Islamabad’s two constituencies for National Assembly seats – NA 48 and NA 49 – have never really been established as any one political party’s sole domain. This is perhaps why the upcoming contests on the two seats will likely go down to the wire.
The NA-48 constituency is approximately 80 percent urban and includes the upmarket areas of Islamabad while NA-49 is 80 percent rural. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) won the two constituencies in the 2008 elections due to the Jamaat-e-Islami’s (JI) boycott of the polls but with the JI back in the running this time around, the Punjab-based party is finding it tougher to retain their seats.
The contest in NA-48 is packed with political heavyweights. In the running are the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI)’s Makhdoom Javed Hashmi (who is also contesting in his native town Multan) and two former members of National Assembly: JI’s Mian Muhammad Aslam and PML-N’s Anjum Aqeel Khan. A close associate of President Asif Ali Zardari, Faisal Sakhi Butt, is also contesting on a PPP ticket.
At least 51 candidates, a majority of whom are running as independents, are also taking their chances in this constituency. (This also happens to be among the four constituencies former military ruler Pervez Musharraf’s nomination papers were rejected.)
In 2008, PML-N’s Anjum Aqeel Khan won this seat by a huge margin since the JI had boycotted polls. The PPP, which fielded a weak candidate, Dr Israr Hussain Shah, came in a distant second.
This time around, given Anjum Aqeel’s alleged involvement in a land scam, the PML-N leadership was in search of another candidate. According to party sources, Aqeel’s name was rejected by the local parliamentary board but the central parliamentary board headed by PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif approved his ticket when the party failed to locate a suitable replacement. (On April 29, 2013, the Supreme Court directed the Federal Investigation Agency not to close an Rs6 billion land scam case against the former MNA.)
The JI candidate Mian Muhammad Aslam, who won this seat in 2002, is considered one of the most vibrant political personalities of Islamabad and remained loyal to the JI despite its decision to boycott the 2008 polls.
While the PML-N was ready for a give-and-take agreement with the JI in NA-48 and NA-49, no deal has materialised as yet. According to sources, the PML-N was ready to cede NA-48 by getting its Anjum Aqeel Khan to sit down in favour of the JI’s Mian Muhammad Aslam, provided the JI withdrew its candidate from NA-49 in favour of the PML-N.
However, sources said, the JI insisted on contesting from both constituencies and refused to withdraw its candidate Zubair Farooq Khan from NA-49, where PML-N’s Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry is already facing stiff competition from PPP and PML-Q’s joint candidate Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar as well as PTI’s Chaudhry Ilyas Meharban.
Meanwhile, veteran politician Javed Hashmi, who is seen as an outsider to the constituency, is expected to vacate NA-48 if he wins the Multan seat. (In 2008, Hashmi defeated Sheikh Rashid Ahmed in Rawalpindi on a PML-N ticket but eventually plumped for the Multan seat.)
Furthermore, Hashmi has only recently visited Islamabad to kickstart his campaign, which gives him limited time to cover all the rural and urban areas of the constituency already swarming with the other candidates in the race.
Interestingly, Hashmi is not the only NA-48 candidate to have recently switched sides. In 2002, Mian Muhammad Aslam won NA-48 on the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) platform, securing 40,365 votes (his closest rival PPP’s Dr Babar Awan bagged 28,771 votes).
According to political pundits, NA-48 is one of the few constituencies where the JI has strong prospects of winning. According to estimates, the Jamaat enjoys a minimum vote bank of 25,000 to 30,000.
But in a situation reminiscent of other constituencies in the Punjab, the PPP’s only hope of winning is a sizeable split in the rightwing vote bank. The party’s candidate Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, who served as the adviser to the prime minister on human rights in the last government, ran for the 2002 elections as an independent candidate. In 2008, he ran on a PML-Q ticket and boasted an improved performance. This time, it is said, Khokhar will receive a chunk of votes from the vote bank of Senate Chairman Nayyar Bokhari, who was elected from this constituency in 2002.
Meanwhile, the PTI has been unable to field a strong candidate from the constituency despite the fact that party chief Imran Khan owns a 300-kanal farmhouse in the area. In the 2002 elections too, former PTI (and current All Pakistan Muslim League) supporter Ahmad Raza Khan Kasuri lost by an embarrassingly large margin: he managed to poll just 5,310 votes.
The future of PML-N candidate Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry is not looking too bright either. In 2008, helped by the JI’s absence, Chaudhry defeated incumbent Senate Chairman Nayyar Hussain Bokhari by a narrow margin of 756 votes. But now Chaudhry is thought to be in danger of losing the seat. JI’s Zubair Farooq Khan and PTI’s Chaudhry Ilyas Meharban (who hails from the same Gujjar clan as Tariq Fazal Chaudhry) have the potential to considerably dent the PML-N vote bank – a situation that could benefit PPP’s Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar. But Tariq Fazal Chaudhry claims his party’s popularity in the constituency has increased after five years of poor governance by the PPP.
Anjum Aqeel Khan PML-N 61,480
Runner-up: Dr Syed Israr Hussain PPPP 26,485
Mian Muhammad Aslam MMA 40,362
Runner-up: Dr Babar Awan PPPP 28,775
Registered voters: 282,850
Male voters: 150,343
Female voters: 132,507
Key issues: Load-shedding, availability of gas and lack of access to clean drinking water
Languages: Punjabi and Urdu
Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry PML-N 45,482
Runner-up: Syed Nayyer Hussain Bukhari PPPP 44,726
Syed Nayyer Hussain Bukhari PPPP 47,884
Runner-up: Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar INP 30,016
Registered voters: 335,040
Male voters: 181,067
Female voters: 153,973
Key personalities: Syed Nayyer Hussain Bukhari, Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry
Languages: Punjabi and Urdu
Areas: Urban and rural areas