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CHAKWAL: The PML-N and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) prepare for the by-election in Chakwal’s PP-20 which is scheduled for Jan 9 and which may set the course in the district for the upcoming general elections.

PP-20 has been a stronghold of the ruling PML-N since 1985 but it may not be as easy for the party to win this election due to many reasons, the major among which are the disqualification of party chief Nawaz Sharif as prime minister, money laundering allegations and the controversial amendment in the election bill.

On the other hand, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), the archrival of the ruling party in Chakwal, has also managed to secure the support of PPP and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) which means the PTI will be able to give the ruling party a tough competition in these by-polls.

The seat fell vacant after the death of PML-N MPA Chaudhry Liaquat Ali Khan in October

The seat on which the elections are to be held fell vacant on Oct 30 with the death of PML-N MPA Chaudhry Liaquat Ali Khan, who had won seven elections since 1985. He could not contest the elections in 2002 and 2008 due to the graduation restriction and his wife, Iffat Liaquat contested them instead.

In 2002, she secured 34,901 votes while Pakistan Muslim League Q candidate Chaudhry Ejaz Hussein Farhat won by securing 41,283 votes. However, she won the 2008 elections by securing 50,039 votes against Mr Farhat’s 42,992.

When the graduation condition was lifted, the Late Chaudhry Liaquat Ali Khan won next elections with 62,088 votes, the highest in the history of PP-20.

His 32-year-old son, Chaudhry Sultan Haider Ali will now contest the elections in the constituency, for the first time, and will be up against PTI’s Raja Tariq Mehmood Afzal who is also contesting for a provincial assembly seat for the first time but has been in politics for a long time.

The PPP fielded Nawab Taimoor but withdrew its candidate in favour of PTI while the PAT did not field any candidate. Both the PPP and PAT have announced to support PTI in the election.

There are three other contestants in the polls- Chaudhry Nasir Abbas of the Tehreek-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah and two local journalists Chaudhry Imran Qaiser Abbas and Mohammad Tufail. Mr Abbas secured an Awami National Party ticket while Mr Tufail founded his own political party, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaniyat which was not awarded the party symbol he wanted, rosary beads, as the Election Commission of Pakistan cancelled all religious symbols recently.

However, the fight is really between the PML-N and the PTI and leaders of both parties seem confident.

PTI believes that because its candidate is from an influential family, he will be able to secure more votes including voters of the Sardar Ghulam Abbas group as he was associated with the group for a long time. A rival of the PML-N since long, Sardar Ghulam Abbas joined the party in 2016. His decision of joining the party he had fought all this time did not go well with his voters and the move has had many consequences.

Chairman of Union Council Dullah, Sardar Arif, who was a close aide of Mr Abbas, recently joined the PTI which has made the PTI hopeful that this will at least win them the support of former MPA Chaudhry Ejaz Hussein Farhat, even if he does not formally join the party.

“The PTI awarded its ticket to Tariq Mehmood Afzal instead of Chaudhry Ali Nasir Khan Bhatti, who won 32,827 votes earlier. Mr Afzal is a close relative of former MPA Chaudhry Ejaz Hussein Farhat and the Sardars of Dullah, an influential political tribe. These two families have been the backbone of Sardar Ghulam Abbas and now they will support the PTI’s candidate,” said a senior PTI leader.

“PTI will give PML-N a tough time as the party is getting stronger every day,” said Raja Yasir Humayun Sarfaraz, the party’s senior vice president for the northern region.

“I am very optimistic because people in the rural areas are announcing their support for the PTI,” he said.

PML-N’s Chaudhry Sultan Haider Ali Khan, on the other hand, said he thinks his party will easily win the elections.

“Frictions are usual at the time of any elections and our path to victory is very clear as we have the support of the people,” he said.

Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2017