This is the first time local government elections in Jhang district will be held on party-basis. Election fever is on the rise as several candidates have used up every trick in the book in a bid to persuade, cajole, coerce and smarm up to potential voters.
The district is among the oldest riverside settlements in the country. It is claimed that Jhang city was developed by Rai Sial, on the advice of Pir Hazrat Shah Jalal Bukhari, in 1288. The first autonomous ruler of Jhang was Mal Khan in 1462. The Sial tribe ruled the city for 360 years. The last ruler from the tribe was Ahmad Khan, who governed the city from 1812 to 1822. The Sikhs then took over, followed by the British.
Administrative break up
Jhang district comprises four tehsils: Jhang, Shorkot, Ahmad Pur Sial and Athara Hazari. It has five municipal committees: Jhang, Shorkot, Ahmad Pur Sial, Athara Hazari and Garh Maharaja.
Together, the municipal committees have 109 wards where 602 candidates are contesting elections – the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has fielded 78 candidates, the PTI 28, Jamaat-i-Islami four and the Rah-i-Haq Party ( comprising former Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan workers) 30.
Jhang district has 91 union councils of which, 44 are in Jhang, 29 in Shorkot, 16 in Ahmad Pur Sial and 11 in Athara Hazari.
There are 362 chairman-vice chairman panels in the race for district council and 546 candidates are running for general councillor. The total number of candidates in 91 union councils is 2,069.
The PML-N has fielded and supported candidates for 42 panels, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf five, and the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid one each.
Candidates for the panels in UC-8 and UC-84 have been elected unopposed: Mehr Muhammad Aslam Bharwana as chairman and Muhammad Anwar as vice chairman in UC-8; Muhammad Iqbal Khan Jewna as chairman and Mehndi Khan Baloch as vice chairman in UC-84. 45 councillors have been elected unopposed.
Jhang is probably one of the only districts in the Punjab where biradri is not a major factor in delineating political alliances and attracting voters.
Asad Jappa, 95, who says he has observed and participated in all local government elections, says political parties have never really gained foothold in Jhang district. “Political personalities have more clout than parties and they have kept it this way for generations,” he says.
Even Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benzir Bhutto were unable to establish the PPP in Jhang district because local powerful electables held sway in the area, he recalls.
It is against this backdrop that local government elections are being held.
The PML-N has not been able to field its candidate on panels in all UCs in Athara Hazari Tehsil, primarily because of infighting. This is surprising because the PML-N had swept all National and Provincial Assembly seats in the district. A few tickets have been awarded on the insistence of some party leaders.
Tickets have been given to candidates in 42 union councils out of 91 union councils in the Jhang District Council. The PML-N has given tickets to candidates contesting in 50 wards in Jhang Municipal Committee.
Most PML-N lawmakers have fielded candidates as independents against each other, paving the way for Sipa-i-Sahabah Pakistan, who are contesting the election under the name Rah-i-Haq Party with an Iron as an election symbol.
Independent candidates are the largest group contesting the elections for Jhang District Council and Jhang Municipal Committee. Most of them might later join the PML-N.
In several areas, people who have been apolitical so far are running as independents. The PPP and the PTI are conspicuous because of their absence from the election.
Political heavyweights rule the roost
Several prominent political personalities are contesting the elections or have fielded close relatives for district council chairman.
Mehr Aslam Bharwana, adviser to chief minister in 1990, has been elected unopposed and is considered as a serious contender for district council chairman.
MNAs Najaf Sial and Sahibzada Nazir Sultan have fielded their sons as candidates. Former MNA Aman Ullah Khan Sial has fielded his nephews in the election.
Makhdoomzada Asad Hayat, a former MNA and younger brother of former federal interior minister Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat, is also contesting from a union council. He is expected to give the PML-N candidate from the UC a run for his money.
On the other hand, some prominent political leaders including Syeda Abida Hussain, who has been former ambassador to USA, federal minister, and twice chairperson of Jhang district council, and her daughter Sughra Imam, who has previously been elected Jhang district council chairperson, have shown no interest in the election this time around.
Similarly, Shabizada Sultan Hameed, twice elected Jhang district nazim, is not participating in the elections and neither is Akthar Hussian Bharwana, previously Jhang district council chairman.
Fraught with problems
Jhang, a predominately agrarian district, has a large population of farmers disgruntled with the government over, what they say, are low prices of agricultural produce. Floods wreak havoc and bring a fresh wave of problems for the farmers almost every year. Many of them say participating in local government elections is a good way of getting back at the government.
Muhammad Ismaeel, a veteran political activist from Jhang city, says independents are most likely to sweep the elections.
Most of the candidates belong to middle or lower-middle economic groups and are contesting the elections with meagre budgets.
Residents of rural areas in Jhang district complain of eroded and broken-down roads.
Iftikhar Ahmad, a resident of Shorkot, says there is a shortage of schools and colleges in the district. “Most people lack access to healthcare…there aren’t many rural health centres or basic health units to begin with and the ones that exist are under staffed…doctors in particular find being posted to such areas an inconvenience.” He says most patients are treated by paramedic staff and nurses.
Tufail Ahmad, an elderly citizen of Athara Hazari, says land erosion is a major problem in the district. Rivers Jhelum and Chenab flow through the district and converge here. Vast areas in Chaj Doab get eroded as a result of flooding, he says.
The floods cause widespread devastation as houses, crops and cattle are swept away and fertile land between the two rivers is eroded away, he says. “Lack of a disaster prevention policy for the district could harm the incumbent government’s chances of sweeping the election.”
Despite few opportunities for higher education in the district, the literacy rate is higher here than in adjoining districts, he says. “This region has produced two Nobel laureates in Dr Abdus Salam and Dr H Gobind Khurana, poets Majeed Amjad, Sher Afzal Jafari, Safdar Saleem Sial and Mohin Maghiyana, several celebrated scholars and intellectuals and a large corps of bureaucrats holding key posts in various ministries and departments.”
Chief Minister of the Indian State of Haryana Manohar Lal Khattar belongs to Khattar Wala village in Jhang district. Former chief minister of Delhi Madan Lal Khurana and a former chief minister of East Punjab Comrade Rae Kishan Ram Chand were from Kot Essa Shah village in Jhang district.
Athara Hazari tehsil
There are 11 union councils in Athara Hazari tehsil for which 47 chairman-vice chairman panels are contesting local government elections.
An independent panel of Muhammad Iqbal Khan Jewna as chairman and Mehdi Khan Baloch as vice chairman has been elected unopposed from UC-84.
There are 112,808 voters in Athara Hazari tehsil, out of which 64,469 are men and 46,822 are women.
The PML-N has been unable to award party tickets to any candidates due to party infighting. The groups led by PML-N’s MPA Mian Muhammad Azam Cheela and Faisal Hayat Jewna, son of former MPA Ghazanfar Abbas Jewna, have pitted their own candidates against each other.
Ten councillors of various wards in 11 UCs of Athara Hazari have been elected unopposed: Zulfiqar Ali from UC-84’s Ward 1, Muhammad Iqbal from from UC-84’s Ward-2 and Jamshaid Mehdi from UC-84’s Ward-3; Allah Bux from UC-86’s Ward-2 and Muhammad Iqbal from UC-86’s Ward-3; Hashmat Ullah from UC-87’s Ward-1 and Muhammad Arshad from UC-87’s Ward-2; Qaisar Shehzad from UC-90’s Ward-2 and Musawar Hussain from UC-90’s Ward-5; and Muhammad Afzal from UC-91’s Ward-2.
Most candidates have been going door-to-door accompanied with dhol walas attired in colourful dresses.
Abdur Razzaq, a resident of UC-91, says the women’s votes have been untapped so far. None of the candidates has tried to speak to women voters or ask about their problems. “Most women in this area vote for whoever their elders tell to vote for.”
The main problems in Athara Hazari tehsil are a lack of sewerage system, roads full of potholes, and lack of health and education facilities.
Anees Ahmad, a resident of UC-86, says this is a backward area and nothing much has been done to develop it.
Ahmad Pur Sial tehsil
Ahmad Pur Sial tehsil comprises 16 union councils. Nine councillors from various wards have been elected unopposed: Farhat Abbas from UC-65’s Ward-1, Qaisar Khan from UC-65’s Ward-2 and Muhammad Tahir Naseem from UC-65’s Ward-4; Muhammad Arif from UC-66’s Ward-3; Mukhtar Hussain from UC-74’s Ward-1, Noor Muhammad from UC-74’s Ward-2, Kherat Ali from UC-74’s Ward-4 and Saleem Muhammad from UC-74’s Ward-5; and Muhammad Ishaq from UC-79’s Ward-1. Muhammad Din, a resident of UC-66, says rampant cattle lifting and lack of sewerage system, schools, colleges and health facilities are the biggest issues in the tehsil. “The so-called education institutions and health units in the district are in a terrible condition.”
Shorkot has 20 union councils and 84 chairman-vice chairman panels are contesting the elections. The PML-N has fielded four panels, and the PTI and the PPP have fielded one each. There is infighting in the PML-N here as well. Two groups within the party have fielded candidates against each other. Most of the candidates are contesting as independents. There are 202,793 voters in this tehsil – 120,374 men and 82,419 women. Rao Aamir Sultan, a resident of Shorkot, says the main problems of residents of Shorkot are a lack of safe drinking water and education facilities. He also pointed out that there were no surgery facilities in the tehsil. “Roads here are in a terrible condition.
Jhang tehsil comprises 44 union councils. Here, 40 councillors have been elected unopposed from various wards.
The chairman-vice chairman panel comprising Mehr Muhammad Aslam Bharwana and Muhammad Anwar Baloch has been elected unopposed from UC-7. In the other 43 UCs, 182 panels are contesting the elections.
There are 478,536 voters, of which 271,560 are men and 204,976 are women.
The PML-N has fielded candidates for 24 panels – more than in other three tehsils. The PTI has fielded four panels.
The PML-N is divided in two groups in this tehsil and most of the UCs have been kept open.
In Shah Jewna, Chund Gharwana, Pir Kot Sadhiyana, Mandi Shah Jewna and Qadir Pur, a tough competition is expected between candidates fielded by the PML-N and former minister Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat’s younger brother Makhdoom Syed Asad Hayat.
In UC-1, Makhdoom Syed Asad Hayat is pitted against PML-N supported candidate Ghulam Abbas. Syed Asad Hayat, a former MNA, has an eye out for the district council top slot.
Muhammad Jameel, a resident of UC-2, says the tehsil does not have a satisfactory drainage system or sanitation system, paved roads or basic civic amenities.
Nazir Ahmad, a resident of Qadir Pur, says that elected members of the National and Provincial Assemblies have not done any worth mentioning to improve the tehsil’s infrastructure.
He says substandard material has been used in constructing roads and other civic facilities, “which is why they’re in a shambles”.
Athara Hazari municipal committee
There are 42 candidates for general councillor in the 11 wards of Athara Hazari Municipal Committee. Mian Habibur Rehman Cheela has been elected unopposed from Ward-11.
The PTI has fielded one candidate – Muhammad Tahir from Ward-7. All other candidates are contesting the election as independents.
The most candidates – nine – are contesting from Ward-5.
A vast area of Athara Hazari tehsil is located on the banks of River Chenab where devastating floods have occurred in the last few days.
Ghulam Muhiyuddin, a resident of Athara Hazari, says apart from the Pakistan Peoples Party, which took notice of floods in 1974, no government had done much for the people affected by floods.
“During the ZA Bhutto regime, a protective wall was built around Athara Hazari to save its inhabitants. However, a large number of people raised their houses beyond the boundary wall and the administration has not taken notice of it…that is why there is such widespread devastation due to floods.”
Taufeeq Ahmad, another resident of Athara Hazari, says Athara Hazari looks more like a village. He says there are no sanitation, sewerage, water supply or drinking water supply facilities. The roads are in a shambles, he says.
“Health, education and public transport facilities, public latrines and other municipal infrastructure are almost non-existent…yet Athara Hazari is a municipal committee.”
Jhang municipal committee
There are 15 wards in Jhang Municipal Committee where 216,479 voters (118,670 men and 97,809 women) will vote in the upcoming local government elections.
The ECP has set up 166 polling stations and 392 polling booths in the area. Of these, 210 polling booths are for both men and women, 83 for men only and 99 for women only. The ECP has appointed 323 presiding officers and 2,011 assistant presiding officers for the elections. MNA Sheikh Muhammad Akram has fielded his candidates in most of the wards here. The campaign for his group is being led by his son Sheikh Waqas, a former federal state minister. He has been opposed by former MPA Sheikh Muhammad Yaqoob and his wife who is an MPA of the PML-N.
Rashida Yaqoob contested the 2013 general elections alongside de-notified MNA Sheikh Muhammad Akram, against Maulana Ahmad Ludhianvi, chief of Ahle-Sunnat (Deobandi group).
Due to a ban on Sipah-i-Sahaba, its members are contesting elections on the Rah-i-Haq Party platform with the election symbol Iron. The Sheikh Yaqoob group is contesting elections with the symbol Heera (diamond).
Sheikh Akram, a leading transporter in Jhang, is a resourceful person. Sheikh Yaqoob has been very active in his campaign.
In an interesting development, Majlis-i-Wahdatul Muslemeen district general secretary Syed Azhar Hussain Kazmi has announced his support for the Sheikh Akram group. This has strengthened the group’s position.
The area has its own set of problems. Not only are the roads in a shambles but traffic on the main roads is often jammed. There are also a lot of encroachments on main roads.
Due to the indifferent attitude of traffic personnel, commuters have to face a great deal of difficulties, Naveed Ahmad, a resident of Satellite Town, says. Imran Ahmad, a resident of Civil Lines, says Jhang does not have a university even though the chief minister promised to build one during his 2013 election campaign speeches. He says the government had announced to set aside money for the university in this year’s budget, but there has been no development on that front so far.
Rafiq Ahmad, a resident of Jhang City, says the DHQ Hospital, built in early ’70s, lacks major medical facilities and is in dilapidated condition.
Because of a lack of beds at the hospital, many patients are treated on the hospital veranda, he says. There are also no cardiac unit, burn unit, plastic surgery or eye surgery facilities in Jhang, he says.
Garh Maharaja municipal committee
The PML-N has fielded 13 candidates for councillor and Pakistan Awami Tehreek has fielded three candidates in Garh Maharaja Municipal Committee.
Former district council nazim Sahibzada Hameed Sultan, former MNA Sahibzada Nazir Sultan and former MNA Sahibzada Mehboob Sultan are from the same family but have fielded their own candidates as independents.
MNA Najaf Abbas Khan Sial and MPA Aun Abbas Sial are leading the PML-N’s campaign in Garh Maharaja.
Anees Ahmad, a resident of Garh Maharaja, says although Garh Maharaja has the status of a municipal committee, the area lacks basic amenities including streetlights, parks, drainage system and a water supply system. “The roads are full of potholes, colonies here have open drains.”
Akhtar Abbas, another resident, says it is a miserable state of affairs.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 30th, 2015.