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After almost sweeping the city of Lahore in May’s General Elections, the PML-N’s prospects in the upcoming by-elections seem just as good. The by-polls will be contested in three Provincial and one National Assembly constituency. All these seats were originally secured by senior PML-N party members who later chose to vacate them after having won from multiple constituencies in the General Elections. Much like May, the Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf is seen as the only realistic hurdle between PML-N and another rout in the City of Gardens. Despite fielding a candidate for all four seats, the PPPP is not seen as a major contender at tomorrow’s polls.

There is a perception in the city that the result of these by-elections is a foregone conclusion and the ruling PML-N, after securing power in Islamabad and in the Punjab Assembly, will use this influence to ensure their dominance at the polls.

“There is very low belief in the electoral process this time. People generally expect the ruling party to use state machinery to control sway in their favour,” said Moayyed Ali Jafri, a senior reporter for English daily The News.

The National Assembly constituency of NA-129 consists of rural outskirts of the city. Historically, this has been a constant battleground for PML-N and PPPP candidates with PPP coming out ahead on most occasions. Recently though, PML-N’s dominance has been a constant in this area.

A dominant group in the area of NA-129 has been the Rana Group led by Rana Mubashir Iqbal of the PML-N. However, after Rana Mubashir’s candidacy got rejected because of a fake degree scandal his wife Shazia Mubashir is contesting in his stead on PML-N’s ticket. Previously, Chief Minister Punjab, Mian Shahbaz Sharif had secured this seat with a heavy margin in May’s General Elections. A similar outcome is expected in tomorrow’s by-polls. M. Mansha Sindhu and M. Ashraf Bhatti are donning PTI and PPPP colours respectively.

“There is very low belief in the electoral process this time. People generally expect the ruling party to use state machinery to control sway in their favour”

The provincial seat of PP-161 was also bagged by Mian Shahbaz Sharif by a heavy margin in May’s General Election. This constituency is mostly the Raiwind area on the outskirts of Lahore dominated by major industrial complexes. The area is populated by the mega rich of the area including the Sharif family and slums containing illegal settlers. These illegal squatters have since been given legal status by Shahbaz Sharif and many think this goes a long way in explaining his party’s unshakeable hold on this seat. What is of interest in this constituency is the choice of candidate PML-N for the by-polls. Many expected the opportunity to be given to long-term party worker Chaudhary Ghafoor, enjoys overwhelming support in the area. Instead, the ticket has been given to Chaudhry Gulzar Gujjar. Gujjar, who remained a supporter of PML-Q and former dictator Pervez Musharraf, was not supposed to be given a ticket ahead of party’s core worker class. This decision has caused a little unrest within the party.

Similarly, the Provincial Assembly seat of PP-142 has historically been a PML-N stronghold. In May’s elections, Hamza Shahbaz of the PML-N secured the seat with a heavy margin. The area covered by this constituency is of inner city Lahore. In May, many expected the PTI to give a tough fight to the PML-N for this seat. This hope turned to nothing on Election Day amidst strong allegations of rigging from PTI leadership and workers. There is common perception among PML-N workers and supporters in this area who feel that these allegations marred their victory.

Moayyed believes that this could be a chance for PML-N supporters to redeem themselves and their support. “PML-N supporters who were apologetic after May’s rigging allegations have been very active in campaigning (for the by-elections) to justify their success in May.”

“There is not even 1% chance of an upset.”

This trend has also been seen in the PP-150 constituency. The PML-N’s candidate from this seat Mian Marghoob’s candidacy comes as a surprise to many. He was originally expected to be given the NA-121 ticket to face Mian Azhar’s son in May’s elections. A provincial Assembly ticket in the by-elections is seen as a huge demotion by his adversaries in the PTI and some political analysts. However, according to Babar Dogar, senior journalist and President Punjab Press Gallery, this will not be enough to hurt Mian Marghoob’s chances at the polls. “A perception exists that ruling party always wins so people will only vote for the expected winner,” he said when asked about the sway in PP-150 and PTI’s chances in causing an upset. This is a sentiment echoed by Moayyed Jafri who said, “There is not even 1% chance of an upset.”

The resulting desperation in PTI’s political campaigning for the by-elections has been quite evident. Just yesterday, the PTI’s members of the Punjab Assembly demanded that the Punjab Assembly condemn drone attacks and question the Federal government’s lack of progress in this matter. This is seen by many, including Babar Dogar, as a desperate attempt to make drones a part of the by-elections narrative and pin it as a failure of the present regime.