In a stunning development, a hardline cleric having links with banned Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), won by-election for a Punjab Assembly seat, defeating over two dozen candidates including those fielded by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP). Maulana Masroor Nawaz Jhangvi, son of Sunni militant group Sipah-e-Sahaba's slain founder Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, won the Punjab Assembly's PP-78 by-election yesterday in Jhang district of the province. ASWJ chief Maulana Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi campaigned door-to-door for independent candidate Jhangvi, who secured 48,562 votes defeating his closest rival Azad Nasir Ansari of the ruling PML-N with more than 12,000 votes. The election was held in high security as police, rangers and army personnel were deployed at all polling stations.
The overall voter turnout reported to be around 30 per cent. ASWJ was formed after the government slapped a ban on Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). The SSP,spearheaded the anti-Shia drive in late 1980s and led to sectarian violence in the country that is still going on. The elder Jhangvi was killed in sectarian violence. Jhangvi's victory has shown that ASWJ has strong voter-base in Jhang, some 200 km from Lahore. The seat was vacated by PML-N Rashida Yaqoob, who was disqualified by Election Commission for concealing her assets. By allowing a known extremist to run for election and use the platform of banned outfit raises several questions about Pakistan's government pledge to fight extremism and militancy. Commenting on the outcome of the by-election, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said on twitter: "Rest in pieces National action plan" with hashtag #GoNisarGo. Earlier, the PML-N had election alliance with ASWJ. Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah is accused of harbouring the ASWJ activists.
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