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October 13, 2018

Sunday’s by-elections: Punjab is real battleground again with PTI, PML-N being main players

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October 13, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) are the main players in Sunday’s by-elections for eight national and seventeen provincial seats in Punjab.

The outcome of the electoral wrestling match would characterise the change, if any, in the opinion of the electorate in these constituencies in just three months after the July 25 general elections.

A total of eleven federal seats are at stake in the hotly contested by-polls. The other national seats are being fought in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh. Besides, by-elections will also be held for twenty-six provincial seats of which seventeen are in Punjab. The by-polls, dubbed as the mini-election, assume extra importance in view of the tight situation in the national and Punjab assemblies.

Of the federal seats, one (NA-124 Lahore) was vacated by Hamza Shahbaz of the PML-N while the remaining were left by PTI winners in more than one constituency. The PML-N has fielded former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in the race for NA-124, while the PTI has sponsored Ghulam Mohyuddin. Abbasi was routed by Imran Khan in NA-53 Islamabad and NA-57 Murree, his home constituency, on July 25, and stood ousted from parliamentary politics. The PML-N wants his weighty voice in the National Assembly at this difficult time it is confronted with.

Prime Minister Imran Khan vacated four seats in Islamabad (NA-53), Lahore (NA-131), Karachi (NA-243) and Bannu (NA-35). NA-131 is a keenly watched constituency where senior PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique, who was beaten by Imran Khan with a thin margin on July 25 and is facing National Accountability Bureau (NAB) investigations, fearing arrest any time, is pitched against PTI’s Humayun Akhtar Khan, who joined it a few days before the by-poll. An interesting scramble is likely to be held.

NA-69 Gujrat, which was vacated by Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, seems to be a safe bet for his son Moonis Elahi, who has been challenged by PML-N nominee Imran Zafar.

Similarly, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain’s son Salik Hussain may have a smooth sailing in NA-65 Chakwal because the PML-N candidate backed out at the last moment, leaving no time for the party to bring his replacement.

As the situation stands in NA-63 Taxila (Rawalpindi), the PTI nominee, who is the son of Petroleum Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan, has good chances to retain the seat vacated by his father.

However, a fierce fight is expected in NA-60 Rawalpindi. Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid’s nephew Rashid Shafique is pitched against the PML-N’s Sajjad Khan. Polling was postponed for this seat due to the conviction of PML-N candidate Hanif Abbasi.

PML-N contestant Malik Sohail may get NA-56 Attock, where he was defeated by PTI leader Maj. (retd) Tahir Sadiq on July 25. Tahir Sadiq is said to be annoyed with his party for ignoring him and has kept himself at a wide distance from supporting its nominee.

NA-53 Islamabad may go to either side. The PTI has put up hardcore worker Ali Nawaz against the PML-N cardholder. Interestingly, Manzoor Wattoo is contesting NA-103 Faisalabad on the famous jeep symbol. He is now almost party-less, as he has been shunned from the Pakistan People’s Party and has not so far joined the PTI, although he has inched close to it. The PML-N candidate Ali Gohar Khan and PTI cardholder Muhammad Saadullah are also in the run for this constituency.

Apart from Punjab seats, a close competition is expected for the Bannu seat, where former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Akram Durrani’s son, Zahid Akram, is in the race against the PTI’s Nasim Ali Shah. Imran Khan had routed Durrani by a considerable margin on July 25.

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