RAWALPINDI, Feb 8: With general elections approaching fast, the PML-N has taken advantage of the other parties' inactivity and begun an aggressive election campaign in Rawalpindi.
Senior party leaders have travelled to the city to address rallies and gather support for their candidates.
The party's information secretary, Senator Mushahidullah Khan, told Dawn that the PML-N had been holding regular public events all across Punjab to mobilise its supporters. "The election campaign has started for us," he said. "Unlike the other political parties, we believe that the general elections - not a long-term caretaker set up - are imperative in order to bring peace to the country."
PML-N politicians have been particularly active around Rawalpindi, and posters advertising its candidates are visible all over the city. Leaders such as Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Ahsan Iqbal and Zaffar Jaghra have also come to address rallies and support their candidates, though they themselves represent other districts.
MNA Malik Shakil Awan and MPA Sheharyar Riaz have arranged corner meetings in various union councils, and on Thursday held a public gathering at Raja Bazaar. On Friday, MPA Malik Iftikhar organised a rally at Dhamial, where senior party leaders addressed the crowd. Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the opposition leader in the National Assembly, has been travelling frequently between his hometown of Chakri and Taxila to convince voters that bringing the PML-N to power will decrease corruption, improve law and order, and end the recent price hike.
MNA Hanif Abbasi, who represents NA-56 in Rawalpindi city, spoke to another large gathering of supporters at Millat Ground on Friday. He told Dawn that "this is the time to woo voters, before it is too late."
The other political parties in Rawalpindi, including the PPP, Jamaat-i-Islami and Awami Muslim League, are not yet significantly mobilised for the elections, allowing the PML-N an open playing field. The only PPP candidate lately seen interacting with voters is former nazim Mian Imran Hayat, who is contesting Hanif Abbasi's seat.
"I am trying my best to honour the memory of former prime minister Benazir Buhtto by securing a National Assembly seat from the city where she breathed her last," he said. The PPP has, however, never had great success in Rawalpindi, and has thus far not even settled on the candidates who will contest the city's seats. The party leadership is hoping that former MPA Amir Fida Paracha, who lost his seat to Javed Hashmi in 2008, can be convinced to run again.
Rawalpindi district is represented by seven National Assembly and 14 provincial assembly seats. The PML-N has prepared its candidates for all the seats.
Political observers say it is the well-thought campaign on part of the PML-N which defeated all its political opponents in the 2008 general elections, including Sheikh Rashid and Amir Fida Paracha of PPP.
Similarly, Sardar Shaukat Hayat, a lawyer by profession and PPP candidate from NA-56, was defeated by PML-N's Hanif Abbasi, while Khurram Pervez was defeated by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in NA-52. PML-N Malik Ibrar defeated PPP's Zamurd Khan in NA-54.
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf had emerged as the only successful candidate from Gujar Khan giving the PPP the only winning seat from the area.