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Ghosts of 2013 still haunt PML-N ahead of Islamabad LG polls

Ghosts of 2013 still haunt PML-N ahead of Islamabad LG polls

ISLAMABAD: The confusion plaguing the government and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) regarding the local government elections in the capital appears to have spread to the ruling PML-N as well, whose campaign for the upcoming polls hasn’t gotten off to an auspicious start.

Not only is the selection of candidates from each union council (UC) a contentious issue, certain candidates are also using different nomenclatures from the party itself in the elections that are to be held on a non-party basis.

Since losing the NA-48 seat in the federal capital, the PML-N has not yet recovered from the internal divisions within its local cadres that cost it the 2013 elections, and similar trends are visible in their preparations for the LG polls.

“I lost the general elections not because the PTI candidate was on sound footing, but because of backstabbers within my own party,” Ashraf Gujjar, the PML-N candidate from NA-48 for the August 2013 by-elections told Dawn.

This was a thinly-veiled reference to the former PML-N MNA and his rival candidate from the constituency, Anjum Aqeel Khan.

Even though Mr Khan denies undermining Ashraf Gujjar’s campaign, the latter maintains: “I have told the party leadership that this family spent more money to get elected than PTI spent on Asad Umar,” he said.

However, with Mr Khan’s ill-health taking him out of the game, the field seems quite open for Ashraf Gujjar this time around. “Even now, [Anjum Aqeel’s] family members are trying to disrupt the PML-N vote bank by supporting our opponents in the LG polls,” he complained.

The PML-N’s strategy to award tickets revolves around the two candidates who contested the 2013 general elections. Within the limits of NA-48, which has 42 of all the 79 UCs in Islamabad, candidates are being finalised by Ashraf Gujjar. In NA-49, the incumbent Tariq Fazal Chaudhry is incharge of awarding tickets.

Ashraf Gujjar told Dawn that a list of PML-N supported candidates had been forwarded to party president, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

“Since the elections will be held on a non-party basis, we are campaigning as the ‘Roshan Pakistan Group’ and will be using the slogan ‘Sherdil Qiyadat’,” he added.

But Anjum Aqeel’s supporters maintain that nearly all the candidates nominated by Ashraf Gujjar belong to the Gujjar community.

“I am the party candidate from UC 68 (I-10/1), but Ashraf is supporting someone from his own community. Similarly, the party candidate in UC 69 (I-10/2) is Rana Ashfaq, but Ashraf is supporting Khalid Gujjar,” said Dr Saeedullah Khan, one of the PML-N organisers in Islamabad.

“The party workers have not been taken into confidence and candidates finalised for UC 77 (Golra), 78 (Shah Allah Ditta) and 79 (Maira Jaffar) are not even party members,” he alleged, adding that the decision to nominate candidates for the LG polls was to be taken by a nine-member committee of the party leadership.

In NA-49, PML-N MNA Tariq Fazal Chaudhary doesn’t look to be having any better luck. The candidate he supports in UC-36, for example, is Chaudhry Jawad. His primary opponent is Ajmal Baloch, a prominent trader and an old-time PML-N supporter.

Party workers also seem unhappy with his decisions. “Apart from the ECP’s mismanagement, if we are to enter the arena than there has to be some basic direction – like uniform nomenclature for all PML-N candidates, regular meetings and covering candidates etc,” Mr Baloch said.

When asked why things were in such disarray, he said, “Perhaps it is because these are the first local elections in Islamabad, so candidates and political workers are liable to get confused.” However, he maintained that he had “been in the political process for quite some time and know the workers. They will be given responsibilities according to their abilities.”

He said that the process of finalising candidates was still under way and a final list would be issued after nominations papers were scrutinised by the ECP. “If the elections are not stopped by the court, that is,” he concluded.

Dissent in PPP ranks

Things are no different for the PPP, the second biggest party in the capital. Here, the party has decreed that candidates would be finalised in consultation with the three main political families of Islamabad that are allied with the PPP.

The decision, taken during a recent meeting at Zardari House by the chairman and co-chairman, has not been accepted across the board. While PPP Islamabad District President Sibte Shah Bukhari and PPP Islamabad City President Faisal Sakhi Butt seem to have agreed to this, PPP Deputy Central Information Secretary Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar has decided to field an independent panel, which may be dubbed the ‘Khokhar Group’.

According to those in the know, the decision was taken by family elders on the basis that the district council seat for Islamabad’s rural areas had always been won by them.

“My father, Haji Nawaz Khokhar, was chairman of the district council from 1985 to 1988,” Mr Khokhar said, adding, “The last man to hold the office for two consecutive terms from 1988 to 1993 was my uncle, Afzal Khokhar.”

He claimed that their influence was still strong in nearly all rural areas of Islamabad, from Rawat, Phulgran to Tarnol and Maira Jafar and Golra.

Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2015

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