SIALKOT: The stage is set for the final battle on five national (NA-72 to NA-76) seats and 11 provincial assembly seats (PP-35 to PP-45) in the district as the election campaign has ended on Monday midnight.
Although, all the major political and religious parties, including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People s Party (PPP), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), Tehrik-e-Labbaik, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) and others, have filed dozens of their candidates besides the independent candidates but the real contender will be the PML-N and the PTI.
The population of the district is 1.8 million people. It has two national constituencies NA-72 (Sialkot-I) and NA-73 (Sialkot-II) and four provincial assembly constituencies. Under the NA-72 constituency,
PP-35 (Sialkot-I) and PP-38 (Sialkot-IV) come, whereas PP-36 (Sialkot-II) and PP-37 (Sialkot-III) fall under the NA-73. The NA-72 mostly consisted of the rural areas of Sialkot, including the vast areas of Bajwat and Phuklian. Since 1988, it had been the stronghold of Ch Ameer Hussain of PML-N who won the seat in 2002 general election during Musharraf's regime under the banner of PML-Q. In 2008, he lost to Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, a candidate of PPP then. In 2013, Ch Armaghan Subhani of the PML-N won the seat by defeating Dr Firdous of PTI by a big margin.
Once again in 2018, PML-N s Armaghan and PTI s Dr Firdous are working hard to secure the constituency where Gujjar, Malik, Jat and Arain clans dominate and play pivotal role in the elections. Dr Firdous, who belong to Malik clan, has been in touch with her supporters in NA-72 on regular basis and was actively campaigning for the last five years and is quite confident for her victory. On the other hand, Armaghan too is sure of his triumph on the basis of a large vote bank of the PML-N in NA-72 besides full support from the Gujjar clan. He also sure of his victory due to experienced and seasoned candidates of the PML-N in PP-35 and PP-38 - Rana Arif Harna and his first cousin and former minister Chaudhry Khush Akhtar Subhani as compared to PTI's fresh and inexperienced candidates Dilawar Baig and Saeed Ahmed Bhalli.
The NA-73 constituency, which mainly comprised the Sialkot city (municipal corporation) and the cantonment area, had too been a solid stronghold of the PML-N since 1988 from where ex-federal minister Khawaja M Asif has been electing since 1993. The PML-N has never tasted defeat in this constituency except in 2002 when Arshad Mehmood Baggu of the MMA had won the provincial seat of PP-36 (previously PP-122).
Khawaja Asif used to win from here quite easily except in 2002 when he was able to win narrowly from Mian M Riaz of the PML-Q by a margin of only about 3,000 votes. In 2013, when the spirits of PTI were quite high, Kh Asif had defeated Usman Dar of PTI by a margin of more than 20,000 votes. In 2018, Kh Asif and Usman Dar are again contending and both are confident of their win.
In NA-73 Kashmiri, Sheikh, Arain and Mughal clans are dominant but here in the past, voters used to consider the political parties and not the individuals or the clans. According to the local pundits, Sialkot has been one of the dependable strongholds of the PML-N which backtracked here earlier when its leader Nawaz Sharif was awarded punishment from the accountability court. The PML-N again gained importance here after Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz came back to Pakistan to face the jail.
Tough competition would be witnessed on July 25 but the conquest of Sialkot would not be an easy task for the PTI candidates.