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Saturday May 18, 2024

Analysis: A test for PMLN leadership

Stage for the by-polls on 12 seats of the Punjab Assembly today is set and the ruling PMLN is likely to be tested by the PTI

By Faizan Bangash
April 21, 2024
Ballot boxes stacked upon each other. — ECP
Ballot boxes stacked upon each other. — ECP

LAHORE: The stage for the by-polls on 12 seats of the Punjab Assembly today is set and the ruling PMLN is likely to be tested by the PTI, which is in the contest under the banner of Sunni Ittehad Council.

Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz Sharif and senior PMLN leadership has a real test ahead in the form of the first phase of 2024 by-polls. Although, the by-polls are being held on the vacant seats countrywide, Punjab is once again going to be a battlefield and very tough contest is expected on some important seats vacated by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, CM Maryam Nawaz and federal ministers Ahsan Iqbal and Rana Tanveer Hussain.

By-polls are scheduled for the National Assembly seats including NA-8 and NA-44 (KP) NA-119 and NA-132 (Punjab) and NA-196 (Sindh). Already, the PPP has won one seat in the form of NA-207, Nawabshah from where Aseefa Bhutto Zardari has been elected unopposed.

The provincial assembly seats where the by-polls are scheduled include PK-22 and PK-91 (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa), PB-20 and PB-22 (Balochistan) and PS-80 (Sindh). The Punjab Assembly seats where the by-polls are scheduled include PP-32 (Gujrat), PP-36 (Wazirabad), PP-54 (Narowal), PP-93 (Bhakkar), PP-139 (Sheikhupura), PP-147, PP-149, PP-158, PP-164 (Lahore), PP-266 (Rahim Yar Khan) and PP-290 (Dera Ghazi Khan).

In Sindh, KP and Balochistan, locals expect one-sided contests. However, Punjab has once again attained the centre-stage as most of the seats where the by-polls are taking place fall in Lahore and its adjoining districts like Sheikhupura and Kasur. Some seats like PP-32 (Gujrat), PP-36 (Wazirabad) and PP-54 (Narowal) also fall in central Punjab.

Almost all the seats in central part of Punjab other than PP-36 have been vacated by the PMLN leaders or allies, including PM Shehbaz Sharif, CM Maryam Nawaz, former CM Hamza Shehbaz and senior party leaders like Rana Tanveer, Ahsan Iqbal and Abdul Aleem Khan.

With majority of the seats falling in Lahore and its adjoining district, it has really put the PMLN leadership under a real test. The hallmark of the by-polls is the contest of senior leaders of PTI including Parvez Elahi and his son Moonis Elahi, who are contesting from the cities of Gujrat and Lahore, respectively. This is noteworthy that in the last by-polls in Punjab in July 2022, the PMLN, despite being in power, lost 15 out of total 20 seats. It was something that had happened for the first time when the PMLN ticketholders suffered defeat in such big numbers.

In Lahore, which has been considered as the PMLN stronghold, the party lost three out of total four seats. At that time, Hamza Shehbaz was the CM of Punjab.

Today, a very tough contest is expected in NA-132 (Kasur), the seat vacated by PM Shehbaz Sharif. On this seat, the SIC candidate, Muhammad Hussain Dogar, is contesting against Malik Rasheed Ahmad Khan of the PMLN, whereas the TLP is also in contest. Malik Rasheed is closely related to Speaker Punjab Assembly Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan, and he had lost to the PTI-backed Rashid Tufail on a Provincial Assembly seat in the 2024 general election, held in February.

PP-54 (Narowal) is another seat where Sunni Ittehad Council candidate, former MPA Awais Qasim Khan, is contesting against Ahmad Iqbal, son of PMLN leader Ahsan Iqbal. Ahsan Iqbal had vacated this seat and retained the National Assembly seat. He now enjoys the support of two former local opponents including former MNA Mian Rasheed and former provincial minister Sahibzada Saeedul Hassan. Awais Qasim Khan, who belongs to Rajput clan, also enjoys the support of Gujjar ‘biradari’ as senior politician Daniyal Aziz is supporting him.

The TLP has also fielded its candidate. The neighbouring constituency PP-55 was also won by the TLP in February 2024 elections and Tehreek-e-Labbaik is in a good position to cause a split of votes here.

PP-32 (Gujrat) is also an important seat where former chief minister Punjab Chaudhry Parvez Elahi is contesting against Musa Elahi, son of Chaudhry Wajahat Hussain, brother of Chaudhry Shujaat. Parvez Elahi is under detention and his campaign was run by his wife Qaisara Elahi, who is the real sister of Wajahat and aunt of Musa.

Moonis Elahi, son of Parvez Elahi, is contesting from PP-158, a seat vacated by Shehbaz Sharif, and the PMLN has fielded Nawaz Ludhar against him. Moonis is in Spain these days whereas his campaign was run by his friends MNA Khurram Munawar Manj and Amir Saeed Raan Advocate.

Ali Pervaiz Malik, former MNA and son of the late Pervaiz Malik and sitting MNA Shaista Pervaiz Malik, has been fielded from NA-119, the seat vacated by Maryam Nawaz. The PTI-backed candidate here is Mian Shehzad Farooq. In the same constituency, a by-poll is also being held on a provincial assembly seat, PP-149, where IPP candidate Shoaib Siddiqui is contesting against the PTI-backed Hafiz Zeeshan Rasheed. Shoaib is contesting his third by-poll as he won twice before it in 2006 and 2015 and both times he defeated PMLN candidates. Ali Pervaiz Malik also belongs to a family who has a record of winning by-polls in Lahore. If he wins again, he will make history as there has never been a precedent in Lahore in which parents and their child won the by-polls every time they contested. Pervaiz Malik won 1997 and 2010 by-polls besides winning in 2002, 2013 and 2018 general election. Shaista Pervaiz, his wife, and mother of Ali Pervaiz, also won in the 2021 by-polls.

On PP-147, the seat vacated by Hamza Shehbaz, the PMLN has fielded Malik Riaz, who has been challenged by the PTI stalwart Muhammad Madni, who is also likely to give a good contest. In Wazirabad, Fayyaz Chatha, son of senior politician Hamid Nasir Chatha, is the PTI-backed candidate, contesting on the seat vacated by his brother. It is noteworthy that according to a notification, cellular service would remain non-functional on the polling day, and this has also given rise to doubts of rigging in the camp of PTI.