KARACHI: The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is afraid. It no longer feels invincible in Lakana – the party’s home constituency. The fact that its chairperson, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, is contesting from NA-200, Larkana, only adds to the fear. A loss for Bilawal could have colossal ramifications for the party’s future.
In the past, Larkana was considered so safe by the party that it hardly felt the need to campaign. This time, however, Aseefa Bhutto Zardari and her aunt Faryal Talpur are themselves involved in the campaign activities, visiting several areas every day to seek votes. They are joined by former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s sister, Sanam Bhutto, who has flown in from London on Bilawal’s request, especially for the task.
According to independent observers, the party may manage to clinch the seat in the end, but it promises to be a close contest. “This is the first time the PPP has been so serious about its campaign in Larakana,” said local journalist, Sheraz Pathan. “They never went door-to-door, pleading for votes. This is considered the Bhutto family’s constituency. People always voted for them regardless,” he added. Never before had the PPP felt the need for a door-to-door campaign.
As many as 19 candidates affiliated with various political parties are contesting the polls against Bilawal, whose main contender, Rashid Soomro, is the joint candidate of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) and the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA). Soomro also happens to be the general secretary of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl’s (JUI-F) Sindh chapter.
Traditionally considered arch-rivals, the JUI-F and PTI have made amends to increase their chances in this constituency. PTI candidate Halima Bhutto has withdrawn her candidature in favor of Soomro.
With Bilawal travelling across Pakistan for the party’s overall call to voters, he hasn’t been able to pay much attention to Larkana. In his stead, his family, former PPP ministers and advisers have been tasked to run the show.
According to reports, the campaign was kicked off with Aseefa Bhutto’s visit to spiritual leader Syed Ghulam Hussain Shah Bukhari in Kamber Shahdadkot district. Bukhari was also a spiritual mentor to Benazir Bhutto. Subsequent reports suggest Sanam and Aseefa are visiting even small villages, comprising 100 households. “This has all come about because voters have started raising their voice against electables and alliances are being forged against the PPP,” said Pathan.
Bilawal Bhutto is contesting from two seats, NA-200 Larkana and NA-246, Lyari. In the 2013 general elections, Faryal Talpur had won this constituency, securing 83,918 votes. The runner-up, Ghinva Bhutto, wife of Murtaza Bhutto, who is not contesting the polls this year, could only manage 28,195 votes. Meanwhile, Dr Khalid Mehmood Soomro of JUI-F stood third with 20,478 votes.
There are 336,130 voters registered in NA-200, which was previously known as NA-207. Around 336 polling stations and1081 booths will be set up on election day. Major areas falling within this constituency include 15 Union Committees of Larkana city, Ratodero and Naudero tehsils and Masudero, Banguldero, Kherodero, Deh Miani and Aqil Hakro areas. Ali Nawaz Kunbhar of Sunni Tehreek, Inayat Umrani of PPP-Shaheed Bhutto and several independent candidates are among others vying for the seat.
Other seats in Larkana
There are a total of two national and four provincial assembly seats in Larkana district. Besides NA-200, a tight contest is expected in NA-201, where the PPP has fielded former MPA Khursheed Junejo against Allah Bux Unar of GDA.
Meanwhile, Shafqat Unar, son of Ghulam Hussain Unar, is contesting as independent candidate. Around 367,116 votes are registered in this area, which will be cast in 259 polling stations, over half of which have been declared highly sensitive.
PS-10, Rotadero, is among the four provincial assembly seats where the PTI is promising a surprise victory by defeating former MNA Faryal Talpur, one of PPP’s most influential leaders and sister of Asif Ali Zardari. This time, Faryal is contesting for a provincial assembly seat, fuelling rumours of her potential candidacy for the chief minister slot. PTI leader, Ameer Bux Bhutto, son of Mumtaz Bhutto, is contesting against her.
In PS-12, Bakrani, PPP’s former home minister Sohail Anwar Siyal is contesting against the GDA’s Syed Akbar Shah Rashdi and Salma Parven of PTI.
More than a dozen candidates are contesting from PS-13 Dokri, where the PPP has fielded Hizbullah Bughio against Adil Unar of GDA and Shafqat Unar of PTI. Professor Liaquat Mirani, an independent candidate who has acquired the support of civil activists, writers and some factions of nationalist parties is also contesting from the area.
Perhaps the most interesting contest will be witnessed for PS-11, which falls in Larkana city. The PPP had earlier given the ticket to Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, the party’s provincial chief, who was later disqualified for concealing a third marriage, children and assets.
Now, his daughter Nida Khuhro, is contesting the polls from the area against the GDA’s Moazam Ali Abbasi, who happens to be the nephew of Safdar Abbasi, a close aide of Benazir Bhutto.
“Shaikh community of Larkana, who have been affiliated with the PPP for the last 40 years, are also annoyed with this decision,” said a senior office bearer of PPP Larkana, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “They were demanding the PPP give the seat to their representatives, rather than Nida Khuhro,” he explained, adding that Nida had contested the last local bodies elections and was elected as a district council member, but her performance has been dismal as she hardly attended the council sessions or met people.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Nisar Khuhro rebutted all rumors of fear and said, “Like every election, PPP will again sweep the polls from Larkana.”
For his part, the GDA’s Akbar Shah Rashdi drew attention to the Rs90 billion bungled by PPP leaders in the name of Larkana package. “Despite the allocation of huge sums over the last ten years, the condition of Larkana is at its worst,” he said. “People have now awakened and PPP’s elected representatives have no explanation for their corruption, nepotism and bad governance in the province,” he added.