GUJRAT: In a major upset of the July 2018 general election, the PML-N has lost all the NA and PA seats of Jhelum district that was considered its stronghold for three decades.

The PTI candidates have clinched both the NA seats (66 and 67) and the three PA seats (25, 26 and 27) of the district.Chaudhry Farrukh Altaf, son of former Punjab governor Chaudhry Altaf, and Fawad Chaudhry, the PTI spokesman, stood victorious in NA-66 (Jhelum city-Dina-Sohawa) and NA-67 (Pind Daden Khan-Khewra-Jalalpur Sharif and Lilla), respectively, on the PTI tickets in a district that also houses two cantonments -- Jhelum and Mangla.

The defeat of the PML-N in Jhelum is baffling as the party did not face such a situation even in Pervez Musharraf’s era when it had saved one of the two NA seats and one PA seat of the district in 2002. It consistently won all the NA and PA seats in 2008 and 2013. Besides, the PML-N lawmakers from Jhelum Raja Muhammad Afzal Khan and Nawabzada Raja Iqbal Mehdi won their respective seats since 1988, except for 1993, when Raja Afzal had lost.

Fawad Chaudhry, who won the NA-67 seat by bagging 93,380 votes against Raja Matloob Mehdi (82,731 votes), has also won the PP-27 seat by securing 67,003 votes against Nasir Mehmood Lilla (65,237).

Surprisingly, former Jhelum district nazim Farrukh Altaf who had secured around 34,000 votes as a PML-Q nominee in 2013 on an NA seat, has secured the highest figure of his political career with 112,356 votes as a PTI candidate. His rival Nadeem Khadim Gurmala of the PML-N got 92,912 votes in NA-66.

Khalid Tanveer of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) stood third by securing 29,596 votes whereas former PTI ticket-holder Chaudhry Muhammad Saqlain who contested as an independent candidate took 26,072 votes, PPP’s Tasneem Nasir Gujjar bagged 5,023 votes and MMA’s Mehboob Ali Mujahid 1,314 votes.In PP 25 (Dina-Sohawa), newcomer Raja Yawar Kamal Khan of the PTI secured 59,717 votes against ex-MPA Mehr Fayyaz of the PML-N who took 56,421 votes whereas TLP’s Syed Arfan Bukhari secured 27,280 votes, an independent candidate, Raja Safeer Akber, took 21,243 votes, PPP’s Mirza Abdul Ghafaar 3,467 votes and MMA’s Qasim Mehmood 1,718 votes.

In PP-26 (Jhelum city), ex-MPA Chaudhry Laal Hussain Gurmala of the PML-N secured 41,630 votes and lost at the hands of PTI’s Chaudhry Zafar Iqbal who got 64,061 votes. A disgruntled PML-N leader, ex MPA Chaudhry Saeed Iqbal whose group supported PTI’s Farrukh Altaf on NA-66, bagged 14,620 votes and thus played a role in the defeat of the PML-N candidates.

Shaukat Hayat Awan of the TLP got 13,696 votes and PPP’s Kashif Islam 1,872 votes on this PA seat.

Political commentators of Jhelum expressed surprise over the defeat of the PML-N as, according to them, even PTI chairman Imran Khan’s public meeting during the last week of electioneering had flopped. They said the Pothohar region of which Jhelum is a part might have expressed its annoyance with the PML-N due to party’s criticism of security establishment. The region is know to have a large number of serving and retired soldiers and their families might not have voted for the PML-N.

Differences among the local PML-N ranks are also believed to have led to the defeat of the party.

Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2018