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October 8, 2015

NA-122 overshadows contest in NA-144


October 8, 2015

ISLAMABAD: Away from the public focus and media frenzy, an electoral contest will also be held for National Assembly constituency NA-144 Okara on October 11, the day when the attention grabbing clash will take place in Lahore for NA-122.
For quite some time, jockeying for the Lahore seat is at its peak, evoking immense public interest and curiosity. All eyes are set on the pure urban constituency for the simple reason that it is considered a bastion of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to which the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is now staking a claim. Additionally, it is too close to the “Lahore throne”.
The PML-N has been unbeaten in NA-122 as well as in most other Lahore constituencies in a number of consecutive elections. Even during the dictatorial rule of Pervez Musharraf, it had clinched this seat, and Ayaz Sadiq has been the consistent winner.
On the other hand, the Okara seat that Rao Sikandar Iqbal used to win had at times changed hands in the successive general elections. In 2013, PML-N’s Arif Chaudhry won it by bagging massive votes, 105,162, leaving his rivals far behind. Rao Sikandar Iqbal’s widow Shafeeqa Begum had stood second with 36,723 votes while PTI nominee Rao Khalid had bagged just 18,648 ballots.
Arif Chaudhry was later disqualified. Now, the PML-N has fielded his close relative, Ali Arif Chaudhry, while the PTI has put up Ashraf Sohna, a Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) turncoat, who joined it a few months back as part of a considerable exodus from the Bhuttos’ party.
The PPP has sponsored Sajjadul Hassan, who, as an independent contestant in the 2008 polls, had been successful with the support of the PML-N, which had not fielded its candidate in the competition as part of an understanding with him.
After leaving the PPP and joining the PML-Q due to his friendship with Musharraf, Rao Sikandar had contested the 2008 elections on its ticket from NA-144 but had been defeated by securing 33,527 votes against

Sajjadul Hassan’s 77,795 ballots.
However, in 2002 he, as the PPP nominee, had won by bagging 63,713 votes compared to PML-Q’s Rana Ikram Rabbani, who had got 33,366 ballots. The PML-N had not put up any candidate.
With all the concentration of the political parties on NA-122, there has been little focus on NA-144. However, the campaign got some prominence with the holding of a public meeting by the PTI’s central leadership in Okara. The campaign in this constituency has largely been localized, conducted by the contestants without any assistance from their main central and provincial leaders.
On the contrary, all the top PTI leaders frequently converge on Lahore to boost up Aleem Khan’s campaign. Among them, PTI Punjab organizer and former governor Chaudhry Sarwar has totally devoted himself to the electioneering in the Punjab capital and is also invoking the ‘Arain’ votes that are in plenty in Lahore. Imran Khan has spared a lot of time for NA-122 as he considers this contest a do or die fight precisely like the PML-N, which has allocated some of its prominent leaders for daily canvassing. Hamza Shahbaz is leading the show. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif stay away from the electioneering as they face a bar imposed by the poll conduct code.
Although the Lahore clash is more important than the Okara clash, each competition will produce just one seat in the National Assembly for either contesting party. Thus, the importance of every seat in terms of the numbers’ game, which is already in favour of the PML-N, is equal. All the allegations hurled by the PTI and or being tossed as part of its unquestionable strategy, accusing the PML-N and Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) of rigging relate to NA-122. The NA-144 has not found mention in its charges, which shows the weight and relevance it attaches to the Lahore constituency.
Indeed, the campaign in Lahore has touched its zenith. The PTI will hold its parting public rally on October 9 and the PML-N will do the same precisely simultaneously so that coverage by the TV channels is apportioned between the two events fairly and justifiably to some extent.

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