This election, its not sher, not balla, not teer, but jeep that is proving to be the powerful symbol to seek votes.
The first one to select jeep as the election symbol was Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan from Chakri, Rawalpindi, after he parted ways with PML-N and decided to contest elections as an independent candidate. Zaeem Qadri, another PML-N Punjab leader, who left the party and opted for the same symbol to contest polls from Lahore, followed him. On the last day for withdrawing nomination papers, 11 ticket holders from South Punjab left PML-N to contest as ‘independents’ for the National Assembly seats. All of them are riding a jeep to run the race.
The PML-N went on a rampage in exposing the motive of independent electables behind choosing jeep as the election symbol. Nawaz Sharif called it pre-poll rigging meant to sidetrack PML-N. “One of the directors of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) General Faiz Hameed and his team is fully involved in pre-poll rigging and they are forcing our candidates to return PML-N ticket and contest independently on the symbol of jeep,” he said while talking to the media in London a few weeks ago. “Everybody knows what this symbol of jeep means?”
His daughter and potential successor, Maryam Nawaz, said: “Everyone knows the symbolism of jeep. This is symbol of khalai makhlooq (aliens).” She said jeep is a symbol of the invisible forces pulling strings from behind the scene.
According to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and Free And Fair Election Network (FAFEN) at least 143 independents are vying for National Assembly seats. Out of them, 72 are from Punjab, 24 from Sindh, 22 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 12 from Balochistan, 10 from Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and three from Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT).
At the provincial level, as many as 198 independent candidates have opted for jeep as the symbol in Punjab, 65 in Sindh, 49 in KP, and 29 in Balochistan.
“It seems unusual for multiple independent candidates to contest the election with the same symbol,” says political analyst Mazhar Abbas. “The allotment of jeep as symbol to candidates that defected from PML-N raises many questions.”
He says this is a new trend, and the results on July 25 will either validate or invalidate the perceptions about jeep.
Sardar Amjad Farooq Khosa, Sardar Mohsin Hasan Khosa, Usama Abdul Kareem, former deputy speaker Punjab Assembly Sher Ali Gorchani, Sultan Mehmood Hunjra, Hafeez-ur-Rehman Dareshak, Pervez Gorchani Yousuf Dareshak, and a few others disbanded the PML-N just before the elections. Their collective shift has created troubles for the party in many constituencies in South Punjab.
In the general elections 2002, the symbol of moon was considered a favourite in the power corridors, and many elected on this symbol got key positions in the government.
“Jeep is very tricky. Just like chand (moon) and ghara (clay pot) in previous elections. You see, candidates love to portray that the establishment backs their candidature. So if one candidate, say Ch Nisar, chooses jeep, others will follow him to show off that they too enjoy the blessings of the establishment,” says senior journalist Asha’ar Rehman. “In the past though symbols associated with the establishment have proved misleading. Very few candidates banking on such symbols actually win”.
The list of candidates running election on a jeep symbol is long. It comprises some unknown candidates with no political background. For example, in Islamabad, all three candidates with jeep symbol in NA-52, NA-53 and NA-54, are new to politics, and yet a major contest is expected between PML-N, PTI and PPP.
In NA-52, Asrar Ahmed Abbasi; in NA-53 Muhammad Zafar, who is standing against PTI Chief Imran Khan and former PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, and in NA-54 Shamus Rehman, known to very few people, are associated with jeep.
“It is not correct to say that every jeep will win. In our constituency PP-123 of Punjab Assembly Syed Zahid Muzaffar Shah is nowhere in the race. He is contesting for the first time,” says Karamat Ali.
“This becomes a favourite subject around elections, and always raises much curiosity. This time, maybe, there is greater interest in jeep because of Ch Nisar and the perception that he is close to the military establishment,” says Rehman. “He is a high profile leader who, by some estimates, can play a crucial role in the country’s politics. This is why his jeep is generating that much more curiosity — and suspicion too.”