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BAHAWALPUR: With only two weeks to the general polls electioneering has yet to pick up pace in the city as well as other parts of the district.

The slow campaigns could be attributed to a lack of interest on the part of both the contestants and electorates probably due to the prevailing uncertainty in the country’s political arena. Most of the people still doubt that elections would be held on July 25 despite the caretaker government and election commission reiterating holding of the polls on the decided date.

This is because electioneering this time lacked the traditional vibe and most of the campaigns were confined to four-walled boundaries as open campaigning was banned along with use of loudspeakers.

Due to the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) limitations, candidates were bound to hold corner meetings only and those too within covered premises or tents.

They were also forced to rely heavily on social media for communication with voters, share schedule of corner meetings and their movements. Some candidates have even blamed the ECP for creating hurdles in approaching voters.

During previous polls, election offices decorated with large posters and banners with pictures of candidates and their leaders would be established along main roads where hundreds of workers would be busy serving voters. But now the atmosphere is quite subdued. However, it is hoped that it gains momentum within the next few days.

NA-170 (Bahawalpur-I) is no exception. It consists of two provincial constituencies -- PP-245 and 246. There are 12 candidates in the race for this seat, including those belonging to All Pakistan Muslim League, Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan, Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) and the PPP.

The real contest, though, was expected between PML-N’s Baleeghur Rehman and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) Farooq Azam Malik, while MMAs Dr Waseem Akhtar and PPP’s Syed Ahmad Gardezi were the other main contenders.

In 2013, Farooq had lost to Rehman with a margin of a few thousand votes; he was a candidate of Nawab Salahuddin Abbasi’s Bahawalpur National Awami Party that had now merged with the PTI.

In the previous elections, Rehman and Waseem Akhtar of the Jamaat-i-Islami had contested together under a seat adjustment deal on national and provincial assembly seats, respectively. But now Akhtar was an MMA candidate and could deprive Rehman of the religious vote he polled last time.

Mr Rehman could get sympathy votes following the conviction of party supremo Nawaz Sharif. There is also a possibility that Samiullah Chaudhry, a PTI candidate for PP-246 that is attached to NA-170, who was a staunch supporter of the PML-N could dent the party’s vote in favour of himself and Farooq Azam as he had a strong group of supporters within his former party who could poll for him.

Moreover, Chaudhry’s relative and former PPP member Tatheerul Hassan, who was sacked from the party on charges of supporting the PTI candidate, could be helpful in getting his former party’s votes for Chaudhry.

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2018