The by-polls are scheduled for 11 National Assembly and 36 provincial assembly seats exactly a week from now, on October 14. Most of these by-polls are going to be held on seats in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. According to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), there are as many as 122 candidates contesting for 11 NA seats.
The campaign is in full swing with parties’ flags, posters, and door to door canvassing reminding once again of the fervour of general election.
The opposition parties are trying to enter into alliances or support of other parties in order to give tough time to the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI). In KP, Jamiat Ulema-e Islam Fazlur Rehman (JUI-F) has surprised everyone by meeting with its arch rival Awami National Party leadership.
No less surprising is Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP) support for PML-N candidates in Punjab. These by-polls have become a test case of PTI popularity which opposition parties believe is declining after forming federal and three provincial governments.
Nayyar Hussain Bukhari, senior leader of PPP, confirms that his party has decided to extend support to PML-N candidates in Punjab except Rahim Yar Khan, while PML-N would reciprocate this in Karachi. “There is a common denominator — we want to give a tough time to the ruling PTI,” says Bukhari. “The time to withdraw candidates has passed but PPP will convey to its candidates and workers to support PML-N.”
As for PTI, it has awarded most tickets to the kith and kin of those who were elected in general election 2018. However, in the battlefield Punjab, the contest is once again between PML-N and the PTI.
In Islamabad, Attock, Rawalpindi, Chakwal, and Gujrat, the elections are being held on seats vacated by PTI and PML-Q. Seats in Chakwal and Gujrat were vacated by Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi who was supported by PTI in general elections.
By-election in both constituencies of Lahore — NA-124 and NA-131 — is a competition between PML-N and PTI only. NA-124 was vacated by Hamza Shahbaz Sharif who is the opposition leader in Punjab Assembly. Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi who lost his home constituency NA-57 and NA-53 Islamabad as well, is contesting from NA-124. PTI’s candidate Diwan Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din, who was elected as MLA for Azad Kashmir on Muhajir seat from Lahore, has resigned to contest these by-polls.
NA-131 is vacated by Chairman PTI Imran Khan who won five seats from different constituencies but decided to keep his Mianwali seat. Imran Khan won this seat by a margin of only 602 votes. Khawaja Saad Rafique is again contesting from this constituency while PTI has pitched former federal minister Humayun Akhtar. Akhtar is another of those electables that the party has openly welcomed in its fold.
According to election researcher Majid Nizami, PML-N looks comfortable in both the Lahore constituencies. “It has been observed that PTI voters seem less interested to come out to vote in the by-elections. Not being an ideological member of PTI, Humayun Akhtar is going to face a real challenge in convincing party voters to come to polling booths. Likewise NA-124 is considered a stronghold of PML-N.”
Losing two constituencies of Lahore may not damage PTI position in the National Assembly.
“PTI and its allies are in a strong position to win 8 or 9 seats out of 11 which means there is nothing to worry about,” argues political analyst Mazhar Barlas.
NA-103 Faisalabad is expected as a real contest where election was postponed after the death of an independent candidate Mirza Muhammad Ahmed Mughal who shot himself.
All the main political parties that have fielded their candidates belong to Baloch clan. By-polls in both provincial constituencies PP-102 and 103 under NA-103 are also being held. Despite the Baloch clan’s prominence, the Wattoos, Kharral, Veniwal and Kathia baradaris cannot be ignored.
“The National and provincial candidates of PML-N are running their campaigns separately which can give a good edge to PTI candidate who is considered a winning horse,” says senior analyst Amjad Warraich.
NA-65 Chakwal and NA-69 Gujrat seats were vacated by Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi of PML-Q after retaining the provincial seat to become speaker of Punjab Assembly. His son Moonis Elahi is contesting from NA-69 in the by-polls; however PTI, PPP and MMA have decided not to pitch their candidates. PML-N has nominated two-times former MPA Haji Imran Zafar against Moonis Elahi.
“Haji Imran Zafar is a weak choice against the Chaudhrys. The constituency consists of more rural areas than city union councils and Chaudhrys have strong backing of their Jutt clan dominated in rural parts,” says Warraich.
“In-addition, the local party leaders of PML-N have rejected Zafar’s nomination and announced to oppose him in the by-polls,” he adds.
Chaudhry Salik Hussain, son of PML-Q head Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain will contest in NA-65. PML-N nominated Sardar Faiz Tamman again who secured 106,081 votes in July elections against Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi with 157,497 votes. However, Tamman has unexpectedly withdrawn his candidature and left the PML-N, leaving without any option because the party did not put a covering candidate.
“Though the position of Chaudhry Salik Hussain was strong; nonetheless the withdrawal of Tamman has given a walkover to Chaudhrys. It is obvious that PML-Q candidates are going to win both Gujrat and Chakwal seats again,” says Warraich.
By-polls are being held on three seats in Rawalpindi division and one in the capital city, scheduled for NA-53 (Islamabad), NA-56 (Attock), NA-60 (Rawalpindi), and NA-63 (Taxila, Wah Cantt).
With the PTI and PML-N as key contesters, five candidates are contesting from NA-63, nine candidates from NA-60, three candidates from NA-56 and 11 candidates from NA-53 Islamabad. Though competition is considered tough, it is assumed that the ruling PTI has an edge. PPP is already considered nowhere in this race. In general elections, PTI swept the Potohar region of Punjab.
NA-53 comprises Banigala, and almost half of Islamabad city. In general election, Imran Khan had defeated former PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi with a big margin. Khan secured 92,891votes against Abbasi’s 44,314 votes. Previously, NA-53 remained a battlefield for PTI loyalists but Khan ignored local party leaders including the popular one Ilyas Mehrban and decided to contest himself. For the upcoming by-poll, PTI has nominated Islamabad-based Ali Nawaz Awan for this seat, while PML-N has fielded Raja Waqar Abbasi, a Banigala-based party worker, who enjoys the support of the Abbasi clan.
NA-56 comprises rural areas of the historic Attock city. In the general elections, PTI’s Major (r) Tahir Sadiq won the seat with a huge margin. He secured 163, 325 votes against PML-N’s Malik Sohail Khan’s 99,404. In the politics of Attock, Tahir Sadiq group enjoys thorough support of people and the family has very strong political background since 1980s.
A very tough competition is expected on this seat. Another interesting factor is huge support of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) because it includes Pindi Ghep area, hometown of its fiery leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi. In the general elections, TLP candidate secured more than 62,000 votes from this constituency.
NA-60 covers main Rawalpindi city. The election on this seat was postponed in July after PML-N contestant and a popular figure of the city, Hanif Abbasi, was jailed for life term in ephedrine quota case just a couple of days before the elections were scheduled. Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed of Pakistan Awami League and sitting federal minister for Railways managed to get a ticket for his nephew Sheikh Rashid Shafiq, who previously also got elected as Rawal Town Nazim. After Hanif Abbasi’s family declined to accept the PML-N ticket, the party launched its old worker Sajjad Khan, who has also remained Rawalpindi tehsil Nazim at one time. The contest is between two local leaders is a test case for PML-N in the absence of Hanif Abbasi.
NA-63 Rawalpindi comprises Taxila and Wah Cantt cities. In general elections 2018, PTI leader Ghulam Sarwar Khan, who is presently federal minister for petroleum, won this seat with 100,986 votes defeating former federal minister and defiant Ch. Nisar Ali Khan who got 65,767 as independent candidate. This time, Sarwar has managed a ticket for his son Mansoor Hayat Khan, while PML-N has awarded ticket to Aqeel Malik, who is nephew of a local politician who contested the general election independently. A second generation of politicians is in the race but the contest is not considered that tough.