ISLAMABAD, March 27: With the elections scheduled for May, political parties have until the third week of April to finalise their candidates. Many of the parties are already witnessing intense debate over which of their candidates should contest Islamabad's seats in the general election.
The capital is represented by two seats in the National Assembly, NA-48 and NA-49.
After the last elections, in 2008, the PML-N won both seats, in part because of a boycott of the process by the Jamaat-i-Islami and separate candidates from the PML-Q and the PPP.
This year, however, the dynamic is different with the JI participating and the other two parties presenting a united front.
Competition will be particularly fierce for NA-48 which represents urban Islamabad, especially since former president Pervez Musharraf has announced his interest.
Mian Aslam, who was successful in the 2002 elections as a Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal candidate and then joined the JI boycott in 2008, is also planning to contest the seat. His relationship with the local business community and his work on behalf of the downtrodden make him an important factor, sources say.
Five years ago, the PML-N's Anjum Aqeel won the seat by a 35,000-vote margin. "But he would be a bad choice," said an opponent within the party, noting Aqeel's alleged involvement in land fraud against the National Police Foundation, for which he had been sent to jail on judicial remand in December 2011.
Another opponent said, however, that Aqeel would be a strong contender for the PML-N's nomination in part because of the ‘money he had amassed’ in real estate.
"It'll be hard for the party to deny him the ticket," he said. "The party needs funds to campaign, after all."
Within the PML-N, a close associate of Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Supreme Court lawyer Ashraf Gujjar, has emerged as a challenging rival to Anjum Aqeel.
The PPP is facing its own internal battles with three of its members competing for the ticket, including Raja Imran Ashraf, the younger brother of the former prime minister; Chaudhry Amjad Ayub and Faisal Sakhi Butt, who “ruled the CDA" as an assistant to Yousuf Raza Gilani.
Islamabad's other seat is NA-49, which represents most of the city's rural area. While Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry took this seat for the PML-N in 2008, the contest was much closer.
Syed Nayyar Hussain Bukhari, who won the seat in 2002 and was more recently the chairman of the Senate, lost by fewer than a thousand votes receiving 44,726 against Chaudhry's 45,842. A PML-Q candidate, Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, received over 34,000 votes.
This year, Khokhar has joined the PPP, and sources suggest he might emerge as a "consensus candidate" for the People’s Party and the PML-Q. Bukhari, however, is insistent that his family receive the nomination for an Islamabad seat.
With the JI participating and the PPP and PML-Q working together, the dynamic of this year's election will be very different from that of 2008.
Another new element is the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf. Though the party has yet to agree on its candidates for Islamabad's seats, a spokesman emphasised their importance. "We will definitely be focusing on NA-48 and NA-49," the spokesman said, saying the PTI was "working on a number of applicants."