RAWALPINDI: With the country set to go to polls on May 11, these are the busiest days of a year for Yasir Mehmood - a bookmaker in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.
The 32-year-old normally accepted and paid bets on cricket over the telephone but these days he is receiving more and more calls from people ready to stake money on the electoral developments.
“I am busy these days. These are perhaps the busiest days of a year. My cellphones are ringing almost incessantly for bets on the election and I see no let-up until the next government is formed in the country.”
He said during the first phase, the people stake money on the naming of candidates by political parties where a tough contest is expected.
Though middlemen like Yasir have no proper office and staff for their illegal business, he earns a lot of money by using cellphones for this illegal trade.
Looking restless, Yasir said he hadn’t slept properly since the announcement of the election schedule by the Election Commission of Pakistan. “My ‘business’ saw a surge in these days due to uncertainty over the announcement of the candidates by political parties, especially for NA-55 in the garrison city,” he said.
Like Yasir, many other bookies are also busy these days. They will never miss a chance to stake money for quick bucks. And now when the political parties are in the process of naming their candidates, the bookmakers are betting on who will grab the party tickets.
In Rawalpindi, bookies are focusing on NA-55 – the downtown constituency of the city. The Member of National Assembly (MNA) elected from this seat is considered to be the main leader of the entire Rawalpindi district. There is a likelihood that a bigwig of the Pakistan Muslim League-N will be taking on Sheikh Rashid Ahmed in this constituency. However, the name has not yet been finalised by the PML-N.
On the other hand, the PPP is facing trouble in finding a suitable candidate for NA-55 after the refusal of its city president Amir Fida Paracha, who said he would not be contesting because the party had done nothing for the city during its five-year government.
It has been learnt that a group of bookies based in Hati Chowk (Saddar), Raja Bazaar, Mukha Singh Estate, Mohanpura and Ratta Amral are betting on whether the PML-N will field its candidate for the seat from the garrison city or from Lahore.
The bookies are also betting on the expected candidate of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and whether its city president will throw his hat in the political arena or someone else will contest the seat.
Asked about any other event where the bookies staked money, he said former President Pervez Musharraf’s homecoming had also provided them an opportunity to stake money and many people lost thousands of rupees as they expected the government would not allow him to enter the country.Though the bookies used to put stake on the contestants in general elections in the past, this time they are doing so on party tickets. Normally, people bet on horse racing but these days they are staking on everything from cricket matches to horse racing and politics to international and domestic issues.
“NA-55 election is critical in the sense that the two main political parties of the country have failed to decide their nominees and it is the best time to make money through betting,” said Yasir.
Asked about any other event where the bookies staked money, he said former President Pervez Musharraf’s homecoming had also provided them an opportunity to stake money and many people lost thousands of rupees as they expected the government would not allow him to enter the country.
Mohammad Babar from Ratta Amral, who is also involved in the business, explained that if a man stakes Rs100 he would get Rs130 in case he wins the bet. “It is probably the only unlawful activity which is carried out in a most honest way and the money is handed over to the person without any hurdle,” he said.
“The betting rates for PML-N’s expected candidate for NA-55 from Lahore is at 75 paisa and from the garrison city at 70 paisa,” said Ali Abbas, a punter.
He said the betting rate for the PPP candidates was 70 paisa each. The rate for the PPP candidate is not good as people expect that the party would fail to impact the politics of the city. He said the PML-N candidate and Sheikh Rashid would be their main focus.