Battleground Lahore

Safiullah Ghauri looks at the strengths and weaknesses of major contenders seeking to secure the ancient city for the next five years

Battleground Lahore
The historic city of Lahore holds the distinctive privilege of shaping the history and politics of the subcontinent in more ways than one. Long before the inception of Pakistan, Lahore was the jewel that conquerors from all over the world desired. Be it Ghazni, Ghauri, Tughluq or Mughal, every dynasty made Lahore a seat of their power. For this reason, the initial foundations of Pakistan were laid in Lahore and it became home to every major political movement. Lahore has witnessed the birth of every major political party we know today: the religious party Jamaat-e-Islami was born here in 1941 at Islamia Park, then the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. The formation of the Pakistan People’s Party was held at Dr Mubasshir Hasan’s house in Lahore in 1967. In 1996, the Pakistan Tehree-i-Insaf emerged from this ancient city and finally the left-wing Awami Workers Party was launched here in 2012. With the general elections merely days away, it appears that little has changed through history as conquerors, warriors, orators and leaders look to surmount this city once again.

Lahore has 13 National Assembly seats and elections in the city are bound to be a complex affair with 166 candidates fighting it out in a grand battle for power. However, two major contenders stand out in this match: The PML-N is the defending champion and its challenger is the PTI. The vote bank is divided on a clear, simple line: the pro-Nawaz and anti-Nawaz narrative, with the PTI leading the latter sentiment. The role of the PPP, the MMA and the TLP is likely to be nothing more than that of WWE ring girls, where they provide an interesting diversion from the competition.

The PML-N, emerging literally from a family of the greatest Phelwans to have lived, has held sway over Lahore for the last two decades. The party’s strong grip on the city is exemplified by the fact that this is the only city where no candidate has defected to the PTI and in its past stellar performance in 2013, they lost only one of 13 seats to the emerging nemesis. However this time, the PML-N appears battered, having been kicked by the boots and slapped by the judiciary. By contrast, in 2013, the PTI had suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the PML-N and was further chastened when the courts rubbished its claims of election rigging. Yet Nawaz’s incarceration and support from military and judiciary could be the steroid injections that the PTI needed to finally grab the championship belt.

NA-123: Malik Riaz vs Mehr Wajid

Malik Riaz of the PML-N won the general elections in 2008, then again in 2013 and this year he is up for a hat-trick. The area known for its poor health and terrible traffic has also improved as Malik Riaz built a few roads and a hospital but failed to fulfil many other promises. Challenging him is the PTI’s Mehr Wajid, an outsider for this area and that could be his biggest vulnerability. However, being from outside of the established system, he is promoting himself as a ‘clean’ candidate and has garnered considerable attention from the youth. The competition against him is propelled by allegations of corruption and the desire among voters for ‘change’. Leaderships of both parties are confident that they will secure a victory from this seat but the PML-N seems ahead.

NA-124: Mian Hamza Shahbaz vs Muhammad Nauman Qaiser

This area of Lahore is what makes the city so colourful. Here, we have the Walled City, the food street, Badshahi mosque and many other historical sites. There are more than 500,000 voters in this constituency and they will have to choose between Hamza Shahbaz who holds the distinction of being Shahbaz Sharif’s son and Nauman Qaiser of the PTI, a complete newbie to the elections and an outsider to the area. Nauman Qaiser, in his bid to win the PTI ticket for this constituency, edged out Allama Iqbal’s son and Muhammad Madni, who has represented the PTI here for the last five years. Reportedly, he was able to get this ticket because of Aleem Khan’s influence, who promised funding for his campaign. Since this area is influenced by the likes of Gogi Butt, Abid Boxer and Tipu Trakanwala along with Kashmiris making up the majority of the voters, this largest constituency of Lahore should fall easily into the hands of the PML-N.

NA-125: Waheed Alam vs Dr Yasmeen Rashid

This constituency rose to prominence when the PTI alleged in 2013 that massive rigging had taken place here. This started a hashtag movement and got plenty of media coverage before being taken to the Supreme Court where the claims were thrown out. The PML-N has maintained a majority position in recent pre-election polls and that was largely because Maryam Nawaz was to contest on this seat. However, she backed out before the Avenfield judgment and chose to run from the safer NA-127 instead. Her decision to leave this constituency could have been spurred by Zaeem Qadri, a senior PML-N leader turning against Hamza Shahbaz and causing mass resentment within the party. If the PTI takes advantage of the PML-N’s troubles, it could grab this seat without much effort.

NA-126: Mehr Ishtiaq vs Hammad Azhar

Mehr Ishtiaq of the PML-N looks all set to win this seat. His past record supports this claim. In 2013, he fought against Barrister Hammad Azhar, who is also his opponent this time, and received nearly twice as many votes. In 2018, the PTI vote bank is likely to increase but not enough to get the seat.

NA-127: Ali Malik Pervaiz vs Jamshaid Iqbal

Previously, the candidate from the PML-for this seat was Maryam Nawaz but after her conviction and subsequent disqualification, the seat was given in a rush to Hamza Sharif. While he has personally been attending to this constituency, the despondency from within PML-N suggests that they have given up in favour of PTI.

NA-128: Rohail Asghar  vs Ijaz Dayal

Sheikh Rohail Asghar of the PML-N easily won the seat the last two times in excess of 50,000 votes and is looking to repeat this success. Ijaz Dayal is a former PML-N member who switched to the PTI after he did not get a ticket. He is counting on the youth to vote for him. The seat is should be an easy win for the PML-N but TLR also carries substantial voting power here, which could have an impact.

NA-129: Sardar Ayaz Sadiq vs Abdul Aleem Khan

The former speaker of the National Assembly is being challenged by the big money brought in by Aleem Khan of the PTI. In their last faceoff, which were the by-elections of 2015, Ayaz Sadiq won by only 4,000 votes so this election is sure to be a nail-biter as both candidates fight it out in this newly carved out constituency.

NA-130: Khawaja Ahmed Hassan vs Shafqat Mehmood

Another tough competition is expected on this constituency where Shafqat Mehmood won the only MNA for the PTI seat here in Lahore. This is the only place where the PTI must defend their constituency. The area itself saw no uplift but the PTI states that since they were in opposition, they couldn’t resolve any issues. Given the PTI’s dismal performance, the seat would go to the PML-N unless PTI enters into seat adjustment with the PPP.

NA-131: Saad Rafique vs Imran Khan Niazi

The biggest battle in Lahore is sure to be the most emotional and nerve-wracking for the entire country. This fight between the two giants of the arena will not pose the usual question of the supply of electricity, gas, roads and services to the voters. The voters of NA-131 will be asked to choose a narrative. Either the voters will believe that Nawaz Sharif was corrupt and deserved his punishment or they will believe that a secret hand is persecuting Nawaz Sharif for attempting to bring civilian rule. In either case, the democratic vote in this constituency will go a long way in writing the history of Pakistan.

NA-132: Shahbaz Sharif vs Muhammad Mansha Sandhu

In case the PML-N wins the general elections 2018, Shahbaz Sharif will be their obvious choice for next prime minster. NA-132 is a strong lion territory and competition from the PTI is weak. It should be an easy victory for the former chief minister.

NA-133: Pervaiz Malik vs Ijaz Chaudhary

Pervaiz Malik from the PML-N has previously won the National Assembly elections four times and held the portfolio of Minister of Commerce and Textile. Against him is former PTI Punjab president Ijaz Chaudary, who was in Jamaat-e-Islami before switching to the PTI. Where it may appear that the PML-N would trample over the PTI here, certain factors make the results uncertain: The biggest factor is ex-PML-N leader Zaeem Qadri contesting as an independent that hampers their vote bank and secondly, the PML-N initially gave the ticket to Waheed Alam and Pervaiz Malik was asked to take Maryam Nawaz’s place in NA-125. However, he refused and chose this easier seat, despite not being from the area. The PML-N would still win but with a smaller margin than expected.

NA-134: Rana Mubashir Iqbal vs Zaheer Abbas Khokhar

Both the leading candidates look alike and this battle of doppelgangers will be one of equal strength. NA-134 has four provincial assembly seats and 11 parties will be fielding their strongest candidates here. Rana Mubashir of the PML-N is fresh from his rest after spending five years as a disqualified candidate for possessing a fake degree. He has used these five years to garner support from local groups. The PTI is has fielded Zaheer Khokhar, formerly of the PPP, in hopes of turning the tide. Whereas the PTI is considerably weaker than the PML-N here, a wave of anti-Nawaz emotions triggered by the court judgments is rocking the lion’s boat.
Lahore has 13 National Assembly seats and elections in the city are bound to be a complex affair with 166 candidates fighting it out in a grand battle for power

NA-135: Saiful Malook Khokhar vs Karamat Khokhar

Lahore’s smallest constituency looks like a domestic scuffle as cousins are up against one another. Afzal Khokar of the PML-N had previously defeated his cousin Karamat who was then in the PPP. In hopes for greener pastures Karamat Khokar joined the PTI and will fight against his former opponents’s younger brother Saiful Malook. Since the majority voters are also Khokars, the vote will eventually come down to whose wife gave which brand’s suit and who hosted the better dinner. The PML-N seems ahead in this constituency.

NA-136: Afzal Khokhar vs Malik Asad Khokar

This is the area which has Nawaz Sharif’s home Jati Umra and areas of Raiwind. The seat was won in 2013 by Afzal Khokar who intends to repeat his success. However, Malik Asad Khokar is an aggressive candidate who recently received the backing of the Meo clan that brings forward a sizable number of votes. Furthermore, a PML-N MPA candidate named Chaudary Gulzar has also moved away from the PML-N. These events are likely to translate into a tough battle.

In conclusion Lahore is likely to retain its identity as the lion’s den, rather than becoming a cricket pitch because of its obvious strength in most constituencies.