HARIPUR: Canvassing by candidates for May 8 elections is nearing last phase, however, NA-18 constituency that usually draws spotlight owing to an always interesting contest between scions of political rival families is this time around witnessing a lacklustre view due to an apparent one-sided competition in absence of a close challenger from the beleaguered Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.

Spread over an area of 1726 square kilometers, NA-19 is the largest constituency of the province with the highest numbers of 724,915 voters divided in three provincial assembly constituencies — PK-46, PK-47 and PK-48 that were all won by PTI during the 2018 polls.

There are 16 candidates from almost all the mainstream political parties in the run for the National Assembly constituency of Haripur. However a close contest is expected between PML-N candidate Babar Nawaz Khan and PTI central general secretary Omar Ayub Khan.

The latter is contesting on the symbol of ‘laptop’ as ECP has stripped the party of its electoral symbol ‘bat’. He has been in hiding after facing over 20 criminal charges following the May 9 episode.

Observers term contest in National Assembly constituency one-sided

As a stopgap arrangement, Omar’s son Arsalan Ayub Khan is a frequent visitor to public meetings that his father’s cousin Yousuf Ayub Khan addresses collectively for Omar Ayub Khan and his own real brothers Akbar Ayub Khan and Arshad Ayub Khan, also PTI candidates for PK-46 and PK-47, respectively.

Omar, who joined PML-Q with his father late Gohar Ayub Khan a few months before general elections 2002, made his debut as third generation from late Gen Ayub Khan’s family in National Assembly.

He served in Shaukat Aziz’s cabinet as state minister for finance and claimed to have brought natural gas, electricity and road projects worth billions to Haripur. He lost to PML-N’s Sardar Mushtaq Khan during 2008 but returned to assembly for a few months in 2015 before the apex court’s ordered re-election in the constituency.

During the by-election, he did not contest on grounds of his late mother’s illness but he and his family openly supported Babar Nawaz Khan against PTI’s nominee and former MNA Dr Raja Amir Zaman.

The young Babar won that election on PML-N’s ticket with a sizable margin and served as chairman of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Human Rights during 2015-18.

Observers believe that Omar Ayub’s presence in the constituency would have certainly made the election interesting but his constant disconnection with the constituents despite being federal minister from 2018 to 2021 and reportedly leaving his voters and supporters at the mercy of his private secretaries, eventually robbed him of the popularity and voters’ support he enjoyed previously.

His rival Babar Nawaz Khan hardly missed an opportunity to fill the gaps by attending social gatherings. “He failed to give a single job in petroleum or energy ministries to his voters and made hollow promises with scores of youth,” said Haider Khan, a university graduate, who frequently visited him in Islamabad.

However his supporters are equally optimistic about his chances of returning to parliament with majority on the basis of youth and lay man’s support. “Let’s wait till Feb 8, and I’ll show you how all the PTI candidates sweep the elections,” claimed Qamar Khan, a PTI supporter.

According to observers the overriding factor that increases the chances of Babar’s expected PTI outmanoeuvring of rivals was a publicly announced support of his two former foes.

Dr Raja Amir Zaman, the scion of ruling Gakhar tribe of Khanpur and son of late senior politician Raja Sikandar Zaman and former PML-N MNA Sardar Mushtaq Khan, who is also from a landlord family of Kotnajibullah enjoys influence over his Gujjar clan across the district. They both are elected once as MNA from Haripur, bringing with them a solid vote bank that is expected to increase the chances of Babar winning the seat with a sweeping majority.

The young Babar, who is elder son of slain ex-provincial minister Akhtar Nawaz Khan, has also played his cards smartly developing an alliance with two formers ministers and popular candidates Qazi Mohammad Asad Khan, a formidable candidate for PK-46, and Raja Faisal Zaman, the younger brother of Dr Raja Amir Zaman. Despite being PML-N’s members, both Raja Faisal and Qazi Asad are contesting in independent capacity apparently under a tactical move.

In PK-48, Senator Pir Sabir Shah’s nephew Syed Hamid Shah, a PML-N candidate, is contesting against independent candidate Gohar Nawaz, who is paternal uncle of Babar Nawaz. So Babar would not be drawing enough strength from the Pir Sabir Shah’s vote bank that is, however, on a weak wicket due to multiple reasons.

In PK-46, in absence of a strong candidate of PML-N, the party has allotted ticket to Dr Shaista Khan for general seat.

Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2024

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