Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto with senior Pakistan Peoples Party leader Hakim Ali Zardari, her father-in-law, and former MNA Faryal Talpur, his daughter, in Nawabshah.
Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto with senior Pakistan Peoples Party leader Hakim Ali Zardari, her father-in-law, and former MNA Faryal Talpur, his daughter, in Nawabshah.

The stage is set. For the first time since 1993, Asif Ali Zardari, co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), will run for political office from his hometown Nawabshah. The district was renamed in 2008 as Shaheed Benazirabad — in honour of the late Benazir Bhutto, chairperson of the PPP, following her assassination in December 2007.

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The last time Asif Zardari contested the elections from the district 25 years ago, he managed to win his constituency, following which his late wife formed a coalition government only to have it unceremoniously dismissed in November 1996 by her own trusted lieutenant, Sardar Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari, on charges of corruption and other violations against the constitution.

Originally called Nawabshah, in honour of Syed Nawab Shah who is believed to have donated his land during the British Raj, Shaheed Benazirabad is a district on the left bank of the Indus. According to some estimates, the legendary Nawab gave away 600 acres of his property to the public. The PPP government, out of respect for the generosity of the Nawab, decided to only change the nomenclature of the district, while maintaining the original name.

The district has four universities — including a medical college and an engineering university. It has a population of 1.6 million, with about half of that registered as voters.

The former president, Asif Zardari is poised to contest from of one of the two lower house of parliament seats — recoded after the delimitation to NA-213 — in the polls on July 25. Since he last won here in 1993, the co-chairman of the PPP has never run from his home district. His late father, Hakim Ali Zardari, had bagged the other national assembly seat at the time. Incidentally, three years earlier, the younger Zardari had lost the constituency to Ghulam Murtaza Khan Jatoi, of the National Peoples Party (NPP).

This time, he’s going up against Dr Qadir Magsi, the chairman of the Sindh Taraqi Pasand Party. The July 25 polls will only be the second time Mr Magsi runs for office, with his previous attempt in 1997 ending in a loss to the PPP, at his home district Thatta.

Mr Magsi’s electoral contest though is merely a formality as the PPP’s — and Asif Zardari’s — considerable weight in the district appears to be unmatched. Other challengers include Abdul Rauf Siddiqui of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), and Sardar Sher Mohammed Rind of the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA). The latter is a younger brother of Sardar Yar Mohammed Rind, a former federal minister, and leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in Balochistan.

The second national assembly seat, NA-214, extends to the Sakrand and Qazi Ahmed talukas (administrative units like tehsils). Syed Ghulam Mustafa Shah of the PPP has won the constituency three times in a row. His father, Shabbir Ahmed Shah, also won twice, once with the PPP, and then with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in 1997. Mustafa Shah’s competitors this time include Syed Zain Shah, the secretary general of teh Sindh United Party (SUP) and a grandson of G.M. Syed. PPP’s Ghulam Qadir Chandio had run against Zain Shah in 2013 in a closely fought battle.

Provincial seats

Following the recently conducted delimitation, Benazirabad has lost one provincial assembly seat, reducing its representation in the Sindh Assembly from five seats to four. The provincial constituency of PS-37, previously PS 26, has been merged with two other constituencies. The number of national assembly seats, however, has remained unchanged at two.

The district, as the name suggests, has traditionally been a stronghold of the PPP and is a sure bet for the party in the upcoming elections. While Asif Zardari has chaired a few meetings in his house concerning the campaign, other contestants have yet to initiate their challenge.

Asif Zardari’s sister, Faryal Talpur, has won back-to-back local government elections in 2001 and 2005 to become district nazim. His other sister, Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho, has maintained her winning streak — in the constituency that Zardari is running in — for three straight elections, 2002, 2008 and 2013.

Mr Siddiqui of the MQM, is also likely to contest from PS-38 in Nawabshah city, which his party has won twice and lost three times to the PPP. Sardar Sher Mohammed had lost to Dr Pechuho in the previous election. Ms Talpur ran in Benazir’s home district Larkana to become member of the national assembly in 2008. To her advantage, the PPP had managed to form the government, which allowed her to execute development projects and appease her voters. Also, unlike her sister Dr Pechuho, Ms Talpur was far more accessible for her voters to reach out to.

Despite being in relative absentia after the last time she won, Dr Pechuho is still gearing up to run in PS-37. According to sources, the PPP has been working backstage to get estranged party members from the Brohi, Jamali and other communities to help her win. GDA’s Syed Bagh Ali Shah, a former PPP stalwart, is set to go up against Dr Pechuho.

The PPP’s Chaudhry Tariq Masood Arain is contesting in PS-38 (formally PS-24) against arch-rival MQM. The MQM’s Abdul Majeed and Asim Kabeer Khanzada won the seat in 1990 and 1997 respectively, but since those victories, the MQM has lost its way in the constituency. With the recent infighting in the party, and GDA’s Syed Zahid Hussain Shah’s emergence onto the scene, things do not look good for the MQM.

Mr Chandio of the PPP had won PS-39 — previously PS-28 — in the last thee elections: 2002, 2008 and 2013. The last elections were a tough fight between Mr Chandio and Zain Shah. This year, GDA’s nominee, a former member of the provincial assembly, Ghulam Rasool Unnar — who won the seat in 1997 — has entered the fold. Zain Shah is hopeful of garnering support from the PTI and the GDA in lieu of the support he may extend to both parties in the provincial election. While Asif Zardari himself managed to win over the Rahus and Keerios, the Jamalis are still reportedly annoyed with the PPP as the party seeks to get them on board as well. PS-39 is set to be a hotly contested constituency.

PS-40, previously PS-28, was won by the PPP from 2002 to 2013. In July, GDA’s Asif Shah Jillani and PML-N’s Nazoo Dharejo have announced their candidacies, while the PPP will be represented by Sardar Khan Mohammed Dahiri — a cousin of Dr Bahadur Dahiri, who won the constituency for the PPP in the previous elections.

Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2018