LAHORE: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan is yet to score a win on the soil of Lahore in three previous contests and in 2018 he is facing Khawaja Saad Rafique, a consecutive winner of general elections since 1997.
Keeping in view the traditional mood of the PML-N voters in Lahore who since 1990 have been voting for Nawaz Sharif, Imran is undergoing a real test in NA-131 where he himself has predicted a tough contest in various public meetings.
This is noteworthy that PML-N itself is facing a challenging situation in Punjab where most of its ticket holders in 2013 either joined PTI or now contesting as independent candidates; Lahore, however, has always responded in a different way, no matter how critical phase PML-N is going through.
Lahore, the provincial metropolis has been serving as a strong base camp of the PML-N since 1993 and even in the worst situation, in 2002 while the Sharifs were in exile, it won major chunk of seats, including then NA-119, NA-120, NA-122, NA-123 whereas on three seats, including NA-118, NA-121 and NA-126, the candidates of MMA or independent backed by the PML-N won.
Out of the 13 seats, the PML-N and its allies won seven in the 2002 general elections and noted persons who suffered defeats then and also contesting now included Imran Khan (NA-122), Abdul Aleem Khan (NA-127, at the hands of Dr Tahirul Qadri).
Imran Khan, after founding Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaf in 1996 fielded himself from multiple seats in the 1997 general elections.
Only from Lahore, Imran contested from NA-94 and NA-95 seats where he suffered defeats at the hands of Tariq Aziz and the PML-N President Nawaz Sharif and could get only a few thousands votes. From NA-94, against around 50,000 votes of Tariq Aziz, the PTI chairman got around 6,000 whereas from NA-95 where he was contesting against Nawaz, he stood at number three with 5,365 votes. Nawaz Sharif, the winner of that seat bagged 50,592 votes.
In 2002, Imran Khan emerged victorious from Mianwali but once again lost to Sardar Ayaz Sadiq of the PML-N and remained unsuccessful in scoring a win from Lahore.
In that contest, the PML-N candidate Sardar Ayaz Sadiq got 37,531 votes followed by 18,638 of Imran Khan. The PPP candidate, former MPA Ch Ghulam Qadir in that contest got 17,561 votes followed by PML-Q's Amin Chaudhry who stood at number four with 1,260 votes.
In the 2013 general elections, Imran won from all the seats he was contesting but once again, amid allegations of riggings, lost the polls from NA-122 to Ayaz Sadiq.
In the 2013 contest, Imran Khan got 84,517 votes whereas the winner Sardar Ayaz got 93,389 votes amid rigging allegations.
In this way, he remained unable to win from Lahore and suffered third consecutive defeat at the hands of the PML-N.
Now he is contesting from NA-131, a new constituency that comprises of the areas like DHA, Walton, Chungi Amar Sadhu and adjoining localities where the PML-N has fielded Khawaja Saad Rafique.
Abdul Aleem Khan, the head of the PTI Central Punjab chapter, is also contesting on one of the provincial seats falling under NA-131 and is an active figure in election campaign. Former MNA of this area in 1993 and 2002, Humayon Akhter Khan has also recently joined PTI and the support by his group in the constituency could benefit PTI in a tough contest.
However, the PML-N is also quite active in the electioneering and making maximum use of its 'development narrative' in the constituency.
The PML-N candidate from NA-131 Khawaja Saad Rafique contested first general election in 1997 from then PP-119 where he won as the PML-N candidate. In 2002 general elections, he contested against PPP's Jehangir Badr and PML-Q's Mian Abdul Sattar. Saad won from both National Assembly and Punjab Assembly seats he was contesting. In 2008, Saad Rafique won from NA-125 while defeating an undefeated Humayon Akhter Khan.
He won again from NA-125 in 2013 general elections against the PTI's Hamid Khan amid controversy and now fielding from the same seat which has been converted into NA-131 and include some new areas as well.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairman, who is contesting from NA-131, could now face even a more tough contest than ever when the PML-N voters are very much expected to express their anger on ballot against the PTI, a party claiming the credit of Nawaz Sharif's ouster. The NAB court verdict against former prime minister and the PML-N founder Nawaz Sharif did come as a shock to his stalwarts, yet on the other hand, the reaction of its voters against conviction of their leader on the polling day can’t be ruled out.
At least, the last 16 years history of the PML-N voters in Lahore and adjoining areas tell the same story. It was 2002 when Mian Muhammad Azhar, then president of the PML-Q, who was dubbed as the most favourite candidate from Lahore, couldn't escape defeat when the PML-N local leadership, through a vibrant election campaign against him and with the alignment of their old ally, Jamaat-e-Islami defeated him. Mian Azhar, once a close aide of the PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif was among the prominent persons who revolted against him and deserted him shortly after October 12, 1999 military coup.
Within days, a new faction of the PML-Q came into existence that was led by Mian Azhar and it also won representation from almost all districts of Punjab in the 2001 Local Government elections with the complete backing of Pervez Musharraf regime.
In the 2002 general elections, Mian Azhar, who, being the blue-eyed boy of then establishment, was dubbed as the would-be prime minister, pitched himself from two National Assembly seats, one from Lahore and other from Sheikhupura, the district adjacent to Lahore.
The PML-N at that time was undergoing severe crisis and a massive process of defection in its ranks was underway and it was expected that the party which won thumping majority in 1997 polls couldn't win even half the seats it won then.
Nevertheless, against Mian Azhar, who was declared the real culprit behind the revolt against Nawaz, the PML-N voters, quite unexpectedly went to the polling station and results were shocking for many. Mian Azhar suffered defeat from both the seats he was contesting from, that was NA-118 and NA-131. From NA-118, PML-N and Jamaat-e-Islami fielded a joint candidate in form of Hafiz Salman Butt, though MMA itself was also in contest in form of Hafiz Wadood Shahid.
From NA-131, a seat that was in Sharaqpur, District Sheikhupura, Sahibzada Jalil Ahmed Sharaqpuri was fielded by PML-N against Mian Azhar.
While keeping in view the strength of PML-Q and its complete control on resources, Mian Azhar's victory at least from one seat was very much a possibility. However, the plan worked for PML-N and Mian Azhar lost both.
The PML-N, however, lost from rest of the Punjab and won only around 14 general seats of NA but against Mian Azhar, its campaign paid off well and head of the rival party was out of the scene.
Similarly, in 2008, Chaudhry Moonis Elahi, son of Pervaiz Elahi, the chief minister of Punjab between 2002 and 2007, was fielded as the PML-Q candidate from then PP-152. Keeping in view the level of hostility between Sharifs and Chaudhrys of Gujrat since October 12, 1999, when the latter group sided with Musharraf, it was unlikely that the PML-N would take this contest lightly.
PP-152 was declared the strongest seat of the PML-Q in Lahore in the 2008 elections but the PML-N launched a vociferous electioneering against it and resultantly, even a new entrant in form of Dr Saeed Elahi won from here and Moonis suffered defeat after a tough contest. This is interesting to note that the same seat, PP-152, the PML-N lost once again in 2013 general elections when PTI's Dr Murad Raas won from here while defeating Khwaja Salman Rafique, yet, it was the reaction of the PML-N voters, who showed unity to avenge the ouster of their leadership in 1999 defeated the PML-Q candidate with effective strategy.
Now with Nawaz Sharif, the founder of PML-N out of contest as a result of court verdicts, his party may not have the best of times now in rest of the Punjab, but in Lahore, situation is still very much in the favour of Nawaz League.
The recent PML-N rally, which was declared a flop show by the critics and a moderately successful event by most of the Nawaz Leaguers, however, has mobilised the party camp. The party has launched its election campaign in Lahore and it is opening election offices in all the constituencies of Lahore regularly to counter PTI, whose campaign for the 2018 polls in Lahore is also massive and remarkable.
Nevertheless, the reaction of the PML-N voters in response to the court verdicts declaring Nawaz, Maryam disqualified and PTI celebrations over disqualification of Nawaz could be extraordinary, that is what their past trend shows.
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