As Pakistan Muslim League-N tries to create a united front and keep disgruntled workers and candidates from leaving the party, more room has emerged for the likes of Sheikh Rasheed and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf to win support.
Scandals like the ephedrine case have affected support for PML-N stalwarts such as Hanif Abbasi, while the likes of Imran Khan himself have decided to take part in Rawalpindi elections and bring the battle to PML-N.
In 2008, the PML-N bagged all four National Assembly seats of Rawalpindi city comprising NA-52, NA-54, NA-55 and NA-56 and eight provincial assembly seats from PP-7 to PP-14.
But the presence of Sheikh Rashid and Imran Khan has left NA-55 and NA-56 open to some tough contest.
PTI Chief Imran Khan will face PML-N candidate and two-time winner Hanif Abbasi in NA-56.
In NA-55, former information minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed will try his luck against Malik Shakeel Awan of PML-N and lawyers movement leader Ali Ahmed Kurd, who is contesting the election as an independent candidate.
In 2008, Sheikh Rashid lost the seat to Makhdoom Javed Hashmi of the PML-N, who polled 76,980 votes. Sheikh Rashid had to get his surety bond confiscated not only in NA-55 but also in NA-56.
PPPP’s Aamir Fida Paracha stood second, bagging 37,397 votes, while two other candidates, Akram Abbasi and Ejaz Khan Jazi, secured 748 and 143 votes respectively.
Javed Hashmi left the seat and later Haji Pervaiz of PML-N won the by-elections defeating Sheikh Rashid Ahmed’s candidate Begum Naseem Ali.
However, Haji Pervaiz Khan was forced to resign after he was caught cheating in an examination in 2010. Malik Shakeel Awan of PML-N defeated Sheikh Rashid Ahmed with 73,000 votes in February 2010 by-elections. Sheikh Rashid Ahmed got 42,000 votes.
In 2008 and 2010 by-elections, PPP did not field any candidate against the PML-N candidate under an agreement.
But this time around, things have changed as the enemies of former information minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed are scattered in NA-55. Friction in the PML-N and the support of Imran Khan has provided a chance to Sheikh Rashid to secure the seat.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) also failed to field a strong candidate in this constituency as PPP City President Aamir Fida Paracha, who lost the seat in 2008 elections, refused to contest the elections.
Though the PPP did not announce the party candidate in this constituency, it has given the go ahead to Chaudhry Iftikhar to run the election campaign.
Sources in the PPP said by fielding a weak candidate, the PPP had also provided an opportunity to the former information minister to secure the seat. However, the PPP information secretary Shujaat Haider Naqvi refuted the claim and said the rumours in this regard were being spread by Sheikh Rashid Ahmed.
Sheikh Rashid will definitely capitalise on PTI’s popularity as he is arranging a public meeting one day before the elections in the garrison city which Imran Khan would also address.
Though PML-N has yet to award party tickets in the division, it has given the green signal to the expected candidates to run their election campaigns. In NA-55, former MNA Malik Shakeel Awan has been given go-ahead which annoyed two aspirants, former MNA Haji Pervaiz Khan and PML-N City President Sardar Naseem.
The party sources told Dawn that during a meeting of parliamentary board in Lahore last Sunday, Sadar Naseem refused to contest the provincial assembly seat when party didn’t give him the ticket for NA-55.
The disgruntled Naseem returned to the city, but Nawaz Sharif assigned Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Raja Ashfaq Sarwar the task to visit him and convince him of the party decision regarding the award of party tickets.
They came to his house and convinced him to contest the elections from PP-12 which infuriated former MPA Shaheryar Riaz, whose supporters started agitation against the party decision.
“I had refused to contest the elections after denial of NA-55 party ticket, but Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Raja Ashfaq Sarwar have convinced me to contest election from PP-12,” said Sardar Naseem Ahmed, adding he had to obey the party leadership’s decision.
At this, the PML-N workers, who were not happy with the provincial government, started attending the corner meetings of former MNA Sheikh Rashid Ahmed. The party leader said that the aspirants who were refused party tickets are likely to support Sheikh Rashid Ahmed as PPP had not fielded strong candidates in the main constituencies of the city areas.
The party source said that apparently, there were four groups in the party: one is led by Sardar Naseem, second by Haji Pervaiz, third by Shaheryar Riaz and fourth by Hanif Abbasi.
He said former Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had failed to hold any public meeting in NA-55 during the past five years because the party leaders were against each other and Shahbaz Sharif did not like it.
He said that Malik Shakeel Awan, Shaheryar Riaz, Ziaullah Shah, Malik Abrar and other PML-N leaders were against Hanif Abbasi for getting more development funds from Punjab government as compared to them. “The PML-N leaders considered Hanif Abbasi as new comer and close to Shahbaz Sharif,” he said.
When contacted, Malik Shakeel Awan said that the party awarded ticket to him despite all the odds made by some of his party leaders. “I worked day and night and it was the reward of my services,” he said.
He admitted that there were some division in the party at city level but the things would clear after Nawaz Sharif’s visit to the city for election campaign.
In NA-56, Hanif Abbasi of PML-N is not only facing threats from PTI Chief Imran Khan but also from the ephedrine case and the unsupportive attitude of the PML-N leaders in adjoining areas, which may haunt him in the race for the seat.
The young generation in NA-56 comprising Satellite Town, Shamsabad, Chandni Chowk, Sadiqabad, etc. is running the campaign of PTI Chief. The motorcycles and cars are being decorated with PTI flags and mostly youngsters were seen on Benazir Bhutto Road driving these vehicles in routine.
“The frictions within the party appeared at the time of 6th Road Flyover inauguration when Hanif Abbasi was in Saudi Arabia for Umra.
“He wanted to inaugurate the flyover in his constituency after coming back home but PML-N City President Sardar Naseem and former MPAs arranged the function for formal opening of the flyover for traffic,” the party source said.