ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Muslim League-N is worried because of Imran Khan.
This sweeping statement takes on concrete meaning when the races in Punjab are closely examined.
In the run up to May 11, it seems as if there are some PML-N heavyweights who are facing tough election battles.
Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the billionaire businessman from Murree, and a known face of the party, is facing a two-way challenge to retain his home constituency NA-50; in 2002 also he lost to his arch rival, PPP’s Ghulam Murtaza Satti, who won the seat partly due to the split in the vote of the Abbasi clan. The Abbasi clan vote is what Mr Abbasi counts on for a victory.
This time, he is facing a facing similar situation.
While Satti is in the race as the PPP candidate, Sadaqat Ali Abbasi is PTI’s nominee and he is expected to split the clan vote.
Experts say that the presence of JUI-F’s candidate Qari Saifullah Saifi is also adding to Mr Khaqan Abbasi’s woes.
The right wing vote bank of the constituency in the 2008 elections went Mr Khaqan’s way.
Mr Shehzad, a resident of Kotli Sattian, who works in Islamabad at a local hotel, said the PTI, JUI-F and JI candidates might not be able to
make it in the end, but, they will hurt the business tycoon’s chances of winning the election.
If the split in the Abbasi clan vote and the role of the rightwing as a spoiler can cause problems for Mr Khaqan Abbasi, in district Narowal, another old PML-N wallah is struggling against a new PTI challenge.
In NA-117, Ahsan Iqbal, deputy general secretary of the PML-N, is said to be having sleepless nights because of PTI’s Abrarul Haq.
Mr Haq first shot to fame because of his singing which he then used to do charity work - his Sahar Trust for Life has built and runs a teaching hospital in his home district. He is now the president youth wing of the PTI and a strong contender for the NA-117.
“Because of his social welfare work, fame as a singer, and his Jatt caste, Mr Haq has found it quite easy to make inroads into local politics. It’s going to be an absorbing contest between Mr Haq and Ahsan Iqbal of the PML-N here,” said Mr Mirza Muqeem, who has worked in the district for two decades as part of a local NGO.
The Jatt caste enjoys a strong presence in district Narowal.
Down in South Punjab, the fearless Tehmina Daultana is one of the few women candidates of the PML-N, who is in the race for a directly elected seat.
Back in 1999, when many of the N leaders had ditched the Sharif family she stuck by the party.
However, she too is in for a close fight in NA-169, Vehari-III.
Aftab Ahmad Khichi, her political rival is PTI’s candidate and an old hand at politics.
In 2002 Mr Khichi won election on the Q ticket with just a 3,000 vote lead, and lost in 2008 to Ms Daultana with a similar gap.
A senior official from the local civil administration in Vehari told Dawn that the two candidates have their personal vote bank, which is more or less stable.
The difference in the votes polled, he said, may be due to the support for their respective party.
“Now with the emergence of the PML-N and PTI as main rival political parties, the election result from this constituency will determine whether Imran Khan is more popular or Nawaz Sharif is,” he added.
Now consider the story in Gujranwala city where the Dastgir family is a household name.
The elder Ghulam Dastgir had won elections from the city in the past. In 2008 his son, Engineer Khurram Dastgir, returned to the National Assembly from the area.
However, this time around on Dastgir’s constituency, NA-96 Gujranwala-II, the family is facing a known opponent in the form of SA Hameed on the PTI ticket. Though the PTI factor is unknown or rather unquantifiable, Mr Hameed in the past had successfully led the election campaign for the Dastgirs and was considered to be a key part of their electoral success. He was once even elected as an MPA on the PML-N ticket.
Faisal Loon, a local businessman, who takes a keen interest in the politics of Gujranwala, went so far as to say Mr Hameed was as popular as the Dastgirs in Gujranwala city.
“Mr Hameed enjoys a strong family vote, which coupled with his personal contacts in the city and the PTI factor, can give him an upper hand,” Mr Loon said.
Last but not least, the former leader of the opposition, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, is also facing a formidable opponent.
Only once has he lost an election from NA-53 Rawalpindi-IV to his old political rival Ghulam Sarwar Khan in 2002.
The two Khans are once against pitched against each other, but, this time Mr Sarwar Khan is contesting the elections on a PTI ticket.
Undoubtedly, Mr Nisar Ali Khan is better placed, however, if the PTI popularity wave can be translated into votes, he may face problems.
“Ghulam Sarwar will do more than put up a good fight,” said Mohammad Rehman, who runs a fruit shop in Taxila city.
It is not long to go before it is clear whether these new and old faces who have fortified themselves with the PTI colours can threaten these PML-N stalwarts. The answer will be clear soon.