CHAKWAL, April 7: While it has yet to decide which candidates will receive the party nomination for several Chakwal-area seats, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf received a recent, unexpected boost. On Sunday, two prominent local politicians switched their allegiances and joined the party.
Because the PTI had been struggling to find a candidate for NA-61 (Chakwal-II), observers assumed that the battle for the seat would be waged between the PML-N and the PML-Q. The entry into the PTI fold of three-time MNA Sardar Mansoor Hayat Tamman, who is seeking the party nomination for NA-61, has the potential to upend the race.
Tamman, who says he joined the PTI after "consulting his supporters," began his political career in the PML-N, on whose platform he served three times as an MNA. However, after the PML-Q was formed following Pervez Musharraf's 1999 coup, he contested the 2002 elections on that party's ticket, only to be defeated by an independent candidate, Sardar Faiz Tamman.
In 2008, the PML-Q gave the NA-61 nomination to party stalwart Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, and Mansoor Hayat Tamman defected to the PPP. He once again lost to Sardar Faiz Tamman, who by that time had joined the PML-N. Faiz Tamman himself joined the PTI in 2011, though he has not submitted nomination papers for the 2013 elections because of his "controversial" BA degree.
Mansoor Hayat Tamman is optimistic about his chances this year. "The PTI will win NA-61," he said, adding that "Pervez Elahi has no choice but to flee," a position with which the PML-Q's area leader, Haif Amar Yasir, disagrees.
The other new entrant into the PTI is Pir Nisar Qasim, who is considered a strong candidate for the PP-22 seat. Like Tamman, he started out in the PML-N. Recently, he switched to the PML-Q, but was denied the party's nomination for PP-22 in favour of Sardar Ghulam Abbas.
Since the PTI has no other candidate for the constituency, Pir Nisar is likely to get the nomination, adding a new element to the contest between the PML-N and Sardar Ghulam Abbas.
Along with these two seats, the PTI is likely to support Colonel (rtd.) Sultan Surakhru for PP-23, and also has a probable candidate for PP-20. Indecision remains over two seats, NA-60 and PP-21. "The uncertainty," said PTI District President Chaudhry Rizwan Akram, "is not good for the party."
A senior PTI leader believes that Pir Shaukat Hussain is the party's best candidate for NA-60; the man himself says he will "obey the decision of the party high command." Another party member, Raja Yassir Sarfaraz, claims that Imran Khan himself asked him to begin campaigning for the seat. For PP-20, Chaudhry Ali Nasir Bhatti has begun campaigning, though local leaders and party workers seem dissatisfied.
The PML-N has strong candidates for PP-20 and PP-21 - Chaudhry Liaquat Ali Khan and Malik Tanvir Salam Awan - but NA-60 has proved contentious for them as well, with both Ayaz Amir and Major (retired) Tahir Iqbal seeking the nomination.
A senior politician and five-time MNA, Lt. Gen. (rtd.) Abdul Majeed Malik, hopes to have his nephew, Major Tahir, given the NA-60 ticket. "It's our right to get the ticket," he said, "since we supported the party unconditionally in 2008 and we really founded the party in Chakwal."
While they would respect the wishes of party leaders, he said he was "hopeful that the high command will make its decisions keeping the ground realities in view."
Among those ground realities is the fate of Ayaz Amir, whose nomination papers were recently rejected by the returning officer. This presented his opponents with an opportunity to caution the party against him; nominating him, they said, would "deprive the party of religious votes." Party leader Nawaz Sharif recently received a letter from an influential Chakwal cleric, warning of "strong opposition from religious organisations" if the PML-N nominated Ayaz Amir for NA-60.
In the PML-N, as in the PTI, the indecision has begun to worry many. Abdul Majeed Malik said that the delay was "harming the party's campaign. They should have announced the ticket much earlier," he said.