The PML-N lost its stronghold PP-72 because of the controversial personality of disqualified MPA Khawaja Islam, his association with allegedly notorious people, differences between the local leadership, and poor election arrangements.
Party insiders told Dawn two PML-N MPAs -- Sheikh Ijaz Ahmed and Ilyas Ansari – as well as Israr Ahmed Munne Khan (a ticket-seeker for PP-72) and three party workers had conveyed reservations of various quarters of society in a letter they had written to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. The letter was sent to them days before the decision of fielding a candidate from here.
In the letter they had mentioned that Khawaja Islam held a fake degree, and had cheated the party in 2013 to get a ticket for PP-72. However, the Supreme Court had disqualified him in July and referred his case to the district and sessions judge for a trial. The judge had indicted him that earned a bad name for the party.
The authors of the letter had requested the party leadership not to award a ticket to any family member of Khawaja Islam. However, the party tried to accommodate Khawaja Islam by fielding his elder brother Khawaja Liaquat Ali for the by-elections in PP-72. The PML-N candidate lost to PTI’s Khurram Shehzad who had secured 23,972 votes against Liaquat’s 17,625. The PML-N lost this seat after 26 years.
The party’s decision had upset its voters and traders supporting the party who wanted Khawaja Islam replaced. Consequently, a majority of the traders either remained silent or voted for the PTI. Liaquat’s election campaign was run by people allegedly notorious for implicating others in false cases and land grabbing. This had also gone against the candidate.
PML-N sources said the party had even appointed MNA Jaffar Iqbal to oversee the election campaign to win back voters at any cost. Reservations in every union council had also been removed, but all in vain.
A party office-bearer while talking to Dawn dispelled the impression that the PML-N had lost the seat because of its policies. He said the constituents “loved Nawaz Sharif” and had supported the party even during the dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf. He said the voters did not approve of Khawaja Islam who allegedly did “politics through the police”.
He said the PML-N had witnessed over 50 per cent decline in its votes from the May general elections, which was because of Khawaja Islam, while the PTI’s votes almost remained the same.
Rivalry between Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah and former mayor Sher Ali, close relative of the Sharifs and father of State Minister for Water and Power Abid Sher Ali, also contributed to the PML-N defeat.
Even after winning all national and provincial assembly seats both rivals failed to win PP-72 for the party. Khawaja Islam is considered a close associate of Rana Sanaullah.
Babar Bhatti had been a staunch supporter of the PML-N for years, but this time he voted for the PTI candidate only because of Khawaja Islam’s controversial personality. He said by-election in PP-72 was due to ‘outright lie’ by Islam regarding his academic credentials. He said Islam had won last time as at that time his fake degree case was pending in the courts.
This time he had succeeded in cheating the party leadership with the help of his aides. He said Islam’s lie had brought a bad name to the party, caused loss of millions of rupees to the national kitty during the by-election and now the PML-N was being criticised.
Bhatti criticised the PML-N leadership whom he accused of deviating from their stance that frauds would not be accommodated in the party.