LAHORE: Both the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and its arch rival Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) may witness a change in the voting pattern in NA-120, Lahore III, by-poll, mainly because of realignments and entry of new aspirants in the race for the National Assembly slot.

By-polls for the seat that fell vacant because of disqualification of ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif under the Supreme Court Panama case verdict, are due on Sept 17.

There is a perception that the right wing voters, particularly those affiliated with hardliner outfits usually prefer the PML-N to its main rivals, PTI and PPP as they find the ruling party’s culture and policies close to their ideologies.

However, this time such voters have a choice in the form of Yaqoob Sheikh, the nominee of the recently formed Milli Muslim League (MML), which is the political face of the Kashmir-Jihad fame Jamaatud Dawah (JuD).

The JuD with its headquarters located at Chauburji, falling in NA-120, enjoys following in certain union councils of the constituency. So far the MML has set up at least 32 election offices in the constituency.

Likewise, the voters of Barelvi school of thought are also considered as the vote-bank of the PML-N because of closeness of the Sharifs with the Naeemi family that runs Jamia Naeemia.

Labbaik Ya Rasoolallah, an outfit representing this school of thought, has fielded its own candidate, Azhar Husain in NA-120. Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi, a firebrand orator and founder of the outfit, is campaigning for Mr Azhar while criticising the PML-N government for executing Mumtaz Qadri, a police guard who had murdered ex-governor Salmaan Taseer.

The PTI is also facing a change in its support base. Many PPP supporters like MAO College ex-principal Maqsoodul Hasan Bukhari, an old jiyala, Raees Haider (who remained imprisoned during Gen Zia regime) and PPP’s ex-zonal leader Suhail Shami had supported PTI nominee Dr Yasmin Rashid in the 2013 elections. However, they have now returned into the PPP folds since the party has fielded Faisal Mir.

Unlike Zubair Kardar, the PPP nominee in the 2013 polls who had half-heartedly contested the electoral bout, rarely setting up his election office, Mr Mir is actively engaged in his campaign. His election offices, though fewer than those of the PML-N and the PTI, can be spotted in almost all localities in the constituency.

According to some analysts, by winning back jiyalas, Mir could make a dent in the Imran Khan-led party’s vote-bank.

Lahore’s former naib nazim Farooq Amjad Mir, whose residence had served as main election office of Dr Rashid in 2013 polls, is conspicuous by his absence from the scene. He has not even hoisted a PTI flag atop his house this time.

To the PTI’s consolation, the Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM), a staunch enemy of the PML-N, that had fielded its candidate, Marghub Husain Rizvi, against Nawaz Sharif in the previous polls, has entered into an alliance with Imran Khan’s party. But, Mr Rizvi’s main supporter Khurram Zaidi has been seen running the campaign of PPP’s Faisal Mir. Whereas, some PML-N leaders claim that the Rizvis themselves are supporting Begum Kulsoom in the by-polls.

Dr Tahirul Qadri’s PAT, also a sworn enemy of the PML-N, which had boycotted the previous general election, has also announced its support for the PTI in the by-polls.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2017

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