Islamabad – The race for NA-49 was tight in 2008. Five years later, it is tighter still.
The emergence of new players, political alliances, resurgence of parties that boycotted the 2008 elections and shifting voter trends have made it difficult for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) candidate Tariq Fazal Chaudhry to secure his re-election bid without breaking a sweat.
In 2008, Chaudhry barely edged out Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) candidate Syed Nayyar Hussain Bokhari — 756 votes, the winning margin.
The second- and third-placed candidates, PPP’s Bokhari, now a senator, and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) politician Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, had altogether secured 58 percent of the total votes cast in NA-49, back then.
Now, Khokhar is running against Chaudhry on a PPP ticket, with PML-Q’s seat-adjustment support.
Khokhar is not expected to secure the aggregate of PPP and PML-Q votes from 2008 — both parties have lost some ground over the past five years in the constituency — but with his in-your-face elections campaign, a showdown is on the cards.
The Express Tribune looked at polling station results from 2008 to identify areas in NA-49 where the combined total of votes secured by PPP and PML-Q was close to, or more than, the PML-N’s final tally, and then went to find out the current on-ground situation in those areas.
In Bhara Kahu, where around 3,500 votes were cast in all, at least three polling stations saw the PPP, PML-Q total come within 20 votes of the PML-N total.
Nearby, in Nayi Abadi, at one polling station, Chaudhry’s 317 votes were equal to the sum of Bokhari’s 126 and Khokhar’s 191 votes.
Chaudhry won 54 per cent of Bhara Kahu’s total votes but some voters have withdrawn their support from him.
“Whenever we asked him about developmental work, he would say his hands are tied because the PML-N is in the opposition in the National Assembly,” said Raja Ikram Naseer, a resident of Bhara Kahu.
“Chaudhry did not even thank us for voting for him in 2008, what to talk of development,” Naeem Ahmed, who runs a crockery shop in Nayi Abadi, said.
In comparison, area residents said, senator Bokhari had upgraded schools and helped people get gas connections during the past five years, actions that have helped bind the PPP party vote.
Residents also claimed 11,000 duplicate votes of Murree-based citizens, which had previously gone to the PML-N, have been removed from NA-49, which would further help non PML-N candidates.
But the voter trend in Bhara Kahu is far from homogenous. Chaudhry is likely to secure the PML-N’s ideological vote.
“My whole family is voting for the PML-N,” Shahid Abbasi, a Bhara Kahu resident, said. “The core PML-N supporters are never going to vote for anyone else.”
In other areas such as Mera Bhagwal, where Chaudhry lagged behind Bokhari in 2008, the tide has turned.
“My whole village is voting for the PML-N because of a land feud involving the Khokhars,” Raja Sadaqat, who is from Bhagwal, said.
In Humak, where Chaudhry secured the most votes in 2008 and where he has also started a multi-million dollar road development project that is ongoing, at least two polling stations results showed PPP and PML-Q’s cumulative votes threaten the PML-N hold.
But shopkeepers and residents said Chaudhry is the favourite in the area, even though some youngsters from Humak might opt for Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf’s Ilyas Meherban, who also belongs to the Chaudhry clan.
Sector G-6, one of NA-49’s two urban sectors, saw around 10,000 votes cast at its polling stations in 2008. Chaudhry was the clear winner with 62 per cent of the votes and Faheem Akhtar Bhatti, whose vote is registered in G-6/1, thinks there would be no surprises on May 11.
“Look here, thanks to Nawaz Sharif, my travel time to my village in Bhera was shortened, so he gets my vote,” Bhatti explained his logic.
But in G-6, the Jamaat-e Islami (JI) might break away votes from the right-of-centre voters who supported the PML-N last time around, thinks Tahir Abbas.
“Chaudhry’s inaccessibility for his voters and Khokhar’s alleged ties with the land mafia will dent their support,” Abbas said.
Political activity seems to be the only clear winner in NA-49. As for the rest, in the words of Sadaqat, “it will all get clear on May 11.”