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GUJRAT: Though several mainstream political parties are in the run for NA-108 by-poll, the actual contest, according to local observers, is among the candidates of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), PPP and PML-N, that has an obvious edge being the ruling party.

Despite mainly comprising rural areas, the constituency has a sizable vote bank of all the major political and religious parties.

Besides the three main contestants, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazal) (JUI-F) and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) have also fielded their candidates for the by-election.

The Natinal Assembly seat had fallen vacant after the disqualification of the PTI MNA Ijaz Chaudhary in April after which the by-polls were announced.

A three-way fight between the PML N’s Mumtaz Ahmed Tarrar, PTI’s Tariq Tarrar Raika and PPP’s Asif Basheer Bhagat is being anticipated in the constituency. However, the analysts believe that the ruling PML-N’s candidate has stronger position as compared to his rivals from PTI and PPP.

All the three front-runners belong to Phalia tehsil that was once considered PPP stronghold. Even the PTI candidate Tariq Tarrar had been affiliated with the PPP for more than last two decades.

According to the analysts, both Tarrar and Bhagat having PPP backgrounds might steal each others votes, making the contest easier for ruling PML N’s Mumtaz Tarrar.

Moreover, right in the beginning of the campaign, a disgruntled local party leader of the PML N Dewan Mushtaq Ahmed, also a former MPA from the Mandi Bahauddin city, had rejoined the ruling party and announced support for its candidate. As a rewarded Dewan’s daughter Faiza Mushtaq has been nominated for a seat reserved for women in the Punjab Assembly.

Thus two former political rivals -- provincial minister Hameeda Waheedudin and Dewan Mushtaq are backing the PML-N nominee who, according to the sources, also enjoys covert support of some disgruntled PTI groups led by those denied the party’s ticket.

According to a local PTI leader, the PML-N’s choice of candidate for by-poll has been clear since the party never considered disqualified MNA Ijaz Chaudhary for ticket.

Chaudhry had got elected as an independent candidate in 2013 elections and later joined the PML-N -- the party which had refused him a ticket in 2013. Chaudhary then had to switch over to the PTI that too refused by-poll ticket to any of his family member.

On the other hand, he said, the PTI had been considering at least four candidates, three of them being former lawmakers -- Zafarullah Tarrar, a nominee in 2013, Ijaz Chaudhary and Tariq Tarrar. Former Phalia Tehsil Nazim Shakil Gulzar was the fourth, he added. This confusion spoiled the party’s chances in the by-poll to a larger extent as it not only annoyed those who were refused ticket but also kept Tariq Tarar, the final choice, unsure, affecting his campaign, he deplored.

Her said that as a result those refused PTI ticket were apparently supporting the party nominee but their locally-affiliated groups had been making decisions independently either in favor of the ruling party or the PPP and PML-Q.

In a bid to compensate for the “setback” from within the party ranks, the PTI nominee wooed a former PPP MPA, Tariq Sahi, from Mandi Bahauddin city.

Meanwhile, the local party cadre is also pinning high hopes on the scheduled rally to be addressed by party chairman Imran Khan in the constituency, expecting it to be a “game changer”.

So far, Chaudhary Pervez Elahi of the PML Q is the only senior central leader of any party who has visited NA-108 to support his party candidate Hamza Nasir Iqbal in the by-poll.

However, the parties like PTI, PML-N, PPP and JI have also announced visits of their senior leadership to the constituency before the election campaign ends.

The PTI chairman Imran Khan is scheduled to address a rally at Mandi Bahauddin Sports Stadium on June 5. Similarly, PML-N’s Hamza Shahbaz Sharif is also scheduled to visit the constituency on June 5. He will address a party rally at Quaid-i-Azam Ground in Mandi Bahauddin city.

JI chief Senator Sirajul Haq will also address his party nominee Riaz Farooq Sahi’s rally on June 5. The party’s provincial leaders, including Liaqat Baloch and Dr Waseem Akhtar, have already visited the constituency.

PPP Punjab president Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo, along with other party leaders, is scheduled to arrive in the constituency to back Asif Bahseer Bhagat. However, due to the security concerns none of its main leaders like Asif Ali Zardari or Bilawal Bhutto Zardari would take part in the by-poll campaign of their party candidate.

Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2015

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