ISLAMABAD: The upcoming local government elections in the federal capital may see a new breed of political player step into the ring as smaller parties are gearing up to give the mainstream ones a run for their money.
Even though the main contests are expected to be between representatives of major parties, such as the PML-N, PPP, PTI and Jamaat-i-Islami, but smaller, more local groups may be able to challenge their dominance in a number of ways.
Some hopefuls have already started campaigning. “There could soon be a shortage of space to hang banners as key spots have already been occupied, either by independents or religious party candidates,” said Ashraf Gujjar, who heads the PML-N campaign in the LG union councils falling in the NA-48 constituency.
Even though all four major parties have a good track record in Islamabad, none of them have formally launched their campaign for the LG polls. The fact that these polls may yet be held on a non-party basis also poses problems for the bigger parties, as they won’t be able to overtly campaign for candidates from their party platform.
Religious groups, newcomers, independents and similar-sounding group names seen as potential spoilers for mainstream parties
Even though religious elements hold considerably sway in certain parts of the capital, it is likely that the conservative vote bank may be split, given the number of groups and parties that are looking to contest the elections.
One of the main factors in this election will be the overwhelming number of candidates from each union council. These numbers could cause confusion among voters, which may end up helping the smaller parties.
For example, candidates supported by both the Pakistan Peoples Party and the proscribed Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) will be contesting elections under the banner of the ‘Awam Dost’ group.
“Awam Dost is a term that has been used by the PPP since the first elections were held on non-party basis during the Zia regime in 1985,” said PPP Islamabad President Syed Sibtul Hassan.
However, ASWJ Islamabad Spokesperson Hafiz Uneeb Farooqi also laid claim to the ‘Awam Dost’ name, saying that this had been used by the party in the past and they had already launched an election campaign under this banner.
Simultaneously, their counterparts from the Deobandi sect are also fielding candidates under the banner of ‘Rahe Haq’ or as part of the ‘Awam Dost Group’, if elections are indeed held on a non-party basis.
“We will field candidates in all UCs and hope to get our councillors elected through local seat adjustments,” ASWJ’s Mr Farooqi said.
Despite being less visible in the urban areas, the JUI-F is also a force to be reckoned with in the rural parts of the city. “We have a strong followings in many parts of Islamabad and mosques will be our main centres of canvassing,” said JUI-F Islamabad Secretary General Mufti Abdullah.
If local seat adjustments are not solemnised, the JUI-F could pose a serious threat to both the Rahe Haq group and the traditional right-wing powerhouse, the Jamaat–i–Islami, by dividing the religious vote bank.
But one of the key challengers in the urban constituencies may be a party that is considered an ‘unknown’ in Islamabad politics.
Consisting of left-aligned and secular-minded individuals, the Awami Workers Party (AWP) will be contesting these elections with a focus on the many katchi abadis within the city.
“We have been working specifically in these areas and this is our strength – our candidates will come from these localities,” said Asim Sajjad Akhtar, an academic and AWP leader.
AWP will probably field candidates in the seven UCs which have a high proportion of katchi abadis.
“There are around 2,500 votes in France Colony, whereas there are about 8,000 registered votes in UC-40 (Sector F-7),” he said, adding, “We anticipate that upper-class residents of this area won’t turn out to vote in as great numbers, so it is up to us to successfully mobilise our supporters.”
Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2015