By Fahim Zaman
Since August 14 this year, the country has seen constant political turmoil in the form of sit-ins and rallies staged by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT). Through their ongoing agitation Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri have polarised public opinion across the country, more so in Punjab.
However, Javed Hashmi’s departure from PTI while accusing Imran Khan of following a ‘written script’ and ‘trying to derail democracy in the country’ had its own repercussions for the party.
Prior to joining PTI as its president, Hashmi had remained loyal to Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan Muslim League for more then quarter of a century but left the party despite winning the 2008 elections on a PML (N) ticket due to his differences with the leadership.
In Islamabad, retirements, promotions and subsequent changes in military’s top brass earlier this month and the depleting number of people at the sit-ins outside the parliament house may have provided PML (N) and Nawaz Sharif some respite. Apparently, PTI and PAT, sensing exhaustion amongst their supporters in Islamabad, have also opted to change their tactics and have started concentrating over demonstrations and rallies in other big cities.
Normally by-elections experience low voter turnout, but NA-149 is no ordinary constituency and in the wake of the unusually charged political environment, this by-election is expected to witness high voter turnout.
While Makhdoom Javed Hashmi is contesting for the seat as an ‘independent candidate’ and being supported by PML (N), Malik Muhammad Amir Dogar, with a long time family history of contesting over PPP tickets, is also contesting as an ‘independent’ and being supported by PTI.
Since 1985, Makhdom Javed Hashmi has proved to be a strong candidate in Multan in his own right; contesting and mostly winning from one or the other Multan National Assembly seat. However, NA-149 elections in 2013 had one marked difference from 2008 and 2002 as far the voter turnout was concerned. It jumped from under 30% to 56% in 2013.
To calculate percentages out of 83,640 votes that Javed Hashmi bagged as PTI during 2013, one must look at the composition of the constituency and the past voting patterns. This could also give us some clues as to who would remain loyal to him during the ongoing election.
NA-149 is a hundred per cent urban constituency of Multan largely composed of Saraiki, Punjabi and Urdu speaking populations with respective shares of 38%, 34% and 26%.
Javed Hashmi due to his long association with PML (N) might gain a chunk of votes out of 73,861 bagged by Sheikh Muhammad Tariq Rasheed during 2013 elections contesting as a PML (N) candidate.
For NA-149 by-elections, PML (N) has decided not to field a candidate against Javed Hashmi.
There are many other factors that will affect the vote-shares on 16th October. Out of 346,000 registered votes at NA-149, over 35% or 115,000 are estimated to be of those below 30 years of age.
There is a nationwide abhorrence against poor governance, feudal-style politics fuelled by non-stop denunciations from Imran Khan and Dr. Tahirul Qaudri on primetime television for the last two months. This may be the single most important factor helping to mobilise PTI voters especially the young in support of Malik Muhammad Amir Dogar.
Unfortunately for Malik Amir Dogar the youth are not considered to be dependable voters. They require a strong election-day organisation to capitalise over their vote. How will Dogar’s team perform while PTI is only supporting him as an independent candidate, is something that’s yet to be seen!
Interestingly, NA-149 settlements with high percentage of Urdu-speaking voters like Akhtarabad Colony, New Multan Housing Scheme, Wahdat Colony, Sadiq Colony, Loha Market, Guldin Colony, Khanqah Inyat Shah, Al Habib Colony and Andron Shahar except for Khalidabad, had voted heavily for PML (N) candidates over the years.
Three out of four settlements with Urdu-speaking majority have voted for PML (N) in 2002, 2008 and 2013. However, at Khalidabad PPP had bagged 2,775 votes during 2008 elections against 1696 for PML (N). During 2013, PTI bagged 2,977 as against 2,447 votes for PML (N) and only 962 votes for PPP. The same trend of ‘PPP loss of vote’ to PTI is visible across the constituency.
Similarly during 2013, a higher percentage for Saraiki-speaking, vote seems to have gone to Javed Hashmi and PTI. The loyalty of Punjabi-speaking voters seems to have remained split between PTI and PML (N) at NA-149 during 2013.
The historical PPP vote bank, that has been on average between 41% to 36%, may find it easy to revert back and vote for Malik Amir Dogar in absence of a PTI candidate and support offered to him by PTI especially Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
However, the PPP decision for fielding its candidate Dr. Muhammad Javed Siddiqui could also eat into Malik Amir Dogar’s vote.
Even though PML (N) is seen as supporting Javed Hashmi, his loss during the by-elections could minimally affect PML (N) while Malik Amir Dogar win may vindicate PTI leadership against Javed Hashmi.
A win by Javed Hashmi, meanwhile, could have a far more demoralising effect over PTI and its leadership.
NA-149 over the years
The present day NA-149 Multan II was carved out of urban areas of NA-115 Multan after nationwide census conducted in 1998.
In the 1988 National Assembly elections PPP’s Riaz Hussain Qureshi, with a 41% vote share, won NA-115 against Pakistan Awami Itehad candidate Syed Hamid Saeed Kazmi of JUP (Noorani) with a vote share of 34% and Babu Feroz Din Ansari of Jamaat Islami with 24%.
However, during the 1990 elections united religious-right candidate Kazmi on JUP (N) ticket bagged 58% votes, defeating PPP’s Qureshi who had a 40% vote share.
Similarly, during the 1993 elections, NA-115 was won by Haji Boota on Nawaz Sharif’s PML ticket with 51% vote share against PPP’s Riaz Hussain Qureshi.
In 1997, PPP replaced Qureshi with Salahuddin Dogar over NA-115 who managed a vote share of 29% and lost to PML Haji Boota who had a vote share of 66%.
Fast forward to 2002, split right with vote shares of 23% for MMA, 22% for PML (N) and 19% for PML (Q) helped PPP’s Liaquat Ali Dogar with a vote share of 35% capture freshly constituted NA-149.
In 2008 PML (N) consolidated its position with Javed Hashmi bagging 55% votes against PPP’s Malik Salahuddin Dogar's 36% vote share.
Interestingly, Javed Hashmi contesting over a PTI ticket for 2013 elections won with his career best 83,640 - a vote share of 45% against PML (N) Sheikh Muhammad Tariq Rasheed 73,861 votes or 39% vote share. He also reduced PPP’s Malik Muhammad Amir Dogar to a vote share of mere 11% who ironically is now opposing him as an independent in the by-election with PTI's support.