ISLAMABAD: Contrary to the PPP supremo’s policy to openly challenge the PTI in its stronghold of Khyber-Pakhtunkwa (K-P) to improve his party’s presence in the province ahead of the 2018 polls, the PML-N leaders are paying quiet visits to the rivals’ constituencies to secure public support.
Sources told The Express Tribune that the top PML-N leadership in the K-P has lately been visiting different areas in the province, particularly those where the PTI has a strong vote bank, and offering the locals hefty development grants and schemes in exchange of assurances to get public support.
In an apparently bizarre move, the party’s provincial general secretary, Murtaza Abbasi – who is also the National Assembly’s deputy speaker – is said to have visited different PTI dominated parts in Hazara region—to announce development projects for the locals but on the condition that they would demonstrate unwavering loyalty to PML-N in the upcoming polls.
To make matters worse, Abbasi is quoted to have even asked the locals “to accompany him to the nearby mosques — to take oath on the Holy Quran and pledge unconditional support to the PML-N.”
This move reportedly infuriated the public in some areas of Abbottabad, Haripur and Mansehra and in one such instance, Abbasi had to call off his scheduled public gathering in Galiyat of Abbottabad.
“People didn’t like it. They thought that being asked to take oath for assuring political support was tantamount to undermining their integrity. That’s not the way things work in the rural areas where questioning anyone’s integrity can worsen things,” said a PML-N leader from Hazara region.
Abbasi was elected to NA in 2013 general elections from NA-18, which covers parts of Galiyat and the related belt of rural Abbottabad. Several polling stations in his constituency are located in areas where the PTI gained strength later, and swept the local government elections in 2015, a development that alarmed the PML-N leadership.
Like Abbasi, the PML-N K-P chapter president Ameer Muqam – during his recent visits to Kohistan, Nowshera, Mardan and Peshawar – is also said to have followed the strategy, to offer development packages in the PTI-dominated areas, and asking in return ‘concrete’ assurances of support for PML-N in the next general elections— a plan that has largely backfired.
Reports made headlines last week featuring Muqam addressing ‘empty chairs’ in Peshawar in a public gathering mainly because majority of public decided to boycott his jalsa, party insiders said.
A senior leader of PML-N K-P chapter, wishing not to be named, said the party leadership had tasked Muqam to run effective campaign in a recent by-election in Kohistan’s provincial constituency of PK-62 Kohistan- II, in order to help the PML-N candidate secure the seat.
However, the PML-N leadership was ‘shocked’ to see that the PTI’s Zar Gul Khan got elected, and that too unopposed, from the same seat after the PML-N candidate withdrew his candidature in Khan’s favour. Embarrassed, the PML-N local leadership has now sped up its public interaction campaign.
When approached, Sadaqat Abbasi, a close aide and spokesman of deputy speaker, expressed ignorance regarding developments involving Murtaza Abbasi’s recent visits.
“He is general secretary of PML-N. So, in this capacity, he visits different parts of the province. If, any isolated incident has taken place anywhere, I don’t know. I am not privy to any such development.”
Muqam also denied that he offered development schemes and sought loyalties for PML-N in return. “The development schemes the PML-N has launched in the K-P—like Hazara Motorway, CPEC projects and related initiatives – have won the hearts of public. We don’t need to bargain for winning votes.”
On addressing ‘empty seats’ in Peshawar’s public gathering, he said. “Well this happened due to confusion regarding the timing of jalsa that was rescheduled thrice due to my commitments elsewhere.”