Lahore - PML-N’s Muhammad Iqbal Shah won the electoral battle for NA-154 (Lodhran) by-election on Monday, showing that the ruling party remains widely popular in Punjab despite the recent legal and political setbacks.

Unofficial results of all 338 polling stations showed Shah pocketed 116,590 votes, against 91,230 votes of Ali Khan Tareen – the son of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf stalwart Jahangir Khan Tareen, who held this national assembly seat before he was disqualified in December last year for hiding his assets.

This is a major upset for PTI ahead of the general elections for two major reasons. First, Tareens were being considered undefeatable by the political pundits. Jahangir Tareen had won the seat with a margin of around 40,000 votes in a previous by-election in 2015.

Second, the opposition party was hoping that the disqualification of ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif in Panama leaks case and trial of Sharif family for alleged corruption would have gravely dented the ruling party’s popularity.

The contest also showed the level of hollowness of Asif Ali Zardari’s claims who recently said his Pakistan Peoples Party would form the next government in Punjab. PPP candidate Mirza Muhammad Ali Baig could secure only 3,115 votes. Ali Baig is the son of former federal minister Mirza Nasir Baig, who has returned to PPP after leaving it for PML-N in 2015.

Even an independent candidate backed by Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan, Azhar Sandila, fared better than PPP as he finished third in the electoral race by getting 10,275 votes.

A total of ten candidates were taking part in the contest, voting for which started Monday morning. A total of 1,043 polling booths were set up in the constituency, and army personnel were deployed at every polling station.

This was the third election held for NA-154 seat in the past four years. In the 2013 general election, Jahangir Tareen was the runner up from here. Contesting as an independent candidate, Siddique Baloch had defeated Jahangir by a margin of 10,000 votes — a victory that was contested by the latter before the election tribunal.

Jahangir had accused Siddique of possessing a fake degree and committing irregularities during the 2013 general election. In 2015, the Supreme Court had ordered a re-election, which was won by Jahangir by over 35,000 votes.

Siddique's son Umair Khan Baloch had also submitted his nomination papers but later, during a PML-N meeting, he expressed unwillingness to take part in the election because of its high cost.

The party refused to sponsor electioneering for his son and decided that Shah, the former tehsil nazim of Dunyapur and the father of MPA Amir Iqbal, will be its candidate.

PML-N Lodhran president Tahir Amir Ghauri however opposed the party choice and said the party had become hostage to electable at the cost of loyal workers.

Earlier on Sunday, the ECP sent out notices fining PML-N's Iqbal Shah Rs30,000 for violating the code of conduct and holding a corner meeting with his associates after the time for electioneering was up.

PTI's Ali Tareen too was fined Rs40,000 for holding a political gathering in Lodhran, which was addressed by PTI chief Imran Khan. The ECP had already warned Khan and Tareen that addressing a rally in Lodhran after ending of the campaign time would be a violation of the ECP code of conduct.