The political game for two important National Assembly seats – NA-51 and NA-54 – is based on connections and personalities, rather than ideology.
Both the PPP and the PML-N have fielded strong candidates, and analysts predict an epic showdown in these constituencies.
Character of the constituencies
Janba and biradari are main features of this region, and often decide electoral outcome.
In NA-51, the largest clan, the Rajputs, encompassing the Bhattis, Janjuas and Ghakars, accounts for 50% of total votes. The second largest biradari is the Arains, which make up about 20% of the vote bank, trailed closely by the Kashmiris. Gujjars account for around 10% of the population, and the rest are Awans, Jatts and Qureshis.
In this vein, prominent biradaris in NA-54 include the Maliks, Chaudhrys, Kashmiris, Hazaras, Sheikhs and Rajas.
Battle of the Rajas for the Gujar Khan mantle
Electioneering for NA-51 has gained considerable momentum, especially after former premier Raja Pervaiz Ashraf was given the green signal to contest. Also in the running is Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) candidate Raja Javaid Ikhlas, a former Rawalpindi district nazim.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has high hopes for Ashraf who, during his time as prime minister, spent a large quantity of development funds in this area, reportedly over Rs40 billion. The projects he undertook included the widening of main roads, the supply of gas to 25 union councils, the provision of electricity to far-off villages, and the establishment of a passport office.
He has won the last two elections and brings forth an impressive personal vote bank.
However, Ashraf faces stiff competition from Ikhlas. He contested the 2008 elections on a PML-Q ticket and bagged 70,000 votes.
According to analysts, the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) is not in a great position to compete against the PPP and PML-N Rajas. People interviewed from different segments of society were of the view that if the party had given its ticket to Chaudhry Muhammad Azeem instead of Raja Farhat Faheem Bhatti, it could have expected a better outcome.
Former PML-N supporter Chaudhry Riaz has announced that he will now back Ashraf, while Chaudhry Azeem, who had high hopes for a PTI ticket, has reassured Ikhlas of his support.
Trends in the cantonment area
The National Assembly seat in cantonment area of Rawalpindi, NA-54, is unique. It is one constituency in which the military is also targeted during election campaigns, as many consider it to be a hurdle in the development of the vicinity.
PPP candidate Zamurd Khan won the seat during 2002 elections, mainly relying on his janba to defeat PML-N leader Raja Zafarul Haq. In turn, PML-N fielded Malik Abrar Ahmad in 2008 and, this time, emerged victorious.
Today, Zamurd and Malik, both in the running again, are the top two contenders.
Zamurd has a strong vote bank. During his time as chairman of Pakistan Baitul Mal, he obliged people and was always available. Analysts say that it is these very public contacts that make him the frontrunner. Seemingly, this particular constituency is the PPP’s only hope in the garrison city.
And yet, Malik, though not considered a favourite, enjoys tremendous party support.
PTI has chosen Hina Manzoor, the owner of Rawalpindi College of Commerce, as its candidate. Although also a strong contender, his support base does not appear to rival that of Zamurd or Malik.
Meanwhile, Jamaat-e-Islami has fielded local trader Rizwan Ahmad, who has been electioneering rather actively.
He has held rallies several times, and even staged protests against military policies, including the increase in taxes and the barring of the area’s population from local bodies’ politics. He has promised to continue the struggle against military policies, if elected.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 1st, 2013.
Correction: Earlier version of the story incorrectly stated Shahid Gilani as the PTI candidate. The error is regretted.