It is election time. Twenty seats are up for grabs on July 17 and their results will be more than just a referendum on the PTI’s popularity or inflation’s impact on PML-N’s domination of Punjab. These seats will also decide the future of the government in Lahore and perhaps Islamabad.
More is plaguing the vote than polarisation, the economic crisis and Imran Khan’s populist rhetoric; also troubling are the unlikely alliances it has forced upon parties, especially the PML-N. In many constituencies, the party’s candidate is a traditional rival, which is why Noon is struggling — rather than just due to inflation.
But while Khan blows hot, the PML-N enjoys the privilege of power. Residents and journalists report lower loadshedding in the by-election constituencies and the presence of trucks selling utility store items and development work. What else may be at work can be deduced from the PTI’s allegations about the na maloom (unknown) X, Y, Z.
The PTI seems to be riding a wave at the moment, though it has chosen electables for most elections. Few nazriyaatis are in play. Its jalsas are impressive but doubts remains about the PTI’s ability to get voters to the polling stations, especially as the other side is prepared to make the visit a difficult one.
Read more: Punjab by-polls now a 'do or die' battle for PTI
Here are some of the seats up for contest on July 17 chosen in no particular order and limited only by the word count!
The PTI seems to be riding a wave at the moment, though it has chosen electables for most elections.
In Lahore, four constituencies are at stake but if observers are to be believed, only PML-N’s Asad Khokhar is said to be in a comfortable position to win. For campaign-watchers, the other three are close races.
The one that has generated the most interest is PP-158, the seat vacated by erstwhile Khan loyalist Aleem Khan. It is said he wanted the ticket for his confidant, Shoaib Siddiqi, but the PML-N preferred to award their own man, who had lost from here in 2018, Rana Ahsan Sharafat. Aleem Khan has not been seen campaigning for the Noon man amid rumours he is miffed with the choice of candidate. The PTI has awarded the ticket to Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed’s son-in-law, Akram Usman. Journalists such as Habib Akram and Ajmal Jami who have surveyed the constituency report increasing support for the PTI in the face of inflation. And this is why Ayaz Sadiq’s cabinet resignation is being seen as a sign the PML-N camp is worried and wants its top guns to campaign in the area.
In the other two constituencies, PP-167 and PP-170, PML-N ticket-holders are former PTI dissidents, Nazeer Chauhan and Amin Zulqarnain (Aun Chaudhry’s brother). Both are said to be in trouble because of the PTI’s popularity and PML-N cadres’ unhappiness. Nazeer Chauhan is said to have complained publicly about not getting support from the ruling party. Amin Zulqarnain faces Zaheer Abbas Khokhar, who has been elected MPA previously and comes from a politically influential family.
Moving beyond Lahore, PP-7 Rawalpindi will witness a fight between Raja Sagheer Ahmed and retired Col Shabbir Awan. Raja Sagheer won the 2018 election with around 44,000 votes as an independent and later joined the PTI, only to dissent. He is now contesting on a PML-N ticket. He is opposed by Awan, formerly PPP, who joined the PTI in 2013. He is the candidate in whose favour Zaheer-ul-Islam, former DG ISI, was seen speaking in a video that did the rounds.
PML-N stalwart Raja Zafar-ul-Haq is said to be not supporting the PML-N candidate because his son was the party candidate in 2018.
In Sheikhupura PP-140, Mian Khalid Mehmood is the PTI man who is now contesting on a Noon ticket. He was a PML-Q member in the past. He faces Khurram Virk from PTI. Though this is a PML-N stronghold, PTI feels it has a chance because it’s an urban area. There are also reports that local PML-N leaders are not favouring Khalid Mehmood.
Another seat up for grabs is PP-97 Faisalabad. In 2018, Ajmal Cheema had won as an independent candidate and then joined the PTI. He had been a PTI member but contested independently because the ticket went to someone else. He faces Ali Afzal Sahi of PTI, who was runner up in 2018 by around 5,000 votes. The PML-N candidate in 2018 came third; he had put up his papers this time around but was persuaded to withdraw in Cheema’s favour. The Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan is also said to enjoy support here.
In Jhang, two provincial seats are going to witness elections on July 17. In PP-125, which is mostly rural, Faisal Hayat Jabwana is contesting on a PML-N ticket and faces PTI’s Azam Chela. Faisal Hayat had won as an independent candidate in 2018, securing over 50,000 votes and then joined the PTI, only to turn dissident. Chela was the PTI candidate in 2018 too.
Next door in 127, Meher Aslam Bharwana had won independently in 2018 and joined the PTI. He got the PML-N ticket for dissenting, and faces Meher Nawaz Bharwana, who was the PTI’s candidate in 2018. The winning margin in 2018 was less than 1,000 votes. For this election, the Pirs of Siyal have announced their support for the PTI as has Sheikh Waqas Akram. Inflation is said to be an issue in most rural seats because of the high price of diesel.
In Lodhran, two seats are up for grabs. In PP-228, Nazir Ahmed Baloch, a PTI dissident is now the PML-N candidate. He is from a known local family and faces first-timer and PTI man, Izzat Javed Khan, who is seen as a weak candidate. However, Syed Rafiuddin Bokhari, who was the runner-up in 2018 on the PML-N ticket and lost by just 3,000 votes, is now contesting as an independent candidate.
But the second complicating factor here is that the local electables group, led by Federal Minister Abdul Rehman Kanju, may be having second thoughts about Nazir Baloch, who is aligned with Jahangir Khan Tareen. In addition, Siddiq Baloch, also aligned with Kanju — he faced JKT in elections — is not supporting Nazir Baloch.
Read more: Make-or-break by-elections
Next door in PP-224, interestingly, the 2018 candidates are facing each other but on different tickets. Zawwar Husain Warraich, who was PTI is now on the PML-N ticket while Amir Iqbal Shah is PTI instead of PML-N. While Warraich has been in politics since 2002, Amir Shah is from an old, established family and has defeated the Tareen family previously. The considerable Arain vote in the area is also said to be favouring Iqbal Shah as is the Kanju group.
In Muzaffargarh PP-272, dissident PTI MNA Basit Bokhari’s wife is contesting. Earlier, Basit Bokhari’s mother was the dissident MPA from here. However, Basit Bokhari’s brother is also contesting the election while the PTI has given its ticket to Sardar Moazzam Jatoi. While there are fears of family differences dividing the vote, Jatoi is seen as a strong candidate, who is supported by the local PPP stalwart Qayyum Jatoi. Next door, the contest is less uncertain as the PML-N’s Sibtain Shah is seen as a strong candidate compared to the PTI’s Yasser Jatoi but Imran Khan’s large jalsa in the area took people by surprise.
Sunday promises to be a tense day for politics, in more ways than one.
The writer is a journalist.
Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2022