LAHORE: The by-polls on four vacant seats of Punjab Assembly in Lahore District is a first real test for the new Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz whose party, minus its supermo Nawaz Sharif in the campaign has to go extra mile to ensure a clean sweep.
The polling on four PA seats fallen vacant as a result of the PTI MPAs who turned their coat towards PMLN and faced disqualification after voting Hamza Shehbaz in the CM election will take place on July 17.
Overall, polling will take place on 20 vacant seats of Provincial Assembly in Punjab and in Lahore, the basecamp of PMLN, its the first major test of Hamza Shehbaz as to how he leads his party to get back the seats it lost in 2018 general elections or later in the by-polls.
The four seats where by-polls are being held in Lahore include PP158, PP 167, PP-168 and PP-170. The PMLN, being the ruling party of Punjab enjoys multiple advantage but at the same time, there are number of indicators which favour PTI and even if it wins two out of the total four seats, it would be a setback for Hamza's government which could come under serious criticism within party quarters for losing seats in party's basecamp, despite being in power.
In all the four seats where by-polls are taking place, PMLN either suffered defeat in previous by-polls or had won with narrow margin, whether it was the defeat of Mohsin Latif in 2015 or one of the toughest by poll clash of 2010 between PMLN's Saif-ul-Malook Khokhar and PTI's Malik Zaheer Khokhar.
In this way, PMLN is contesting on comparatively tougher venues and in the absence of Nawaz Sharif from the poll campaign, the real test is now for Hamza Shehbaz who has been looking after the party affairs of Lahore chapter for years. However, the presence of Maryam Nawaz in the by-poll campaign could be an advantage for the party but keeping in view the current situation when the government was combating different challenges, the ruling party candidates will have to put maximum weight to take its voters out of their houses.
This is pertinent to mention that out of the four seats where by-polls are taking place, PTI had won three in 2018 general elections whereas one, PP168 was vacated by Khawaja Saad Rafique who had got elected MNA from NA131. In that vacant seat, PTI's Malik Asad Khokhar had won but he also switched loyalty and joined PMLN. Now, he is the PMLN candidate from the same constituency.
Moreover, there is also an interesting fact that while in power, PMLN has very seldom lost any by-elections between 2008 and 2018. In the year 2015, the PMLN suffered a defeat from PP147 (now PP158) from where Mohsin Latif, a member of Sharif family lost to PTI's Shoaib Siddiqi.
Otherwise, at least while in power, PMLN has won most of the by-polls in Lahore. PMLN advantages: Lahore has always been a stronghold and in power, PMLN has mostly won the by-elections in the Provincial Capital between 1997 and 1999 and between 2008 and 2018. After spending three and half years in opposition, PMLN is once again back in power which has also charged up its workers. In some constituencies or polling stations where it has to face a close contest, it also enjoys the support of PPP as well as religio political parties which sided with in PDM.
Moreover, with leaders like Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shehbaz, the PMLN organisations and workers could well be mobilised and party could regain these seats that it lost in 2018. Disadvantages: The prevailing economic challenges, including inflation, particularly the rapid rise in petroleum prices just a month before the by-polls have invited serious criticism on PTI. Moreover, the issue of loadshedding and the power saving measures by the government which is forcibly shutting the shops at 9pm has also brought it under serious criticism and its candidates will have to face a tough time while facing the voters. Besides, the district administration which is under PMLN command and control is also under severe criticism from the general public for its inability to deliver, thus adding the challenges for PMLN.
In Lahore, even in the constituency of Chief Minister (NA124 which he had vacated and PP146 from where he has taken oath), the people are seen criticising the district administration for not addressing the people's grievances.
In most of the roads and streets of even CM Punjab's constituency, the streetlights are dysfunctional due to which the areas get plunged into darkness at nights and law and order related complaints are also reported.
Moreover, Wasa admin is also under immense criticism from the general public for ignoring most of the areas and not taking proper measures to drain out the rain, sewage from streets which gather there for days.
Local PMLN stalwarts when contacted told The News that Wasa does not perform de-silting of the sewage lines due to which they are chocked often in rain. Besides, the local workers of PMLN also complaint that Shalamar Town staff, including the AC, Town officers do not focus on the area due to which people’s miseries are increasing. They complaint that since Ramazan, no senior town official has been seen on the spot and people have to wait for months for the redressal of their just grievances.
The News also tried to contact Wasa MD Muhammad Ghufran but he was not available for comments. Commissioner Lahore Capt (Retd) Usman was also contacted but he did not respond.
The slackness of the district administration could also annoy the general public and it could damage PMLN in the by-poll when voters turn out is mostly low as compared to the general elections.
Moreover, on the political scene, the presence of Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) in the contest is also a serious threat for PMLN as before 2018, most of its voter was part of PMLN but now TLP itself has become a potential challenger and result of recent by-poll in Karachi where its candidate lost with a margin of meagre 65 votes, the party camp seems highly charged. Although mainstream parties votebank often face a decline in by-polls, but there is a totally different story in case of TLP whose voters are quite likely to turn up to the polling stations on election day. In this way, the split of vote between PMLN and TLP could make PTI an ultimate beneficiary.
Also, the non-acceptance of former PTI MPAs by the local PMLN organisation is another testing thing for the Nawaz League candidates. Out of the four candidates of PMLN, Rana Ahsan Sharafat is the only PMLN figure who has been siding with party for years. Rest including Asad Khokhar, Nazir Chohan and Amin Chaudhry were the PTI members who enjoyed full protocol as ruling party MPAs or minister in last three and half years while PMLN was struggling against Imran.
It is really quite hard for these new entrants to ensure their proper acceptance in their new party whose organisations always want a party die-hard to be the ticket holder. There is also a general feeling in the PMLN organisations and many ticket aspirants that in case these old guards of PTI remain successful in winning the seats, they would be the ultimate choice of party in upcoming general elections expected next year. This feeling could also create a split in the PMLN ranks and it is quite testing for Hamza Shehbaz to keep the party votebank intact in this by-poll.
Above all, the greatest disadvantage PMLN is facing is the absence of Nawaz Sharif from the campaign who has been in London since 2019 for treatment. PMLN voter gets charged up when Nawaz Sharif himself leads the campaign and most of the time, it has been seen that Nawaz factor has helped party a lot in Punjab in winning even very insecure seats.
Advantages of PTI: Most of the disadvantages faced by PMLN are the advantages of PTI in the July 17 by-polls. The anger amongst the PTI voters over the removal of Imran Khan's government seems to have charged the PTI camp and in most of the constituencies of Lahore where by-polls are taking place, PTI already has a psychological advantage over rivals as it had defeated PMLN from the same areas nearly four years ago. All those who were elected on PTI tickets other than Abdul Aleem Khan were not noted political figures and it was only the PTI votebank that had favoured them. The PTI only has to bring back its 2018 voter to the polling station and with party Chairman Imran Khan in the campaign, it could become a possibility.
In the same area, by-polls are taking place on the seat vacated by PTI's Abdul Aleem Khan who has been a popular figure in this area as he got elected for first time in the 2003 by-polls. In 2015, PMLN saved this seat from the jaws of defeat when its candidate Sardar Ayaz Sadiq won with a narrow margin against PTI's Abdul Aleem Khan. The provincial seat, as mentioned above, was grabbed by PTI's Shoaib Siddiqi, who is a close confident of Abdul Aleem Khan.
In the 2018 polls, Aleem Khan once again won from the provincial seat against PMLN's Ahsen Sharafat. In this way, PMLN had lost this seat three times between 2003 and 2018 but only once while it was in power.
In the July 2022 by-polls, PMLN has come up with Rana Ahsan Sharafat whereas he is being tested by PTI's Akram Usman. Akram Usman, a close relative of PTI MPA and senior leader Mian Mehmood-ul-Rasheed is the son of former MNA Mian Usman who was a stalwart of Jamaat-e-Islami. As the candidate of Islami Jamhuri Ittehad, Mian Usman had won in 1988 and 1990 elections and got elected as MNA. While PMLN came into existence in 1993, JI could never win from here.
Mian Akram Usman belongs to Arain clan whereas Rana Ahsan Sharafat is from Rajpoot cast. Other major clans in this constituencies are Kashmiris, Mughals, Pathans as well as many Urdu Speaking Mohajirs whose elders came from India at the partition time and majority of whom have supported PPP till 1993 and later PTI when Abdul Aleem Khan was active here.
PMLN vote, the personal votebank of Abdul Aleem Khan are the two main advantages enjoyed by the ruling party candidate. Main areas in this constituency include Allama Iqbal Road, Garhi Shahu, Mustafabad, Fateh Colony, Burj Colony, Basti Syed Shah, Shah Jamal etc.
Recently, in NA133 by-polls held eight months ago, nearly half of the PMLN voters, who voted for party in 2018 general elections were absent and party votebank reduced to around 45,000 from 87,000, though it won the seat.
In the same area, now PMLN is in another by-poll, this time on the Provincial Assembly seat (PP167) where Nazir Chohan, former PTI MPA is contesting on PMLN ticket. His political stature, by no means match to the stature of Shaista Pervaiz Malik, the widow of former PMLN Lahore President Pervaiz Malik. In the election of Shaista Pervaiz Malik, PMLN had to put maximum weight and got around 45,000 and Nazir Chohan, who is contesting on the provincial seat under the same NA133 has the only advantage which is the votebank of the ruling party. On the other hand, he is also under strict criticism from his old supporters for ditching Imran and PTI, which could not participate in the last by-poll in the area due to the disqualification of its candidate want to prove its strength on ballot.
Against Nazir Chohan, PTI has come up with Chaudhry Shabbir Ahmad Gujjer. The political temperature in the constituency seems high as recently vehicle of Nazir Chohan also come under attack. The major areas in the constituency include Green Town, Maryam Colony, sectors of Township, some parts of Johar Town etc.
In the 2018 general elections, PMLN’s Khawaja Saad Rafique suffered defeat from the National Assembly seat (NA131) but he was successful from PP168. When Imran Khan vacated the NA seat, Saad Rafique was pitched from NA131 by PMLN and after a close contest with PTI's Humayon Akhter Khan, Khwaja Saad Rafique won the seat and vacated the PP168. On this seat, by-polls were held at PTI's Malik Asad Khokhar won the election after a tough contest. Malik Asad Khokhar was even inducted in the cabinet of CM Sardar Usman Buzdar twice but he bade farewell to PTI this year and voted for Hamza Shehbaz in the CM election.
After facing disqualification, he is contesting again from the same seat and PTI has fielded Malik Nawaz Awan against him. PMLN has a strong votebank in this constituency but PTI still has a votebank that could disturb PMLN if the latter was unable to bring back its voter to the polling station. Main areas of PP168 include Attari Saroba, Chungi Amar Sadhu, some part of Kot Lakhpat, Jinnah Colony, Sofiabad, Pak Town, Sitara Colony etc.
This is the most crucial and toughest seat for PMLN to win in Lahore as here PTI has fielded former MNA Malik Zaheer Khokhar whose uncle Malik Karamat is one of three PTI MNAs of Lahore. This seat pertains to the bordering parts of Lahore and has a rural-urban kind of divide as well where brother factor has been playing a very important role for years.
This seat was vacated by Amin Chaudhry of PTI who is the brother of Aun Chaudhry, once a blue-eyed of Imran Khan. Amin Chaudhry won from this seat in the 2018 general elections but was one of the 20 MPAs who voted for Hamza in the CM election and accepted disqualification.
Politically, Malik Zaheer has a very strong stature as compared to Amin as he was elected MNA from this area in 2002 general elections on PPP ticket. He later joined PPP-Patriot.
PTI came to actual limelight in the election arena in the year 2010 when Malik Zaheer Khokhar was pitched on a by-election on a provincial seat and for the first time, any candidate of PTI had almost created an upset. In that by-polls, PTI had lost after a very tough contest against PMLN amid serious allegations of rigging levelled by PTI but that by-poll raised alarm bells for other parties as PTI had proven its votebank and just a few months later, in 2011, many big wigs had started to join Imran Khan's bandwagon.
Moreover, Zaheer's uncle, Malik Karamat served as MPA in 1993 and got elected MNA in 2018. Khokher brothery, which is divided into two groups one led by PMLN's Afzal Khokhar and other led by Karamat also play a key role. This time, Khokhar brothery has only one candidate that is Zaheer and in secret ballot, a candidate like Amin Chaudhry could face a tough time.
Back in 2002, such precedent was also seen when two Khokhars representing different parties won from this area in form of PPP's Zaheer Khokher who got elected MNA and PMLN's Afzal Khokhar who became MPA. Now this time with one Khokhar candidate (Zaheer Khokhar) in the run, PMLN will have to work hard to convince Khokhars to vote for its candidate, and Malik Afzal Khokhar, MNA has a key role now.
Main areas of PP170 include Wapda Town, Bagrian, ample part of Raiwind Road, Sadhoki, Valencia Town, Nasheman Iqbal and others.
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