Islamabad, May 11. On Saturday night, the tiger’s roar was heard all over the Punjab and the PTI wave was visible primarily in Peshawar valley and other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The people of Pakistan spoke loud and clear, casting aside fears of threat of attacks, and cast their votes — and in what appeared to be bigger numbers than witnessed in earlier elections.
In a late-night press conference, Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim claimed that the turnout was around 60 per cent.
However, there was no confirmed official number from the Election Commission of Pakistan.
As the results poured in — mostly unofficial — trends were evident, new and old.
The PML-N seemed to be set to emerge as the single largest party.
In fact, minutes before midnight, the Sharif brothers addressed their workers and supporters to announce their victory.
The younger Sharif announced that “Nawaz Sharif will be your [the people’s] prime minister and I will be your servant”.
The elder Sharif then thanked the people and God for the opportunity to serve Pakistan.
“We will fulfil all our promises to you,” he said, adding that he was certain that the party would emerge as the single largest party that needed no outside support or “borrowed seats”.
He then promised not to hold grudges and forgave all those who had insulted him and Shahbaz Sharif.
It was clearly Nawaz Sharif’s victory speech.
Later that night, it seemed as if the party had swept the Punjab; it also defeated Imran Khan in Lahore.
The PTI wave seems to have come in though the predicted tsunami evaded the shores of Pakistan’s electoral results. As the unofficial partial results poured in, it was evident that the wave missed Punjab though it hit Khyber Pakhtunkhwa hard. Khan led in NA 1 with such a huge margin in the unofficial results against the ANP stalwart Ghulam Ahmed Bilour that the former federal minister conceded defeat without even waiting for the official announcements.
Even in the other two National Assembly seats of the remaining three in Peshawar city, the PTI was leading.
Equally surprising was the PTI’s defeat of PML-N’s Amir Muqam. Most experts had expected Muqam to win his seat but he was soundly thrashed by PTI. Similarly, PTI’s Dr M. Azhar Khan Jadoon defeated PML-N’s Mehtab Abbasi.
These two losses were a huge strategic setback for the PML-N as it meant that the League had failed to eradicate the image of itself as a Punjab-based party.
However, the PTI’s performance in KP allowed the party to say that it would be part of the government in the province.
Another upset here was the defeat of Maulana Fazlur Rehman in D.I. Khan at the hands of PPP’s Waqar Ahmed.
However, in Punjab, the PML-N’s GT road juggernaut was not slowed down at all by the PTI.
In Lahore, which was being seen as the main battleground of the Sharifs and Khan, the tension in the air was palpable earlier in the day but by the time night fell, the ‘Sher’ seemed to be prowling the streets as it brought down Khan who had done well on his other constituencies.
Khan’s loss in Lahore was seen as a major upset and a psychological defeat for the party.
However, in Pindi, the PTI helped Sheikh Rashid Ahmed win in NA 55.
In fact, his supporters had begun celebrating near Lal Haveli, the residence of Ahmed, quite early in the night.
Till the last reports that came in Khan was fighting a tough contest in NA 56 against the PML-N’s Hanif Abbasi but after the upsets in Lahore few expected a PTI win here.
Elsewhere too it seemed the PML-N held its ground from Narowal to Sialkot. From Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in Murree to Khawaja Asif in Sialkot won comfortably even though people had predicted that these PML-N stalwarts would face a tough contest.
It seemed as if the PML-N would get a hundred seats or more in the National Assembly, and be in a secure position to form the government in Islamabad.
On the other hand, the PPP faced a near wipe-out in Punjab.
In upper Punjab its various luminaries such as Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, Chaudhry Mukhtar Ahmed, Samina Ghurki and Qamar Zaman Kaira had either lost or were set to lose as the late-night reports came in.
Even newer entrants to the party who were seen to be secure in their constituencies such as Firdous Ashiq Awan and Manzoor Wattoo lost.
Overall, it appeared as if the higher turnout had benefited PML-N instead of PTI.
South Punjab too surprised everyone.
Till the filing of this report, the PPP had not won a single seat there. And the PML-N bagged seats that were seen as solid PPP wins such as the one in Layyah. Districts such as Muzaffargarh and Rahimyar Khan where the PPP was predicted to do well were also dicey.
However, big shots such as Jehangir Tareen and Shah Mehmood Qureshi of PTI won. But Qureshi lost in Umerkot, Sindh, to PPP’s Nawab Yousuf Talpur.
In Sindh there appeared to be little change.
The PPP was comfortably leading on the seats it has always bagged. Faryal Talpur, Fehmida Mirza and Khurshid Shah won their seats as in the past while there appeared to be little change in the MQM tally in Hyderabad and Karachi.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the ANP and PPP seemed to be set for the predicted drubbing.
In Balochistan, the security issues ruled supreme — at many places the ECP staff didn’t turn up for the polling to begin while there were a few incidents of violence that also proved unsettling.
Earlier in the day, the expectations and predictions of a higher turnout were proved right.
Though there were only eyewitness accounts of people, polling officers and journalists, everyone agreed that the number of people who turned out to vote was considerably high.
Polling station officers reported that voters began arriving as early as eight in the morning when the doors were first opened.
“There were two or three people present when we began in the morning,” said a presiding officer in a polling station in Rawalpindi.
A journalist based in Peshawar also said that the turnout in the city, which had witnessed a number of devastating attacks since the beginning of 2013, was high. “Most surprisingly, women were out with their children to vote,” he told Dawn.
The young and the old, children and parents and friends turned up at polling stations in most parts of the country.
Reports that poured in from most parts of the country, especially the urban centres, reported long queues at polling stations.
Eventually the Election Commission of Pakistan was compelled to provide an extra hour for voting, extending the deadline to six in the evening for most of the country; in Karachi it was extended to eight o’clock.
“We have a huge turnout in Punjab,” commission secretary Ishtiaq Ahmed told a news conference.
There were fortunately no wholesale violence and mayhem on the day as some had feared though Karachi was not spared once again. Two blasts in Karachi’s Quaidabad and Qasba areas in the early part of the day claimed 13 lives.
Though attacks and the resulting deaths were the most tragic events of Saturday, the commercial centre of Pakistan remained in the news all day — and for all the wrong reasons.
There were complaints of rigging and the use of strong arm tactics by some political parties which eventually led the Jamaat-i-Islami to announce a boycott of the electoral exercise in Karachi.
Later, the ECP also jumped into the fray and cancelled the exercise in some polling stations of the city in NA 250, PS 112 and PS 113, adding that the new schedule would be announced later.