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SAHIWAL: A total of 14 candidates are now in the run for one National Assembly seat of Arifwala tehsil – NA-146, but the real contest is likely between the PML-N and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).

The PTI is emerging in a better position with various groups announcing their support for the party. A local analyst said the newly registered Pakistan Humanist Party will bring strong implications for the PML-N candidate.

Arifwala is a pre-Partition city with over 60,000 registered voters. Hera Rajput, Arain, Dogars and Syed families are dominant here. The city was dominated by PML-N supporters, but now the city seems divided among over four groups.

The contest for this seat would be among PML-N’s Rana Zahid, Mian Amjad Joya of the PTI and Syed Ghulam Mustafa, a resident of Bahawalnagar backed by Syed Mohsin Ali Gillani – the Sajada Nasheen (caretaker) of Qaboola shrine with whom more than 50 villages are associated.

Waseem Zafar Jutt, who was a PTI aspirant from the Aleem Khan group, is contesting as an independent candidate on the symbol of ‘jeep’ against his own party’s Amjad Joya. Shaukat Bajwa is contesting on a PPP ticket and hopes to get 8,000 to 10,000 votes. Another independent contestant is Talha Saeed.

The Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan candidate is silently running his election campaign, but many are of the view that he will finally withdraw his candidature in favour of the party that will be in the winning position towards the end.

Rana Zahid has been loyal to the PML-N for 15 years. His constituents complained that he did not deliver in the city in terms of development or obliged his voters and supporters. The complainants say Zahid’s personal connections remained stronger than his responsibilities as a leader. The factors that could affect him were the recent delimitation, which reduced his strongest rural pockets of Rajput clan in Shafi Kangoh Halqa, and his case in the higher judiciary for possessing a fake degree.

Though after a Lahore High Court ruling, the election commission spared him for the time being, but the Sword of Damocles would be hanging over his head even after winning the seat. It is in this background that he nominated his wife Saima Kashifta and son Rana Iradaat as his covering candidates.

Mian Arshad, a local political activist and businessman from Rashim Gali, told Dawn that the Rajpoot clan was not supporting Rana Zahid as was the case in 2013. “Because of delimitation, the Rajpoot clan’s support has also been divided into three localities headed by separate groups. The three groups are supporting Amjad Joya, Ghulam Mustafa and Raja Talha Saeed.”

Saeed belonged to a strong political family. His father Raja Shahid was an MNA from the same area in 1985. The PML-N had assured Saeed of a party ticket in case Zahid was disqualified by the high court, but now he was contesting independently.

The Pakistan Kisan Ittehad (PKI) also announced its support for the PTI on Wednesday. Their Punjab President Chaudhry Rizwan from village 67/EB with a strong following among rural localities of Pakpattan district announced his support for Amjad Joya for NA-146.

Two days ago, PKI’s Muhammad Khalilur Rehman withdrew his support for the PML-N and its local chapter was now supporting PTI candidates.

Addressing a farmers’ gathering here on Wednesday in the vicinity of Arifwala city, Rizwan said during the 2013 election PKI was a staunch supporter of PML-N but growers had to face a tough time [during last five years] owing to what he called anti-farmer policies of the PML-N government.

Talking to Dawn on phone, he said as PKI started its activities in Pakpattan district, “so we are starting our campaign for PTI from NA-145 and 146”. He confirmed that PKI is supporting Amir Hamza Rath and Chaudhry Naeem Ibrahim for PP-195 and PP-196, respectively as well.

The Rehmani clan with 5,000 to 6,000 votes in Arifwala city also unanimously decided to support the PTI. Earlier, they backed Rana Zahid. The Joya clan and many local tribes living near Sutlej river belt -- Lalaykay, Khoya Kay, Lakhokay – are also supporting the PTI. Rang Shah and Jewan Shah villages among Shafi Kangoh Halqa are also likely to support the party.

Interestingly, before joining PTI, Amjad Joya remained active with the PML-Q, PML-N as well as PPP and he had a strong vote bank.

Qaboola shrine’s Pir Gillani and Pir Salman Mohsin Gillani could not find a strong candidate so they pitted their maternal uncle Syed Ghulam Mustafa from Bahawalnagar to contest from the platform of Pakistan Humanist Party.

The Gillani family’s Ather Shah had won the 2013 elections with 71,804 votes as a PML-N candidate. Their new nominee will dent the PML-N vote by 80 per cent and PTI 20pc. Many were not even familiar with Ghulam Mustafa but because of the religious inclinations it is felt he could gather over 40,000 votes from affiliated villages.

Another Syed and Chishti family member, Pir Ali Masood Dewan Chishti from Delhi Dalwar locality who earlier supported the PML-N, had publically announced his support for the PTI. The clan has a following of over 6,000 people.

Many more groups in the Arain and Khokhar clans are expected to announce support for the PTI candidate Amjad Joya. Interestingly, Joya was the runner-up against Rana Zahid in 2013 with a difference of 37,939 votes.

Published in Dawn, July 5th, 2018