The former ruling PPP may be comfortably placed on 30 odd National Assembly seats in its traditional stronghold province of Sindh but its candidates in Punjab are definitely busy negotiating strong political headwind.
The unpredictable PTI youth factor, well entrenched PML-N candidates, absence of the Bhuttos in the election campaign and the most damaging incumbency fatigue are hurting the Kairas in Gujrat, Gondals in Sargodha and Manddi Bahuddin and Gilanis in Multan.
The PPP, which was known for its election rallies participated by passionate jiyalas with the three-colour party flags and rhythmic slogans, this time is carrying out a most unimpressive election campaign in the electoral history of the country.
In Punjab, the PPP stalwarts in particular and the party in general are only conspicuous by their absence in organising election rallies. Instead, its candidates are holding corner meetings and running door-to-door canvassing.
Former prime minister and PPP vice-chairman Yousuf Raza Gilani has virtually restricted himself to his hometown of Multan where his two sons and a brother are contesting from NA-148, 151 and 152.
“It’s really strange that Mr Gilani is only concentrating on the election campaign of his sons and brother otherwise as a senior party leader he should have gone at least to other parts of Punjab, if not to the restive KP and Balochistan,” said a party insider who didn’t want to be quoted on record. “What a shame, the party made him the prime minister and in return he has holed himself up in Multan,” the party insider bemoaned.
However, there is an argument for Gilani’s continuous presence in Multan, at a time when there is no Bhutto to lead party’s election campaign. Mr Mohsan, who only gave his second name because of his association with a government agency, said all the three Gilanis were in close contests and desperately needed support of the former prime minister. Mr Gilani during his four-plus years’ stint as the prime minister had lavishly spent on the development of the city and facilitated many locals.
Ali Musa is facing Shah Mehmood Qureshi of the PTI in NA-148, Qadir Gilani is up against powerful local politician and PML-N candidate Sikandar Hayat Bosan in NA-151 and Ahmad Mujtaba Gilani is facing a two-way challenge from PML-N’s Javed Ali Shah and PTI’s Ibraheem. “Frankly speaking, they all are trailing behind their opponents at the moment. Then, how come the elder Gilani can leave them and campaign for others,” Mr Mohsin argued.
If the Gilanis are battling out in southern Punjab to safe the PPP’ honour against the PML-N and the emerging PTI, Qamar Zaman Kaira, former federal minister for information and broadcasting and PPP’s information secretary, and his cousin Tanvir Ashraf Kaira, former finance minister in Punjab, are busy reminding their voters what development they had brought to the city of Lala Musa and surrounding villages over the last fives years.
“Kairas do have their family vote bank, but the PML-N candidate Chaudhry Jaffar Iqbal is equally influential in NA-106, Gujrat-III. On May 11, there will be a traditional PPP versus PML-N contest in this constituency. Kairas are struggling because of the PPP’s incumbency factor otherwise throughout last five years they had remained in touch with their constituents and managed infrastructural development in the area like construction of roads and gas connections,” said Mr Sajjad Ahmad, who runs a website on Gujrat city. “In my opinion, it will be neck and neck contest,” Mr Sajjad added.
Former information minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan is confronting a similar situation. Over the past five years she too had managed to spend huge amount of development funds in her constituency NA-111, Sialkot, but has no answers to the crippling loadshedding which is seriously hurting the local industry.
“We are happy that Ms Awan has arranged a special bus service to commute between our villages and the city, but because of the load shedding I along with my four other friends have been laid off by the owner of our surgical factory,” said Mr Mohammad Zubair, 35, of Kube Chak, the village of Ms Awan.
In NA-105 Gujrat II, former defence minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar is face-off with against former deputy prime minister and PML-Q leader Chaudhry Pervez Ilahi.
Both have strong base in the constituency and the two families have had traditionally contested elections against each other. Despite being in election alliance, the PPP and the PML-Q have kept this seat open.
“It’s not just an election, it’s a matter of their families’ prestige and pride in the city of Gujrat which they will be fighting for on May 11,” said Mr Sajjad. Yes, at the moment, Mr Mukhtar is on the weaker wicket because of the PPP’s overall poor image in the province. At the same time, however, Mr Elahi was also part of the same government and still is in alliance with President Zardari. Therefore, it’s quite difficult to predict who will win this constituency, he said.
In the last elections, Mian Manzoor Watto had won elections on NA-146 Okara IV and NA-147 Okara V as an independent candidate. Bit later he joined the PPP. In the by-elections, his son Khurram retained the seat as the PPP candidate on NA-147.
Mr Watto, who is the sitting president of PPP in Punjab, is once again contesting elections from the two seats, but this time on the PPP ticket.
A senior official in the local civil administration told Dawn that Mr Watto was in good position in NA-147, but facing tough competition on NA-146 from Rao Mohammad Ajmal Khan of the PML-N. In the 2008 elections, Mr Khan had lost the elections by a lead of less than 1,000 votes.