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DESPITE internal rifts and groupings within the local rank and file of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in Mandi Bahauddin district, there will be a tough competition between the candidates of the two parties on as many National Assembly (NA) seats and four Punjab Assembly (PA) seats of the district.

Some party-based groups are supporting candidates of other than their own parties. A PML-N candidate from NA-86 (Malakwal-Qadirabad) has reportedly struck separate deals with at least three independent candidates for two PA seats falling in his constituency.

Take a look: Electable, biradari, party politics in Punjab

Similarly a strong group within the PTI in NA-85 (Phalia-Mandi Bahauddin) is supporting PML-N candidates, particularly from PP-66 (Phalia), as the group led by former Phalia tehsil Nazim Shakil Gulzar has been denied the PTI ticket for the constituency.

Mandi Bahauddin consists of three tehsils — Mandi Bahauddin, Phalia and Malakwal. The areas had been a stronghold of the PPP since 1970 as the party continued to bag NA and PA seats from there till 2008 when its nominees won all seven seats (two NA and five PA), repeating the party performance of 1993.

However, most of the PPP’s former lawmakers from the district, including former federal minister Nazar Muhammad Gondal, his nephew Nadeem Afzal Chan, Zafarullah Tarar, Tariq Tarar Raika (all former MNAs) as well as former MPAs Wassem Afzal Chan, Tariq Sahi and others have joined the PTI during the past three years.

The PPP has managed to field good candidates for all seats of the district for July 25 elections but none of them is believed to be a frontrunner on any seat as per the local analysts.

The PML-N has changed its candidate from NA-85 (previously NA-108) after veteran politician of the district Mumtaz Ahmed Tarar withdrew his candidature on health grounds and recommended his nephew for the party ticket. However the party leadership pitched a newcomer, Mushahid Raza of Chillanwala, on this seat. Raza is said to be a business partner and close friend of retired Capt Safdar, son-in-law of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

This time the PTI has awarded ticket to Imtiaz Ahmed, brother of Ijaz Chaudhry, whereas the PPP has fielded former MPA from Phalia Asif Basheer Bhagat, who had secured some 35,000 votes in the by-polls of 2015. Riaz Farooq Sahi of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) is also in the run for seat.

Of the two PA seats falling under NA-85, the PML-N has fielded former provincial minister Hameeda Waheedudin on PP-65 (Mandi Bahauddin city) against the PTI’s Arshad Mehmood Gondal and PPP-nominated Azmatullah Marth. On PP-66 (Phalia) the PML-N has again trusted its former MPA Tariq Yaqoob Rizvi, brother of former provincial minister late Pir Binyamin Rizvi, the PTI has fielded former MNA Tariq Tarar while the PPP’s Nawaz Tarar and the MMA’s Ehtesham Faraz Mangat are also in the run.

In NA-86 (previously NA-108) Malakwal-Qadirabad, it will be an interesting and tough contest between two traditional rivals and bigwigs of Mandi Bahauddin politics — the PTI’s Nazar Muhammad Gondal and former MNA Nasir Iqbal Bosal of the PML N.

Meanwhile, the situation in two PA constituencies falling under NA-86 has been very complicated, particularly for the PML-N candidates as the party’s nominee for the NA seat Nasir Bosal has been engaged in local seat adjustments with influential independent contenders.

On PP-67 (Qadirabad) the PML-N has fielded Sikandar Hayat Gondal and the PTI has awarded a ticket to Shahid Naseem Mattu. A PML-Q backed independent candidate, Sajid Ahmed Bhatti, has entered into a local alliance with the Bosal group. The Bhatti family has strong roots in the constituency that was why the PML-Q’s Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and his scion Moonis Elahi had won that seat in 2008 and 2013, respectively, even without personally canvassing in the constituency.

Similarly in PP-68 (Malakwal) the PML-N has ignored its former MPA Shafqat Gondal and awarded a ticket to Pir Mahfooz Shah Mushhadi, who had been elected an MPA on the party ticket from another PA seat in 2013.

The PTI has fielded Gulraiz Afzal Chan, a relative of Nazar Gondal and Nadeem Afzal Chan, whereas former PML-Q MPA Arif Gondal of Chimoana and local PML-N leader Qamar Khan are also in the run as independent candidates on this seat.

Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2018