PESHAWAR: Pakistan's Tehreek-e-Insaf's Saleem Rehman who defeated Shahbaz Sharif in the contest for a National Assembly constituency in Swat said he was confident of victory as he knew the Swatis normally don't vote for outsiders in the election.
"I wasn't worried at all that the PML-N has fielded Shahbaz Sharif in my constituency, NA-3 Swat. Rather I was happy because I was aware voters in Swat would vote for me instead of him. Also, I thought even if I lost I will lose to Shahbaz Sharif and not someone unknown," he remarked.
Saleem Rehman argued that neither Shahbaz Sharif nor Billawal Bhutto Zardari, who was defeated by PTI's Junaid Akbar from the adjacent constituency, NA-8 Malakand, had done anything for the people of Swat and Malakand and the voters had no reason to vote for them. "How can we forget that Shahbaz Sharif as chief minister of Punjab stopped the internally displaced persons from Swat after the 2009 military operation from entering his province," he asked.
When reminded that the PML-N was asking Swatis to vote for the future Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif and the expected Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Amir Muqam so that Swat undergoes development the way Punjab was developed, Saleem Rehman replied that this unconvincing slogan and hollow promise failed to make an impact. "Amir Muqam portrayed himself as the next chief minister in the 2013 election campaign also. The voters in Swat rejected him both in 2013 and 2018. He is yet to win an assembly seat from Swat," he pointed out.
"The PTI didn't make such a promise in Swat and still our party made Mehmood Khan the chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is the first time since Pakistan's independence that someone from Swat and Malakand division has become the chief minister," he said. "We gave 100 percent result by enabling PTI to win the three National Assembly seats and the eight provincial assembly seats in Swat despite the PML-N government's efforts to lure voters by promising gas supply and electrification. The electorate showered Imran Khan with votes and he honoured us by appointing Mehmood Khan as chief minister," he added.
The 50-year old Saleem Rehman polled 68,162 votes to defeat Shahbaz Sharif by a big margin of 45,406 votes. Shahbaz Sharif secured 22,756 votes only. PPP's Shahryar Amirzeb, belonging to the former royal family of Swat, got 22,046 votes. ANP's Abdul Karim Khan was placed fourth with 21,895 votes. Maulana Hujjatullah, who contested as an independent candidate after his party, JUI-F, withdrew his MMA ticket and announced support for Shahbaz Sharif, received 16,747 votes. Three independent contestants lagged far behind with negligible number of votes.
This was the second straight victory for Saleem Rehman as he had won the National Assembly seat in 2013 also. He had polled 49,976 votes then against 33,027 obtained by Amir Muqam. However, his constituency changed because Swat got the third National Assembly seat. "This was an entirely new constituency for me. No part of my previous constituency was included in NA-3 so I had to work hard to seek votes from Landaki to Mingora," he said.
However, one factor that helped him was the good name that his late father, Dr Mahboobur Rehman, had earned in part of the constituency as he had represented it in the provincial assembly after getting elected on the PPP ticket in 1993. "The older people told me
about the development projects that my father was able to execute in their villages. They were grateful and were ready to vote for me," he recalled.
Saleem Rehman entered politics in 2000 when his father was still alive. Dr Mahboobur Rehman had been with the PPP for about four decades, getting elected as MNA and serving as federal minister, and remaining District Nazim Swat. It was therefore natural that Saleem Rehman will join the PPP. He was elected District Naib Nazim in 2003 and later become the PPP Swat president. He contested the 2002 and 2008 general elections for the National Assembly on the PPP ticket, but lost to the MMA and ANP candidates, respectively.
When he was denied the PPP ticket for the 2013 polls, it turned out as a lucky break for him as he decided to join the PTI. He got the PTI ticket to contest for the National Assembly and won. When asked as to why he quit the PPP after such a long association of his family with the party, Saleem Rehman said the PPP leadership's attitude, lack of regard for his father's sacrifices and indifference to the plight of IDPs from Swat were the main factors that prompted him to resign.
Saleem Rehman said he is proud of his association with the PTI as he believed in Imran Khan's vision. He pointed out that for the first time a parliamentarian from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Asad Qaiser, has been named as candidate for speaker of the National Assembly. "I know the people have high expectations from us after giving us record number of votes. We have to come up to their expectations," he added.