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GUJRAT: A tough contest is expected between former PML-N MNA Abid Raza Kotla and former PML-N MPA Malik Hanif Awan, also former Gujrat district PML-N president, for NA-71 (Sara-i-Alamgir-Kharian-Kotla) where Mr Kotla is a PML-N candidate while Mr Awan is an independent aspirant.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has fielded Chaudhry Ilyas, runner-up in the 2013 election on then NA-107 (now NA-71) against Mr Kotla who had won the seat by a 35,000 votes margin. The PPP has pitched Nadeem Ashiq Awan, party worker from Kotla Arab Ali Khan and the scion of former Kotla Union Council nazim Haji Ashiq (late). Mutahidda Majlis-i-Amal’s Syed Ziaullah Shah and Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan’s Naeem Rizvi are also in the run.

The constituency initially attracted media attention because of PTI’s ticket puzzle. The party first dropped Mr Ilyas from the list of probable that strengthened the reports that the party would give ticket to Mr Awan. The ticket, however, went to Mr Ilyas, who has not been able to get support from his PTI nominees for provincial seats -- former MPA Liaqat Bhadar (PP-33) and former MPA Chaudhry Arshad (PP-34) -- who both contested their last general elections as PML-Q men.

PTI candidates in 2013 polls for both these PA seats were Nasir Chappar and Raja Naeem Nawaz, who have been dropped this time though they both had secured good votes. A local PTI leader said there had been a strong reaction among workers in NA-71 over denial of tickets to Mr Chappar and Mr Nawaz and for that reason, the party workers were not actively participating in the election campaign of PTI candidates and most of the disgruntled PTI leaders might support Mr Awan.

Opposition from the party ranks is not only in the PTI as PML-N’s Kotla is also facing the same situation. Mr Awan had been the symbol of the PML-N for past two decades in Gujrat, particularly in NA-71, but he was gradually cut to size in the last five years of the PML-N rule as Hamza Shahbaz promoted Mr Kotla at the cost of the Awan group.

Mr Kotla has been facing strong opposition from his own brothers - former adviser to the Punjab chief minister Naeem Raza and former Kotla Union Council nazim Shahid Raza. Naeem had contested the last general elections as a PML-Q man for PP-115 (Kotla-Kharian) against his own brother Shabeer Kotla of the PML-N.

Naeem is again in the run for PP-34 as an independent candidate as the PML-Q did not give him ticket due to a seat adjustment with the PTI.

Both Naeem and Shahid have announced supporting Mr Awan, which is a great boost to the Awan group. Naeem on Tuesday announced withdrawing from NA-71 in favour of Mr Awan while Mr Awan will support Mr Raza on PP-34. Mr Bhadar is up against Shabeer Kotla of PML-N where the Naeem Raza group has also announced supporting Mr Bhadar on PP-33.

The Awans have been contesting the constituency since 2002. Dr Ajmal Siddique Awan, the nephew of Hanif, contested as a PML-N candidate for NA-107 and PP-114 and remained runners up on both the seats. In 2008, another nephew Jamil Awan became MNA.

Jamil was disqualified for his dual nationality in October 2012 and the subsequent by-election held on December 4, 2012 saw Hanif Awan as winner with 105,000 votes against Rehman Naseer Marala, a joint candidate of the PML-Q and the PPP. After that, the Awans lost magic in the PML-N and the Kotla group snatched ticket for NA-107 (now NA-71) and Shabeer Kotla (PP-115) whereas Hanif Awan was fielded on PP-114.

In 2018, Hanif Awan did not apply for the PML-N ticket whereas Abid and Shabeer have again been nominated by the PML-N for NA-71 and PP-33.

Analysts predict a tough battle between the Kotlas and the Awans as both have been in the government for the last 10 years and both groups got completed massive projects in the constituency.

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2018