LAHORE - The recently held local government elections in the Punjab have thrown up a large number of independents who are set to join the ruling PML-N, a party which is already well-entrenched in the most populous province since the last three decades.

Over 3,000 in number, they have emerged as the second largest political force after the PML-N which has managed to grab around 3,402 seats of chairmen, vice chairmen and councillors, according to the unofficial results compiled so far.

Though the PTI has established its credentials as the main opposition party in the Punjab, the number of its councillors and chairmen elected in the three phases of local polls is not more than 900. The PPP has won around 250 seats in the province. Both the opposition parties have miserably failed to show an impressive following at the local level.

Analysts believe that after enlisting the support of such a large number of local leaders, the PML-N which remains unbeatable so far will get further strengthened at the grassroots level.

Political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi believes though the ideological commitment of some of these local leaders to the PML-N will remain doubtful, the ruling party could still bank on their support in the next general elections.

“With the overwhelming support of independents, the PML-N has been able to build a vast network of support at the local level, which may prove decisive in the coming elections,” he observed while talking to The Nation.

Nonetheless, he was of the view that PML-N would have to dole out funds to the new entrants to keep them to its side till the next elections. Otherwise, he added, it would prove to be a short-term gain for the Nawaz party. “It is not necessary that it would be able to replicate its performance in the local polls in the general elections also,” he remarked.

Initially, PML-N was reluctant to hold the local government elections, presumably for the reason that it did not want to delegate some of the powers to the new tier of government at district level. It used its majority in the provincial legislature to prolong the tenure of the exiting local governments which are virtually under its control through the DCOs. Despite the court orders to hold the local elections, the provincial government of the PML-N continued to amend the Local Government Ordinance to avoid the elections through legislation. This ordinance was amended thrice to give legal cover to the existing district setup.

But the elections have proved a blessing in disguise for the ruling party, especially after support of the independents. After completion of the polling process, PML-N has not only emerged as an invincible political force in the Punjab, it has also been able to turn a large number of independents to its side.

Though a good number of independents actually belong to the ruling party as it had not awarded tickets to some of the aspirants to avoid factionalism, still there are many who won the election on account of their own strength in their areas.

More independent aspirants had jumped into the race when political parties withheld tickets in some UCs to avoid creation of possible factions within the parties as different groups competed for the tickets. By and large, a party ticket was the second most preferred choice for most of the candidates who relied mainly on the support from local groups and biradaris (clans).

PML-N is now in a comfortable position to have its mayors and chairmen of district councils elected in all the major districts of the Punjab except Rahim Yar Khan where a PPP-supported candidate is going to pose a challenge to its nominee.