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In Rawalpindi's NA-55, tough competition is expected between the PTI-supported Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, a former information minister who has won the seat six times, and the PML-N's Malik Shakil Awan, a former MNA. In 2008, Sheikh Rashid lost the seat to the PML-N’s Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, and his surety bond was confiscated not just in NA-55 but also in NA-56. The PPP’s Aamir Fida Paracha got the second position. Javed Hashmi vacated the seat and in the by-elections, Haji Pervaiz became the MNA, defeating Sheikh Rashid's candidate Begum Naseem Ali. He, too, was forced to resign. Malik Shakil Awan defeated Sheikh Rashid in the February 2010 by-elections by a wide margin. During both by-elections, the PPP did not field any candidate against the PML-N candidate under an agreement between the two parties. However, Sheikh Rashid's opponents are now scattered in NA-55 and he may yet have the chance to win here.

Advancing on Jhelum Now a PPP man, Raja Fazal faces the advancing armies to protect Jhelum fort that he built for himself over decades. PML-N is out to teach the renegade general a lesson and the old rival family of the Chaudhries close in armed with whatever they could find in the circumstances — cannons borrowed from PML-Q. The Chaudhries and Rajas have both had their ‘vote banks’, with Raja Afzal, who is contesting both NA-62 and NA-63, never seeking to try it outside the PML-N fold before now. Nawabzada Iqbal Mehdi returns to the front aided by emerging PML-N politicians and PTI in its current flight cannot be taken lightly. Raja’s throne will require some guarding.

Where titans contest Sargodha in 2008 was not very kind to PML-N. PPP and PML-Q won two seats each here, leaving PML-N with one. That one seat — NA-68 — must have felt shaky for Mian Nawaz Sharif to contest it himself. However, in other Sargodha constituencies PML-N appears to be making a stronger challenge this time. Both Afzal Chan and Tasneem Qureshi of PPP are up against it in NA-64 and NA-66, their incumbency woes increased by a lack of campaigning by party leadership. In NA-65 Mohsin Shahnawaz Ranjha carrying the PML-N ticket has to be taken seriously as he faces up to quite formidable Ghias Ahmed Mela. Away from all these shifty party matters, a titan awaits a good enough claim on his seat in NA-67. Anwar Ali Cheema, these days of Q-League, has not lost since 1985. How does he fare this time generates interests equal to polls on a hundred seats.

Can Dr Rashid deliver? This has the making of a tough contest – perhaps the toughest for PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif in 25 years. PTI’s aggressive Dr Yasmin Rashid originally wanted another seat in Lahore but she was thrown into the ring in NA-120, lionised as ‘sherni’. Her father-in-law has been a PPP candidate in the area (with distinction) in the past as has been one of her brothers-in-law. Dr Rashid’s challenge was countered by the flower-laden campaign by Maryam Nawaz Sharif. PML-N maintained Nawaz Sharif didn’t need to canvass in this area. But as his PTI opponent promises to deliver and the bazaars offer sufficient contrast to the long-reigning PML-N flag, a fight full of sweat and toil could be on.

On kaptan’s pitch Back in 2002, the two squared off against each other when Imran Khan was far from a leader that he is today and Sardar Ayaz Sadiq was without his leaders who were in exile. In the wake of the tsunami, Sadiq is up against it, banking on another sportsman of yesteryears, Akhtar Rasool, to prop up his chances. Rasool is a PML-N candidate in a Punjab Assembly seat that falls under NA-122. Khan’s charisma and his appeal to the young are difficult to match. PML-N depends largely on the old-school, gentlemanly appeal and its development projects. Beware of bajis

Two adjacent constituencies in Lahore that have two well-known PPP ladies fighting it out against tough opponents: the only two PPP nominees with decent enough campaigns in the city. In NA-124, Bushra Aitzaz banks on her party’s vote and her husband Aitzaz Ahsan’s image in an attempt to turn the tide in her favour. She is face to face with formidable opponents in PML-N’s Rohail Asghar and Waleed Iqbal of PTI who proudly wears the title of ‘the grandson of Allama Iqbal’ besides being a nominee of one of the most effective and prolific interpreters of Iqbal’s message in modern-day Pakistan — Imran Khan. In NA-130, Samina Ghurki strives to retain the seat she had won as her late husband Khalid Ghurki’s choice in the degree-barred 2002 polls. Ghurkis and Dayals, two families that have been for long contesting against each other here, join hands to take on candidates of PML-N, PTI and Jamaat-i-lslami in a very intriguing battle.

Where to Wattoo? Hailed and decried for his appointment as PPP’s saviour in Punjab, Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo is bogged down in Okara. He might have found it easier as he contested and won these two seats as an independent in 2008. The president of PPP (Central Punjab) fights for his political survival, doing better in NA-147 than in NA-146 where he is challenged by an experienced Rao Ajmal and a PTI candidate with some local influence.

The Makhdoom congregation in Multan, divided between PPP and PTI, has been jolted by the kidnapping of young Ali Haider Gilani with repercussions difficult to foretell. If voters turn out in good numbers in defiance of security threat, the district will be too close to call. Old rivals collected under Imran Khan’s banner, Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Javed Hashmi test their popularity after ditching their old parties for PTI, which has visible support here. Among other Makhdooms, four Gilanis – three sons and a brother of Yousuf Raza – are in the race. Much more than an election is at stake for the Gilanis here.

Jahangir’s insaf Jahangir Tareen changes party and constituency to take on PPP’s vote-puller, Mirza Nasir Beg. In 2008, Beg got around 80,000 nods from the electorate but lost to PML-Q by less than 3,000 votes. In 2002, he got 76,000 but again lost. If he is able to retain a significant portion of his ‘vote bank’, Beg could turn out to be a difficult proposition. The presence of the 2008-winner Siddiq Khan Baloch as independent and Syed Rafiuddin Bukhari as the PML-N man makes the contest even more interesting.

Vehari rerun Ishaq Khan Khakwani, an ‘electable’ gentleman who landed in PTI along with Jahangir Tareen and a few others from southern Punjab, takes on Natasha Daultana of PPP in this Vehari constituency. Khakwani won handsomely in 2002 and lost in a narrow race in 2008 to Natasha’s brother, Azeem Daultana, who later died in a road accident. Too close to call with the ‘Imran factor’ at play, especially after a public meeting addressed by the PTI chief here in late April. In NA-169, Tehmina Daultana is once again caught in a tangle she must find a way out of after having been troubled by some intra-party issues.

The ‘clerical’ challenge Hafiz Abdul Karim is PML-N’s hope from Dera Ghazi Khan. Pitted against Leghari tribe chief, Sardar Jamal Khan, the wealthy cleric hopes to do much better than he did against his rival’s father, Sardar Farooq Khan, in NA-172 in 2002. The younger Leghari, Sardar Awais Khan, will try to oust Sirdar Saifuddin Khosa, who recently ditched PML-N to join PPP against father Sirdar Zulfiqar Ali Khosa’s wishes, in NA-173. That will be tough despite the very small margin of victory in 2008 — absence of a PML-N candidate aiding Khosa. In NA-171, PPP’s Khawaja Sheraz Mahmood, who was twice elected from here in 2002 and 2008 on a PML-Q ticket, is trying for a hat-trick against Mir Badshah Qaisrani, PML-N’s Amjad Farooq Khosa and PTI’s Khawaja Mudassir Mahmood.

Chief on rescue mission Jaafar Leghari, ex-PML-Q, is the PML-N nominee for NA-174. He has imported another chief (minister), Shahbaz Sharif, to contest PP-247, which falls under NA-174. In 2008, Leghari defeated Nasrullah Darishak by 10,000 votes but many factors now favour Darishak, whose son Hasnain Bahadur, takes on Shahbaz in the local groups’ fight against an outsider. The Darishaks have worked extensively in the area and now look to be rewarded.

Muzaffargarh mix Muzaffargarh, PPP’s Larkana in Punjab, appears somewhat differently poised this time, being the scene of plenty of crossovers in recent times. The Jatois who won in 2008 — Qayyum and Moazam – are faced with many difficulties. Jamshed Dasti has left PPP and stands as independent. He is focusing back on NA-178 after daring Hina Rabbani Khar for some time in NA-177, ‘forcing’ Hina’s father, Noor Rabbani Khar, to replace her as the candidate. Nawabzada Iftikhar, son of Nawabzada Nasrullah, is the PPP man in NA-178. PML-N has strong candidates in Sultan Hinjra, Abbad Dogar and Basit Sultan Bukhari and PTI has found its own Qureshis and Bukharis to field. Last but not the least, the old warrior returns to the battle in NA-176. His name: Ghulam Mustafa Khar. Sect-based vote matters here.

Readjustments This is where the adjustment between PPP and PML-Q ends. The ensuing competition throws the politics in a spin and not many 2008 winners are secure. The Nawabzada group associated with PPP takes on PML-Q as does Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar. Qamarzaman Kaira, big winner in NA-106 in 2008, faces stiff resistance from PML-N and two other opponents (one independent and the other fighting under PTI). In NA-107, Chaudhry Rehman Naseer, a joint Q-PPP nominee is strongly challenged by PML-N’s Chaudhry Abid Raza.

Some variety in Sialkot PPP’s emotional Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan is contesting the seat she won in 2008, NA-111 as well as taking on the experienced Khwaja Asif of PML-N on NA-110. In either constituency, PTI relies on candidates thrown up by the Musharraf period. Sialkot is a PML-N bastion and the party’s performance here would determine the nature of the challenge posed by PTI which is not at all unpopular among industrialists and businessmen. Dr Awan is better placed in NA-111 and it will take quite a lot from Khwaja Asif’s opponents to really threaten him. All said, Sialkot is much more exciting competition than it used to be, with PML-Q candidates in some areas and a PPP dissident in Ghulam Abbas from NA-114 adding greater variety to the contest.

It’s narrow in Narowal An aggressive power aspirant in PPP’s Tariq Anis, the unflinching, even if party-wise shifting inventor of devolution in Chaudhry Danyal Aziz, a national leader of the standing of Ahsan Iqbal and the singing reformist in Abrarul Haq: Narowal rivals a spicy formula film and it drew many a chronicler to its election campaign. Both these seats are likely to be keenly contested to the hilt. It is a test for the depth of the ‘Imran Khan wave’ in NA-117 where Abrar takes on Ahsan Iqbal.

Many shades in one suba The Bahawalpur province figures more prominently this time than it has in recent elections. Bahawalpur National Awami Party’s alliance with PTI seeks to provide Imran Khan with the strategic depth in southern Punjab just as PPP-PML-Q joint candidates at least promise high vote yields. Tariq Bashir Cheema of Q-League is locked in a one-on-one in NA-187 with Saud Majeed of PML-N. Though he lost the last time, Cheema can never be taken lightly. In the other seat Cheema is contesting (NA186), 2008-winner Riaz Husain Pirzada has not an easy job of justifying his switch from letter Q to letter N on the political scrabble board. The Nawabs and their candidates such as veteran Farooq Azam Malik must prove their importance for the suba cause. As for the lone woman fighter among men here PPP’s Khadija Warren has to live up to her reputation of a foregone victor who doesn’t have to campaign.

Sons take over This is one of the two Bahawalnagar seats Ijazul Haq of his own PML-Zia is fighting for. In NA-191, he seeks to avenge his defeat by Afzal Sindhu who has since left PPP for PTI. In 2008, PPP had captured three NA seats in Bahawalnagar, the fourth going to its current ally, PML-Q. Besides Sindhu’s switch to PPP, none of the two other PPP candidates are in the race. Mumtaz Gilani sits out as does Chaudhry Abdul Ghafoor who has chosen to field two of his sons instead, in NA-190 and NA-191. The changes could be unsettling for PPP. PTI has a good candidate in Mumtaz Matiana, an old PPP winner in NA-189. PML-N has Tahir Basheer Cheema challenge Ijaz in NA-190. Ijaz is the man to beat on both seats he is contesting.

Ares and whys of RYK The election to six national seats from Rahim Yar Khan is going to be very competitive. PPP will have a hard time retaining its previous haul of four national assembly seats out of six from Rahim Yar Khan as its alliance with Makhdoom Ahmed Mahmood has brought all anti-PPP, anti-governor forces together on one platform. If the new PTI factor is expected to help the PPP in three constituencies (NA-193, 194 and 197), the PML-N is banking a lot on its new found allies in the local Arain leadership out to cut Makhdoom Ahmed Mahmood to his size, as well as hardcore Deobandi groups.