MURREE, March 29: Election fever has hit the hill station, which falls within Rawalpindi district.
NA 50 consisted of Murree, Kotli Satiyaan, Kahuta towns and three union councils of Kalar Syedaan town, is the largest constituency of Rawalpindi district.
A few weeks ago, President Asif Ali Zardari visited Kahuta, and addressed party workers during a luncheon hosted by Ghulam Murtaza Satti, president Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Rawalpindi district and former member National Assembly.
On the other hand, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Nawaz Sharif is a frequent visitor to the hill station and hence is in touch with many of PML-N’s local level leaders and workers.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is not far behind either – recently Javed Iqbal Satti of the PML-Q and former town nazim Murree Khursheed Abbasi joined hands with Imran Khan.
This seat has been a PML-N stronghold since 1988 as Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who has won frequently from this seat, is a party stalwart.
He first won the seat in 1988 after the death of his father (who won the seat in 1985) in the Ojhri camp incident.
After winning the election, he joined the IJI and has since been a part of PML-N.
He also won this seat as the PML-N candidate from 1990 to 1997. In 2002, PPP’s Ghulam Murtaza Satti, a newcomer in politics, defeated Abbasi.
Murtaza Satti was a union council nazim who was awarded the PPP ticket at the last minute because the original PPP candidate withdrew due to the alleged pressure of the then Musharraf government.
Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) also played an important role in the defeat of Shahid Khaqan as the MMA candidate Sufyan Abbasi secured 29,000 votes, dividing the rightwing vote, which is also garnered by Abbasi.
In 2008, on the other hand, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was helped by the division in the Satti clan vote as Murtaza Satti was the PPP candidate and Javed Iqbal Satti was a PML-Q candidate.
It goes without saying that Shahid Khaqan will be the PML-N candidate from this constituency and Murtaza Satti will land the PPP ticket while Sadaqat Abbasi is expected to represent PTI, whereas Javed Satti is another strong candidate for the ticket of PTI.
But observers feel that Shahid Khaqan may face a challenge from his traditional rivals as well as new ones.
In the first place, President Zardari’s visit to Kahuta on Murtaza’s invitation may work in favour of the PPP.
Second, the new found popularity of the PTI can be an unknown factor which can have an impact on elections.Third is the incumbency factor – people are not happy with issues such as the lack of check on illegal construction in the area; the decision to stop projects initiated during the PML-Q reign; gas supply to Hamza Sharif’s residence at Khaira Gali at the cost of supply to the rural areas of Murree. This is not to say, however, that the people in the constituency are not aware of the alleged corruption and bad governance of the PPP government in the centre.
Both these parties may suffer because of their past performance.
However, as the tickets have still not been finalized, it is difficult to say anything for sure at the moment.
Others are also in the race for the tickets.
Shafqat Abbasi is for example trying to secure a ticket for his brother. In 2002, Shafqat Abbasi won the PPP ticket for the provincial assembly and won the election.
But he lost the 2008 election and was then appointed chairman of the Pakistan Press Council.
Sardar Saleem Khan, a former town nazim, is also hoping that he can be the joint candidate if PPP and PMLQ agree on seat adjustment.
The picture is far from clear.
But negotiations between PTI and Jama’at-i-Islami (JI) are in progress to strike a deal on seat adjustment at provincial assembly level.
If the talks succeed, Sajjad Abbasi of JI would be their joint candidate for the sole Punjab Assembly seat, PP-1, consisting of Murree and Kotli Sattiyan tehsils.
Qari Saifullah Saifi of Jamiat Ulema-i-islam-Fazl (JUI-F), who lost provincial assembly elections in 2002, is JUI-F candidate for National Assembly with Ishtiaq Abbasi, a joint candidate of local religious groups, in provincial assembly.
But PML-N faces tough situation in finalising its provincial assembly candidates.
Raja Fayaz Sarwar, the outgoing MPA and cousin of Raja Ashfaq Sarwar, general secretary Punjab PML-N and former adviser to CM Punjab, is a candidate for the PML-N ticket for provincial assembly.
On the other hand, Arshad Nawaz, former union council nazim and former member district council, is also a candidate for PML-N provincial assembly ticket.
If he manages to get the ticket from Rajas of Ghora Gali he would be the strong candidate for provincial assembly due to his personal relations during his long tenure as union council nazim, member district council and president Anjuman-i-Tajran, Murree.
But Raja Ashfaq Sarwar wants PML-N ticket granted to his younger brother Atiq Sarwar. This will create a rift within the party.
In this situation PPP could get an edge at provincial assembly level.