-PM added. He said “constructive criticism” was necessary.

Punjab elections

“The trend of disappearing people started during the War on Terror. I was the first person to protest against this practice in 2003 after Aafia Siddiqui went missing. I did not know the point of view of the army till I came into power,” Mr Khan said, adding that he used to speak against these enforced disappearances because “there is nothing more painful” than seeing the relatives of missing persons coming to ask about their loved ones.

“We came in the government and got to know that often times people were picked up on [the pretext of] national security.”

Mr Khan said he spoke to Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa when Gen Faiz Hamid was the chief of the ISI, which resulted in the release of many forcibly disappeared people.

“They [army] said the problem was regarding the judiciary,” he said, adding that the explanation provided to him was that it was difficult to prosecute a terrorist in court due to a lack of evidence or witnesses.

Nonetheless, he said, an agreement was reached and his government was working on a bill that would have, at least, kept the families of the missing persons in the loop.

Imran Khan also distanced his government from the abduction of journalists during the rule of the PTI government. “Shireen [Mazari] knows, it came up in cabinet three or four times that some journalist was picked up; no journalist was picked up on my instructions, [as] the problem was something else,” Mr Khan added.