There is a large ground in Kot Shahabuddin, Shahdara, where kids play cricket and football every evening. Last Saturday night, however, it presented a different picture. The audience was cheering the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which had organised an election rally, instead of little sportsmen.
“This constituency has always been a stronghold of the PML-N. The competition used to be between the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the PML-N but this time the situation is different.
Though the PML-N still has strong support, the competition will be between Malik Raiz (PML-N) and Hamid Zaman (Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf),” Muhammad Javed, an elderly resident of Shahdara and a PML-N supporter told The Express Tribune.
NA-118, which is spread over both sides of River Ravi, is one of the largest National Assembly constituencies in the Punjab. This is the first National Assembly constituency of Lahore and the gateway to the city. It starts from Imamia Colony and goes up to the Sheikhupura district from Kala Khatai Road. Shahdara is the largest locality.
On the left side of the GT Road the localities of Kasurpura, Qila Lakshman Singh, Timber Market, Badami Bagh and Data Nagar fall under this constituency. In Lahore, its boundaries meet NA-119 and NA-123.
The residents of these areas have always favoured the PML-N. Mian Nawaz Sharif, his brother Mian Abbas Sharif (late), former governor Mian Muhammad Azhar and Humayun Akhtar Khan have all previously won this NA seat. When Hafiz Salman Butt won as an independent candidate in 2002, he was backed by the PML-N and the Jamaat-i-Islami.
Arain, Kashmiri, Kakkey Zai, Mughal and Pathan are the prominent clans of the area and can affect the election results.
There are about 12,000 registered non-Muslim voters. A majority of them are Christians and don’t always support the same political party. “No political party has every seriously tried to win over the Christian voters. Though the non-Muslim vote in this area can play a decisive role, they have failed to unite and vote as a bloc,” says Shahid Nazir, a Christian.
Muhammad Riaz of the PML-N – who won the 2008 elections with a margin of 32,000 votes – believes this time will be no different. “I am the only candidate who is a resident of the constituency. The others live in DHA.
I have lived with my people and they will vote for me on May 11,” says a confident Riaz.
To his credit, Riaz has some projects to show for his five years as the constituents’ representative. They include a 300-bed government hospital in Shahdara, the Metro Bus Service’s final stop in Shahdara, a cricket stadium and another playground on the GT Road.
Faraz Hashmi, the PPP’s candidate and the son of Syed Asif Hashmi – former head of Evacuee Trust Property Board – is relying on the work done by his father.
The senior Hashmi got a Shahdara toll-plaza removed and also got approved a shuttle train service between Shahdara and Kot Lakhpat. “The PPP has always worked for the people,” junior Hashmi said.
The PTI candidate Hamid Zaman, however, believes people will ‘vote for change’. “The PTI is promising a new Pakistan and it will create a new country. People of NA-118 will [also] vote for change,” he said.
Hafiz, a resident of Match Factory area told The Express Tribune that the PML-N was likely to maintain its grip over the area. “The only change you can expect this time is that the PTI [candidate] will be the runner up instead of the PPP.”
Other residents pointed out several issues that need their representatives’ attention.
One of the ‘major problems’ is traffic jams. Most of the traffic entering Lahore from Sheikhupura, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Gujrat and Rawalpindi passes through this constituency.
Things were bad enough already but have been made worse, according to Muhammad Kamran, by the Metro Bus Service. The bridge on River Ravi now has to accommodate the new buses as well, resulting in traffic jams several times a day. “A new bridge should be built to improve the flow of traffic,” is Kamran’s demand.
“Another problem is the lack of safe drinking water,” says Tariq Lodhi, a resident of Saeed Park. He says the number of gastroenteritis patients reported in this constituency is “very high”. “During the PML-Q term (2002-2008), there was talk of installing a water treatment plant in this constituency but nothing materialised,” he says.
For Azhar Javed, a resident of Wandala Road, Shahdara – “the hub of private academies” – is missing a good public sector institute. “The boys’ college needs to be upgraded and a girls’ college established,” he says.
The PPP and the PML-Q have a joint candidate, Yousuf Ahad Malik, running for the provincial seat. He is a former town nazim. Khawaja Imran Nazir is contesting elections on a PML-N ticket and the PTI has given its ticket to Yasir Gilani, a new entrant into politics. Ali Imran, of the JI is also contesting this seat.
The PA seat was won in 2008 by Rana Muhammad Iqbal of the PML-N who defeated Samiullah Khan of the PPP. Tough competition is likely between Yasir Gilani and Imran Nazir.
Rana Iqbal, not a contestant this time, says that he tried to solve most of the problems faced by the residents of the constituency during his term.
For the rest, he says, the people need to elect the PML-N again. “We will certainly try to find a solution to the traffic problem,” says Iqbal.
Ghazli Saleem Butt, a new face, is the PML-N’s choice for the seat. Faraz Hashmi, who is also contesting for the NA-118 seat, is in the running for the PPP. PTI’s candidate for this seat is Mian Mahmood Ahmad.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 9th, 2013.