–Internal bickering, wrong tickets to cost PML-N
–Nazir Jutt family likely to dent PTI
VEHARI: Electioneering process has picked momentum in Vehari, also known as the ‘cotton city’ of South Punjab. It was one of those districts of South Punjab in 2013 elections where Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had performed very well, clinching three out of four National Assembly seats. However, there is bad news this time around for the PML-N as the ex-ruling party of Punjab is facing a strong challenge from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) across the district.
The former ruling party suffers an internal divide as almost all PML-N candidates for National Assembly seats are not supporting party’s provincial assembly candidates.
Vehari is also one of few districts of South Punjab where Punjabi settlers outnumber the local Saraiki-speaking population and the area thrives in almost all fields of life. Traditionally, the elections are contested on the basis of caste and creed under the Biraderi system which has been a norm since the year 1985.
PARTY OVER CASTE:
But this time around, a survey in the district reveals that the voters tend to shun the personality cult and rather voting would be on party lines. Arains, Rajputs, Jutts and Gujjars are majority clans in the three sub-divisions including Vehari, Burewala and Mailsi.
For NA-162 Vehari-I, the PML-N has awarded ticket to Chaudhry Faqir Ahmed Arain, the elder brother of former MNA Chaudhry Nazir Ahmed after his disqualification. PTI initially awarded ticket to Ayesha Nazir Jutt, the promising daughter of former MNA Nazir Ahmed Jutt. Later, the ticket was withdrawn after Nazir Jutt violated the party policy and decided to field his other daughter Arifa Jutt for NA-163 and himself contested independently for a provincial assembly seat.
PTI ticket is awarded to Khalid Mehmood Chohan, son of former MNA Qurban Ali Chohan who is a relatively punier candidate as compared to Ayesha who is strong candidate even as an independent. Ayesha says she would present her seta after winning as independent to gift it to PTI Chairman Imran Khan.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) withdrew its ticket from Shagufta Chaudhry and instead awarded it to Kamran Yousaf Ghumman who is trailing far behind. The real contest is between Ch Nazir Arain and Ayesha Nazir Jutt.
For PP-229 Vehari-I, Humayon Iftikhar Chishti is PTI candidate while the PML-N has fielded former MPA Yousaf Kasalia and both are evenly poised to win. Nazir Jutt group has fielded former Tehsil Nazim Burewala Usman Warraich who is weak as an independent.
PP-230 Vehari-II, Khalid Nisar Dogar is PTI candidate and is leading the race while Irshad Ahmed Arain is an independent who is putting a good contest and may pull a surprise win. Khalid Mehmood Dogar of the PML-N is far behind.
The race for NA-163 Vehari-II is between two former MNAs Ishaq Khakwani of PTI and Sajid Mehdi Nasim of the PML-N. Both are considered strong candidates while Khakwani is also the South Punjab President of PTI. Voters criticise Khakwani who is traditional Nawab and remains absent from the constituency.
Former MNA Natasha Daultana is from PPP and enjoys full support of former PML-N MNA Tehmina Daultana. Arifa Nazir Jutt is contesting as an independent and would damage the chances of Khakwani.
Irfan Daultana, Tehmina’s son is opposing Sajid Mehdi and is backing Natasha of PPP. Both are canvassing for each other.
On PP-231 Vehari-III, PTI nominee Ishaq Khakwani faces an uphill task against Salman Shah who is contesting as an independent and enjoys support from PML-N’s Sajid Mehdi. PPP’s Natasha Daultana is supporting her cousin Irfan Daultana who is PML-N candidate and is the son of Tehmina Daultana. Khakwanis, on the other hand, have gelled together to support Ishaq Khakwani which might help him win.
The contest on PP-232 Vehari-IV is largely between PTI’s Ijaz Bandesha PTI who is former MPA and is very popular among the public and Nausher Langrial – an independent candidate who enjoys the support of Sajid Mehdi of PML-N. PML-N has fielded Bilal Akbar Bhatti who is the son of former MNA Akbar Ali Bhatti but is weak as Sajid Mehdi Nasim is opposing him.
The contest for NA-164 Vehari-III is the constituency of Vehari City where the contest largely is between former MNA Tahir Iqbal Chaudhry of PTI and former provincial minister Naeem Khan Bhabha who is contesting as an independent.
Naeem Bhabha has forged alliance with former PML-N MNA Saeed Khan Manhais. Tehmina Daultana of PML-N trails behind. Rana Sagheer Guddu is also an independent.
For PP-233 Vehari-V, the fight is mainly between Rai Zahoor Ahmed of PTI and Saeed Manhais who is contesting as an independent. Both are considered strong contenders and are up for a strong challenge from another independent candidate Khurram Nazar Duggal. Duggal is son of the former advisor to Chief Minister Punjab Chaudhry Nazar Mohammad Duggal.
The PML-N has awarded ticket to a relatively Rao Shabbir Billu who does not figure in the contest as Tehmina is not supporting him. Rao Shabbir was given a ticket at last moment when Naeem Bhabha refused PML-N ticket for PP-233 and decided to contest as independent for NA-164.
PP-234 Vehari-VI falls in Vehari city. The PML-N has awarded the ticket to Mian Saqib Khursheed, who has been elected twice from the constituency and still considered a strong contender. PTI has fielded Chaudhry Zahid Iqbal, the younger brother of PTI candidate Ch Tahir Iqbal. Both candidates belong to Arain clan and a close contest is expected between the two. Rana Fakhar Islam and Afzal Khichi are contesting as independents.
NA-165 Vehari-IV comprises of Mailsi and its suburbs where PTI candidate Aurangzeb Khichi is set to win with a huge lead against his opponents. Locals say Khichi had also won in 2013 elections but was not announced due to rigging. Saeed Khan Manhais is PML-N candidate to challenge Khichi. Majid Nawaz Arain is independent.
For PP-235 Vehari-VII, Ali Raza Khakwani of PTI is a strong contender up against PML-N nominee and former Punjab Minister Asif Saeed Manhais, the son of Saeed Manhais.
At PP-236 Vehari-VIII, former MPA Jehanzeb Khichi of PTI emerges as a strong candidate. Azhar Yousafzai is PML-N candidate while Khaliq Nawaz Arain, an independent, are also in the race but have a little chance to upset Khichis’ hold.