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RAWALPINDI: The main contenders in the NA-60 by-election, the PML-N and the PTI, have yet to decide on their candidates.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has announced that the by-election process will begin Monday, when candidates will receive nomination papers from the returning officers; polling will be held on Oct 14, and the nomination papers will be finalised by Sept 16.

Supporters of the PTI and the Awami Muslim League (AML) are currently rowing over the award for the NA-60 ticket; AML’s Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, who is also the railways minister, wants to field his nephew on the PTI’s ticket, while local PTI leaders and workers want to run their own party candidate.

PTI, AML workers split over ticket, PML-N looking into alternatives while waiting for Abbasi’s appeal proceedings to begin

The matter remains undecided, and there has been no official word from the PTI in this regard.

PTI leaders Abrarul Haq, who lost his Narowal seat on July 25, and Usman Dar, who lost in Sialkot, have been eyeing the Rawalpindi seat.

A senior PTI leader told Dawn the party’s local leaders as well as those from other cities want to submit applications for the NA-60 ticket because it was previously held by Prime Minister Imran Khan and is considered a safe seat for the party.

Sheikh Rashid, however, wants the party ticket to go to his nephew Sheikh Rashid Shafique, he said, adding that the party has neither denied the request nor given the go-ahead to begin campaigning because Mr Khan still has to make this decision.

The decision for the election will be made mid September, he said, as Mr Khan is busy forming the federal and Punjab governments and will call the parliamentary board to award party tickets for the by-election after things are settled.

There was a rift within the party, the senior leader said, as many local leaders are interested in the election and have decided to submit nomination papers in the coming days.

Former MPA Arif Abbasi, PML-N turncoats and local leaders will submit nomination papers on Aug 28, he said.

However Mr Shafique has begun his campaign and claimed that he has the PTI’s support for the by-election.

However, PTI city president and MPA Ijaz Khan Jazi told Dawn: “The party will issue the ticket after the consultation of the parliamentary board and it is premature to say anything.”

He said the party has not awarded a ticket to anyone and the decision will be made by Mr Khan.

The party will call for applications soon and will award the ticket after holding interviews, he added.

Mr Jazi said the party has decided to field its own worker in NA-60, as this seat was not part of any sort of seat adjustment agreement.

Party workers who have struggled the most in the past will be awarded a ticket, he said.

Meanwhile, the PML-N is also having a hard time deciding on its candidate for NA-60 after Hanif Abbasi’s conviction and sentencing.

There were reports that Abbasi’s wife or son would be contesting the seat, but Abbasi’s son Hammas Abbasi told Dawn his father had not made a decision yet and would decide in the next two or three days whether anyone from their family would contest the election.

He said the party would offer Abbasi the opportunity to decide on this. He said his father is in hospital and will speak about this after he is discharged.

Abbasi’s appeal is pending and will open after the court’s summer vacation, a senior party leader said, and the PML-N will make a decision after seeing the court proceedings.

He said the party is hopeful that Abbasi will get justice from the higher courts in the ephedrine case, but it has also devised an alternate plan and Abbasi’s family will be given a chance in his absence.

The PPP has decided to run Mukhtar Abbas, who was also awarded the NA-60 ticket for the July 25 elections but could not run because the election was postponed.

“Our candidate will be Mukhtar Abbas for NA-60, and the party will field a new candidate in NA-63 (Taxila),” PPP city president Babar Jadoon told Dawn.

The party will not leave the seat open for Sheikh Rashid despite his loyalists in the party who wanted to do so.

“The party faced the worst defeat in Rawalpindi due to Sheikh Rashid Ahmed’s loyalists; party workers have decided to campaign aggressively against the railways minister in the coming election,” he said.

Published in Dawn, August 26th, 2018