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SAHIWAL: Seven candidates are contesting for the NA-162 by-election in Chichawatni. Among them, three are the leading contestants: Rai Murtaza (Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf), Muhammad Tufail Jutt (PML-N) and Shahzad Saeed Cheema (PPP).

Polling will be held on Sept 19. The seat fell vacant after courts disqualified PTI’s Rai Hassan Nawaz for asset concealment. Here is the bio of the three major candidates.

PPP: The party took no time in nominating its candidate. Mr Cheema, a former MPA, is an Aitchison College alumni. He was a PML-Q candidate for PP-224 in the 2002 elections and stood runner up with 21,725 votes. He struck back in 2008 with a PPP ticket and won the seat with 36,013 votes. In 2013, he lost to PTI’s Waheed Asghar Doger and secured 17,000 votes.

Local observers believe mr Cheema can win 35,000 to 40,000 votes for this time, senior PPP leadership showed interest in the poll. Former prime minister Raja Parvaiz Ashraf, Chaudhry Manzoor, Manzoor Watto and Qamar Zaman Kaira have visited the constituency while former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani will address a rally this week. Former MNAs Begum Shahnaz Javed and Maher Faird Kathia and former MPA Zaki Chaudhry are actively working for the party candidate.

PTI: Traditionally, this seat has been won by the Rais in most of the elections. They joined the PTI in 2010, and soon former MNAs Rai Azizullah and Rai Hasan Nawaz won a place in the central leadership of PTI.

Rai Murtaza is the nephew of Rai Hasan Nawaz and has a law degree from the UK. He contested the poll twice from PP-225 - 2008 and 2013 - and either time remained loser. His uncle Rai Azizullah won the seat in 2002 on the PML-Q ticket, but lost to PPP’s Chaudhry Zahid Iqbal in 2008. Rai Hasan Nawaz won the seat on the PTI ticket in 2013. He challenged his disqualification in the Supreme Court. As the court did not take up his case on the last hearing on Sept 5, he decided to go ahead with Rai Murtaza as their candidate. Rai Hasan Nawaz said the decision of candidate could not be delayed any longer. He says Chichawatni is a stronghold of the PTI and it does not matter much who is contesting from the family.

The Rai group showed good performance in the local government polls and won 12 wards of the Chichawatni Tehsil Municipal Corporation. Their group also won several rural union councils.

Rai Hassan has been two time district council head.

PML-N: The party’s choice for the constituency is Tufail Jutt. He has been twice tehsil nazim of Chihawatni. He is elder brother of PML-N MPAs Arshad Jutt and Hanif Jutt. Mr Jutt was facing problems because of so many dissenter groups. The party woke up after realising declining votes in the recent bypolls in Jhelum and Burewala. MNA Hamza Shahbaz Shrif visited the area and convinced the dissenters to support Mr Jutt. The big success was the announcement of Chaudhry Zahid Iqbal supporting Mr Jutt.

Mr Iqbal, PML-N circles say, was leading the dissenters. He had ditched the PPP for the PML-N in the 2013 elections. Earlier, he had won the constituency on the PPP ticket in 2008 with 70,634 votes. His nomination papers were rejected in 2013 for his dual nationality. He fielded Haji Ayub as his candidate who stood runner-up against Rai Hasan Nawaz in 2013 by bagging 75,765 votes.

This time, Mr Ayub ditched Mr Iqbal for the PML-N candidate. Also, it was Mr Ayub who filed a representation against Mr Iqbal in this by-poll and got his paper rejected. Courts did not clear his case too.

This time, he trusted his elder brother Tahir Abdullah as his covering candidate. It is believed he extended his support for Mr Jutt after Mr Sharif assured him that he would be the PML-N candidate for the Sahiwal district council slot. Now, he has got withdrawn his elder brother from the race.

Also, independent candidates Mian Abdur Jabbar Rabbani and Raja Inamul Haq Abbasi are doing some serious work in the election and they can be regarded serious candidates.

Published in Dawn September 8th, 2016