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THE BATTLE FOR LAHORE

July 08, 2018

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Composed by Maha Nauman
Composed by Maha Nauman

The city that many invaders tried to conquer is now up for grabs once again, as the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) go head-to-head once more to claim Lahore. But much like the city of Karachi, whose electoral constituencies have been manoeuvred through “chicken necks” — winding and irrational boundaries — the city of Lahore, too, is seeing great change to the constituencies it last knew.

Perhaps it is a sign of the times that with the ouster of PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, and the subsequent defections of many party leaders and activists to the PTI across Punjab, the PML-N has had to rely on loyalists in the city of Lahore. Most of its National Assembly candidates have remained the same although new(er) faces have been introduced at the provincial level.

But equally, while Nawaz remains sidelined, it is how the new constituencies have been cut that is a matter of great intrigue. In 2013, Lahore’s share in the National Assembly was 13 seats but 2018 has brought with it an extra seat, thereby raising its tally to 14. Old constituencies have been split into many different parts — the prime example of this being how the constituency of Nawaz loyalist and former speaker of the National Assembly, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, no longer exists (see below).

This has also meant a reconfiguration of who contests which constituency. Maryam Nawaz, for example, initially filed papers from her father’s old constituency, NA-120, which is NA-125 in the reconfigured constituencies map. Her direct opponent in NA-125 was going to be PTI’s Dr Yasmin Rashid. The party, however, made new calculations to shift Maryam from NA-125 to the new NA-127. Meanwhile, new constituencies have been cutting across the main roads — a violation of the principles of delimitations, which stipulate using main roads to demarcate constituencies. For example, the Mall Road has either been crossed or completely ignored in the redrawing of constituencies. Similarly, Maryam Nawaz’s new constituency sees horizontal lines cutting across old constituency lines.

Punjab’s capital is the prize that will be hotly contested between the PML-N and PTI. But aside from political polarisation, the city is also increasingly divided along class lines

But perhaps, the one defining factor of constituencies drawn in Lahore this time round is social mobility (of which biraderi networks are but one factor). What appears on constituency maps is new boundaries separating the haves from the have-nots. This configuration helps the PTI make more inroads into certain constituencies, ones with higher-income residents.

THE ORANGE LINE FACTOR

Nawaz Sharif’s ambition to become the new Sher Shah Suri isn’t news but the introduction of the Orange Line metro train service was a game-changer. In the new constituency map, the Orange Line now passes through NA-125, NA-126, NA-127, NA-128, NA-129, NA-130 and NA-135. Simultaneously the benefits in terms of connectivity to localities along the Orange Line are largely being bequeathed to PML-N voters. Such is the confidence of the party in NA-127 that they believe that Maryam Nawaz can win from here without campaigning in person — this, in part, has to do with the Orange Line.

The masterstroke of the Orange Line was not in terms of introducing automated rapid transit system; it was as a political gambit that was going to cut into PTI influence in certain constituencies and resettle their voters into other localities. Consider the locality of Parachute Colony, for example. This squatter settlement was raised on railways land and one of the residents’ long-standing demands was for this land to be regularised.

In 2003, this became a reality as the Pervez Elahi-led Punjab government launched their candidate, Aleem Khan, from Parachute Colony on the back of regularising 33 squatter settlements. Aleem’s role was deemed crucial in getting ownership rights for the landless and he eventually won the provincial seat from the area, PP-147.

But this is also a constituency from where Ayaz Sadiq used to contest National Assembly elections, NA-122. When the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) admitted Imran Khan’s plea in 2015 that the elections in 2013 from this constituency had been rigged, it also ordered that polls be re-held here. The PML-N returned to railway colonies to solicit support while the PTI, this time pitting Aleem Khan against Sadiq, turned to the association of squatter settlements for support.

Ayaz Sadiq and Aleem Khan shall be locking horns once again, this time on NA-129 which is comprised largely of upscale localities. But this time, Sadiq has lost his low-income and middle-income constituents. Meanwhile, Aleem Khan will look to exploit the PTI’s influence in upscale localities as well as his business interests to win.

Lahore’s voting patterns, therefore, show that more people are joining the electoral process than before. The question now is which party stands to benefit the most when new voters enter the polling process proper. This, however, is a game of little margins and swing votes.

Similarly, the PML-N has elevated Malik Saif-ul-Mulook Khokar from the Punjab Assembly to the National Assembly. Saif-ul-Mulook is the brother of Malik Afzal Khokar, who was PML-N’s candidate from NA-128 in 2013. Both brothers will now be contesting National Assembly seats, with Saif-ul-Mulook contesting from NA-135, a beneficiary of the Orange Line, and Afzal from NA-136. This constituency is largely a battle from the Khokhar biraderi as the PTI, too, is pitting Khokars for battle here. An estimated 120,000 votes belong to the Khokhar biraderi in this constituency.

IS IMRAN BEING FAVOURED?

Having pitted his close associate Aleem Khan against Ayaz Sadiq, PTI chief Imran Khan is set to rival the outspoken Nawaz loyalist, Khawaja Saad Rafiq in NA-131. And while Imran seems comfortable about his chances, Rafiq has already alleged that the “laadla” or ‘the most loved’ is being facilitated by the powers-that-be.

NA-131, in fact, chews up part of the old NA-125 and NA-129. Imran’s confidence is bedded in two factors: first, that a number of Aleem Khan ventures lie in NA-131; and second, that the new NA-131 has been drawn in such a way that it is comprised largely of upper-middle class and elite Lahoris from Defence and areas adjoining Walton Cantonment. The unwashed, meanwhile, have been chucked out from Imran’s new constituency. Neither of these factors is insignificant.

In fact, many urban villages in these localities were purchased by Aleem Khan a long time ago to develop them into housing colonies. By now, they are populated while many residents retain some goodwill for Aleem Khan. The rest of the constituency has largely been developed by the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) or the military.

Perhaps this is the safest constituency for Imran to contest from. The PTI’s logic, till now, has been that “educated” Pakistanis and “those with a conscience” will always vote for Imran Khan. This argument is often repeated in upper-middle class circles as gospel truth. And an Imran Khan victory here will underline this argument.

WHERE DID AYAZ SADIQ’S CONSTITUENCY GO?

Speaker of the outgoing National Assembly, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, contested the last elections from NA-122. His main rival for the seat was PTI chief Imran Khan.

The constituency back then was bounded by Samanabad on one side to the Lahore Railway Station, before heading towards Mughalpura and then the Royal Palm Golf and Country Club. The boundary lines of the constituency then extended to Darbar Mian Mir and onwards to the Lahore Gymkhana and the Race Course Park. A segment of the Orange Line train passes through the old NA-122.

On the peripheries of the city, however, the difference between the class backgrounds of constituents becomes obvious. Most of these localities still have some rural component — either in terms of land or in terms of social attitudes.

New delimitations in Lahore, however, have called death on what used to be NA-122. The constituency has been fragmented into four parts: NA-125, NA-126, NA-129 and NA-130. Sadiq is contesting the NA-129 seat this time round — this constituency now includes cantonment areas and high-income localities of Saddar, Askari X and Fortress Stadium, among others.

Sadiq’s rival this time round is Aleem Khan, a land baron whose properties and influence stretches through many localities in Lahore, particularly the erstwhile squatter settlements and localities where his real estate business flourishes. Already the electoral process is being thrust into controversy as Sadiq claims that the returning officer in the constituency is biased in favour of Aleem Khan.

IS LAHORE EVEN VOTING?

Although there is great noise about the battle for the throne of Lahore, there is also the question of whether it can even be classified as a battle if large numbers are staying away from the electoral process.

Consider the following: 48.82 percent of voters from Nawaz Sharif’s NA-120 constituency stayed away from the electoral process in 2013. This is much higher than the percentage of votes cast in favour of Nawaz Sharif, 30.99 percent. Similarly, 50 percent of the registered voters in the old NA-123 stayed away from the elections process back in 2013. PML-N’s Pervaiz Malik won with 36.47 percent of the votes.

But reading numbers for one election process is erroneous; elections are in part also a matter of trends.

Although many have stayed away from the electoral process, the percentage of people abstaining from voting has been steadily declining. In 2002, NA-120 had 69.57 percent absences while the year 2008 saw 64.78 percent voters staying away. Similarly, in NA-123, 75.41 percent of voters abstained back in 2002. The abstaining voters were reduced to 66.92 percent in 2008.

Lahore’s voting patterns, therefore, show that more people are joining the electoral process than before. The question now is which party stands to benefit the most when new voters enter the polling process proper. This, however, is a game of little margins and swing votes.

Consider NA-120 once again: the PML-N in 2002 bagged 14.49 percent of the votes in the constituency to the PTI’s 1.09 percent. At the time, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was still a point of discussion in Punjab politics. The PPP had bagged 8.37 percent of the votes while the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-i-Azam (PML-Q) raked in 6.48 percent.

With Imran Khan boycotting the 2008 elections, the PPP would swallow PML-Q’s vote to end up with 9.08 percent of the votes cast. In 2013, the PPP became irrelevant with a 0.88 percent vote. The PTI upped its game and bagged 17.70 percent of the vote. But while its presence was felt, the PML-N also increased its votes from 24.56 percent to 30.99 percent.

A similar trend is visible in the old NA-123. Both rival parties have made up substantial ground and reduced the number of those who didn’t use to vote [see table].

THE ISSUES THAT MATTER

In a policy note printed in April, 2017, Dr Ali Cheema and Asad Liaqat of the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives (IDEAS), argue that purchasing power and employment will be key determinants of who assumes power. This argument is based on surveys conducted in the old NA-122, and adjoining NA-121 and NA-124 constituencies. About two-thirds of respondents responded that purchasing power was most important for them while one-third suggested that employment was a major concern. In all constituencies surveyed, mass transit was nowhere near the top three issues of priority.

Another key argument made is that effective service delivery (education, health, water, electricity, gas and security) is important but needs to come as a whole. As the two academics argue, “improvement in no one service is likely to swing the election” and further, that “big investments in the delivery of one or two services are unlikely to matter if there is a perceived deterioration in earnings or prices.”

Indeed, while the wave of the “mujhay kyun nikala” [why was I chucked out?] narrative became popular with Nawaz’s massive following across Punjab, the declaration of handsome assets and property by Maryam Nawaz might have an adverse impact on whether the voter is convinced of the Sharifs’ honesty and integrity. The IDEAS survey discovers in the two constituencies that people are generally ambivalent about Nawaz and Imran being upright, but certainly, believe in the Sharif brothers to take the country towards prosperity far more than they do so for Imran. This can be read as a class phenomenon, too: Imran’s new constituents are all from the more privileged classes while the constituencies surveyed by IDEAS remain middle-class and working class localities.

In fact, this theme of social mobility is pervading all discussions about how Lahore’s constituencies have been cut.

The PML-N’s domination over Lahore is bedded in Nawaz and Shehbaz’s popularity in the historical localities of Lahore, including the Walled City which was once a stronghold of the PPP. The Sharifs’ dominance has simply grown in these localities after the PPP was routed in Punjab in 2013 — the IDEAS survey, in fact, reveals that PPP chief Asif Ali Zardari is viewed as the most corrupt leader and people’s perceptions about the PPP haven’t changed despite the emergence of Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.

But it’s not as if the PTI has chosen to ignore the underprivileged. Take for example NA-123, where the PML-N has pitted Riaz Malik against Wajid Azeem of the PTI. The locality is neither upscale; it is very much a low and middle-income area. But since Malik’s candidature wasn’t looked upon favourably by PML-N activists in the locality, Azeem might put up stiff resistance.

On the peripheries of the city, however, the difference between the class backgrounds of constituents becomes obvious. Most of these localities still have some rural component — either in terms of land or in terms of social attitudes. Then there are labour colonies and other working class areas in these areas. Biraderi networks tend to become stronger in these localities as these alliances help people survive and find some social security. Voting, too, therefore happens on biraderi lines.

Dr Ali Cheema and Asad Liaqat argue in the IDEAS report that the pool of undecided voters will have a huge impact on the outcome of these elections. Decisions from here on might well depend on how much the PML-N and PTI are able to convince the voter that their social mobility and immediate wellbeing is tied to the respective party’s economic programme. The Lahore of 2013, or even 2008, is a different world. More prosperity has seen more expectations. This time, the expectation is that the wealth stashed away by all actors will be more generously distributed among the people.

The writer is a member of staff.

He tweets @ASYusuf

Published in Dawn, EOS, July 8th, 2018