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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 Rajpur 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.

Published in Dawn, July 5th, 2018