ISLAMABAD, Feb 17: All eyes will be focused on 32 National Assembly constituencies where political heavyweights, former ministers and key political figures are contesting.
Many of them are contesting in more than one constituency, indicating the level of uncertainty about Monday’s vote to be held and watched by a large number of local and international observers and independent TV channels.
Pakistan Muslim League-N leader Makhdoom Javed Hashmi is contesting from four constituencies – two in Multan and one each in Lahore and Rawalpindi, while former Punjab chief minister and president of PML-Q Punjab Chaudhry Pervez Elahi is contesting from three constituencies – Attock, Chakwal and Bahawalpur, rather than from his hometown of Gujrat.
A number of important political figures contesting from two constituencies include PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, former president Sardar Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari, former minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Awami National Party (ANP) President Asfandyar Wali Khan and Jamiat Ulemai-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman.
Former ministers Humayun Akhtar, Wasi Zafar, Chaudhry Shahbaz Hussain and PML-N leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan are also in the run for two seats each.
Another important aspect of the election is the non-participation of many key figures and party heads, some because they are boycotting the polls, some have put their other family members in the field and some have been disqualified. Former prime minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali has put his son Abdul Rehman Khan Jamali in the field and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif have been disqualified.
PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zaradri, who returned to the country after Ms Bhutto was assassinated on Dec 27, had not filed nomination papers for any seat.
Jamaat-i-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan and Pakhtoonkhwa Mili Awami Party chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai are boycotting the polls.
Another vocal JUI-F leader, Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, is out of the race because he was refused a party ticket.
Out of 272 elected on general seats in the previous assembly, 194 are in the run, some of them on ticket of a different party or as independent.
PML-N’s Javed Hashmi, who spent over three years in jail on treason charges during the previous assembly’s tenure, is contesting from NA-55, Rawalpindi-VI; NA-123, Lahore-VI; NA-148, Multan-I; and NA-149, Multan-II. An interesting triangular contest is expected in NA-55, Rawalpindi, where he is facing his old colleague and former minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and PPP’s Amir Fida Piracha. In NA-148, Multan, Mr Hashmi is again facing a triangular contest with PPP’s Punjab president Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi and PML-Q’s Rai Mansab Ali Khan. In the previous election, Mr Qureshi defeated Mr Hashmi on this seat.
In NA-123, Lahore, from where Mr Hashmi was elected MNA in the 2002 election, his main rival is PPP’s Lahore President Azizur Rehman Chan. In NA-149, Multan, he is facing PML-Q’s Tahir Rashid and PPP’s Salahuddin Dogar.
Former minister and six-time winner Sheikh Rashid Ahmed is facing the toughest contest of his life, facing Mr Hashmi in NA-55 and new PML-N entrant and MMA deserter Hanif Abbasi in NA-56.
Former Punjab chief minister Chaudhry Pervez Elahi is fighting on NA-58, Attock-II; NA-61, Chakwal-II; and NA-187, Bahawalpur-V. In Chakwal, he is facing a tough contest against former MNA Faiz Mohammad Tamman of the PML-N and Sardar Mansoor Hayat Tamman of the PPP. Faiz Tamman won the 2002 election from the same constituency on PML-Q ticket, but joined the PML-N after the return of Mr Sharif.
Two NA seats from Charsadda will also remain in the focus from where ANP president and sitting senator Asfandyar Wali Khan and former interior minister Aftab Khan Sherpao are contesting the election – but on different seats. The ANP chief is contesting from NA-7, Charsadda-I; and Mr Sherpao from NA-8, Charsadda-II. The other seat from where Asfandyar Wali is conteting is NA-12, Swabi-I.
Former leader of opposition Maulana Fazlur Rehman, besides contesting in his traditional constituency of NA-24, D.I. Khan, is also running for NA-26, Bannu. He is stated to be in trouble in his home constituency of D.I. Khan where he is facing tough contest from Faisal Karim Kundi of the PPP.
An interesting contest is expected in NA-17, Abbottabad-I, where former petroleum minister Amanullah Khan Jadoon of the PML-Q is facing former NWFP chief minister and sitting PML-N senator Sardar Mehtab Abbassi.
PML-Q NWFP president Amir Muqam is a candidate on two NA seats – NA-4, Peshawar-IV; and NA-31, Shangla.
Another tough fight is expected on NA-53, Rawalpindi-IV; where PML-N stalwart Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan is facing former minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan of the PML-Q.
In NA-57, Attock-I, two former PML-Q MNAs are facing each other as independent candidates. The PML-Q though awarded the ticket to former minister Malik Amin Aslam, Eman Waseem, the niece of Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and daughter of Attock’s powerful Nazim Major (retd) Tahir Sadiq, refused to withdraw from the race.
Mr Aslam later returned the party ticket and decided to take on the Chaudhry’s challenge independently. The situation is similar in NA-72, Mianwali, where former minister Dr Sher Afgan holds the PML-Q ticket, but he alleges that the Chaudhrys are covertly supporting an independent candidate against him.
After denial of ticket by the PML-Q, former minister Wasi Zafar is also contesting as an independent candidate on NA-76, Faisalabad-II; and NA-77, Faisalabad-III. In NA-77, he is facing his old colleague in the previous assembly, PML-Q’s Asim Nazir.
Jhang will be another focal point where former minister Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat of the PML-Q is facing his traditional rival Syeda Abida Hussain of the PPP. Interestingly, in the 2002 elections Faisal had the PPP ticket whereas Abida was the PML-Q candidate.
PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain is in the run on NA-105, Gujrat-II; and NA-112, Sialkot-III. Mr Hussain is facing a tough challenge from PPP’s Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar in his home constituency of Gujrat.
An interesting battle will take place in NA-151, Multan-IV, where the main contest is between former speaker Syed Yusuf Raza Gillani of the PPP and former minister in the Shaukat Aziz cabinet Sikandar Bosan.
Another former speaker Syed Fakhar Imam, a PPP nominee, will take on former minister and PPP turncoat Raza Hayat Hiraj in NA-156, Khanewal-I.
The present speaker, Chaudhry Amir Hussain, also appears to be in trouble as he is being challenged by PPP’s Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan.
Another former minister Ishaq Khakwani is contesting against PML-N’s Tehmina Daultana in NA-168, Vehari-II.
Former president Sardar Farooq Leghari is contesting from NA-172, DG Khan-II, and NA-174, Rajanpur-I.
Former minister Humayun Akhtar is in the run in two constituencies of Lahore – NA-124 and NA-125.