Voting for the fiercely contested NA-246 by-election kicked off on Thursday morning amid unprecedented security. 213 polling stations were set up with 769 polling booths housed in 55 buildings, for 357,861 registered voters.
Around 2,556 policemen will provide security to 852 polling stations in the constituency whereas Rangers personnel have also been deployed at almost all polling stations.
The polling process is expected to last until 5 pm. Although 14 candidates are in the run, but the by-poll is largely expected to be a three-way contest between Kanwar Naveed Jameel of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Imran Ismail of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Rashid Naseem of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI).
The level of involvement of MQM chief Altaf Hussain, PTI Chairman Imran Khan and JI Emir Sirajul Haq has turned what is just a simple by-election for one seat into an electoral battlefield of national importance. The constituency is considered to be an MQM bastion because its headquarters Nine Zero is located there and the party had emerged victorious in all three previous general elections in 2002, 2008 and 2013 and in a by-election in May 2004. It comprises Federal B. Area, Federal Capital Area and parts of Liaquatabad.
The seat fell vacant after MQM’s Nabeel Gabol resigned from the National Assembly. NA-246 is where Altaf Hussain and his politics grew up. This is where the MQM headquarters are housed in Khurshid Memorial Hall named after the party chief’s mother.
For the past 27 years, NA-246 (NA-187 prior to the 1998 population census) identified as Azizabad has remained at the centre of MQM politics. The party has remained practically unchallenged in NA-246 during the last seven elections. No wonder the MQM considers NA-246 its home.