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Cold Murree seems warming up to PML-N

December 25, 2007

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REJECTED in the 2002 election, the Muslim League-Nawaz (PML- N) seems to be winning back the favour of voters of Murree in the run-up to the January 8 polls.

The hill resort had long been a stronghold of the PML-N and the Abbasis, but in 2002 Peoples Party Parliamentarians (PPP)’s new entrant Ghulam Murtaza Satti stopped the running spree of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi with a margin of over 10,000 votes.

Six years later, the two parties are again expected to be the main contenders for the Murree’s seat NA-50 in the National Assembly with PML-N seemingly having an edge over PPP due to the return of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif from exile and the decision of some religious parties to boycott the polls on the issue of the restoration of sacked judges of the superior courts.

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi of the PML-N is very hopeful that this time he would regain the traditional family seat.

He told Dawn that the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amaal (MMA) factor had played the main role in his defeat in the 2002 elections. Secondly, the people at that time were somewhat disappointed after the Sharif brothers went into exile.

Their return, he believes, has boosted the morale of the people “very high” and then “the MMA factor” is no more there. Though hopeful of winning the election, he said he was taking both the Sattis — Murtaza Satti of PPP and Javed Iqbal Satti of PML-Q — very seriously.

Interviews with some locals showed that the anti-Musharraf feelings are very high in Murree and its suburbs, which have been a centre of religious and right wing forces. “We cannot vote for the enemies of Islam,” said a resident of Aliot, a major rural bazaar, alleging that the Q-League committed “great excesses” on Muslims by “killing innocent people” in Lal Masjid operation.

Interestingly, an elected local government representative belonging to the PML-Q, who refused to be identified, said that he was working for the party because of “local considerations”, knowing that the Q-League had no vote-bank in the area.

NA-50, the first constituency of Rawalpindi district, comprises the area of Murree, Kotli Sattian and Kahuta.

In the partyless election of 1985, a relatively unknown retired air force officer who became a rich businessman, Khaqan Abbasi, returned from the Middle East to challenge the “opening batsman” of the late military dictator Gen Ziaul Haq. Mr Abbasi defeated Mr Haq and became a minister in the cabinet of prime minister Mohammad Khan Junejo.

Khaqan Abbasi died in the April 10, 1988 Ojhri Camp tragedy. His son Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, an engineer by profession, replaced him in politics.

Like his father, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as an independent candidate also defeated Raja Zafarul Haq of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) in the 1988 election. Later, Mr Abbasi won all the three elections — 1990, 1993 and 1997 — with a clear majority from the PML-N platform. It was first timer Murtaza Satti of the PPP who defeated Mr Abbasi in the 2002 election in the constituency, which had previously been considered a “safe seat” for the PML-N.

The politics in Murree-Kahuta is biradari-based and the Abbasis have been enjoying the support of the masses over the years. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who is running a private airline, was chairman of the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) when Gen Pervez Musharraf ousted the Nawaz government in 1999 after a bloodless military coup. Mr Abbasi was arrested for allegedly conniving with the then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who had ordered the Karachi Airport authorities not to allow landing of the PIA plane carrying Gen Musharraf from Sri Lanka.

In the 2002 election, Shahid Abbasi polled 63,797 votes, but lost to PPP’s Ghulam Murtaza Satti, who bagged 74,259 votes. Mohammad Sufiyan Abbasi of the MMA remained at number three with 29,331 votes. The turnout remained 47.78 per cent as 171,449 people, out of total registered 358,818 voters, used their right to vote.

In the 1988 election, a young Shahid Khaqan Abbasi defeated former information minister of Gen Zia, Raja Zafarul Haq of the IJI, and PPP’s Raja Mohammad Anwar after a close fight. Mr Abbasi polled 47,295 votes against 45,075 votes of Mr Haq and 42,971 votes. Murree witnessed highest-ever turnout of 52.73 per cent in the 1988 election when 137,608 people used their right of vote. At that time, the total number of registered voters in Murree was 260,985.

In the 1990 election, Mr Abbasi who contested on the IJI ticket faced no difficulty in defeating Raja Mohammad Anwar of the PPP. Mr Abbasi secured 80,305 votes against 54,011 of Mr Anwar. In 1990, the turnout was 52.11 per cent as 136,240 voters turned out to the polling stations to cast their votes.

There were a total of 261,470 registered voters in this constituency. In 1993, Mr Abbasi contested the poll on the PML-N ticket and performed a hat-trick by defeating the PPP candidate with a margin of over 31,000 votes. This time, the PPP had changed its two-time loser Raja Mohammad Anwar with a veteran Col (retd) Habib Khan. Mr Abbasi polled 76,596 votes whereas Col Habib secured 45,173 votes. The turnout was 49.12 per cent with total number of 274,740 registered voters.

In the 1997 election, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi again convincingly defeated his two rivals in a triangular contest. The PPP did not field any candidate and announced its support for Dr Babar Awan of the PML-J. Javed Iqbal Satti, who is contesting the Jan 8 election against Mr Abbasi on the PML-Q, ticket had fought the election as independent candidate. Mr Abbasi bagged 65,194 votes whereas both his rivals could secure a little over 21,000 votes each. The turnout in the 1997 election was 39.09 per cent as out of 284,796 registered voters, only 111,333 turned out to the polling stations.