Putting deepening differences within the party to one side, the senior leadership of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is forced to come together to devise a policy to win PK-45, Abbottabad II with a consensus candidate in the by-elections.
The seat fell vacant after the resignation of Mehtab Ahmed Khan Abbasi who was elevated to the office of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) governor last week. The Election Commission of Pakistan is expected to announce an election schedule for the constituency within the next few days.
The Abbasi seat
Considered an Abbasi tribe stronghold, Mehtab and his family members have been winning the seat repeatedly over the last six elections.
During the May 2013 elections, Mehtab defeated PTI’s candidate with a 12,000 vote margin. PTI, however, attributed the defeat to an internal breakdown. One of their office bearers, Nazir Abbasi, revolted against the party and contested the election against PTI’s nominee, bagging over 8,000 votes.
According to party insiders, the discord within the party started in Abbottabad district when PTI’s sitting MNA from NA-17, Dr Azhar Jadoon, and MPA Sardar Muhammad Idrees, joined the party, leaving Tehreek-e-Suba Hazara and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl, respectively. During the intra-party election, each pitted their own groups against the rest. However, their candidates lost to the group of Sardar Sher Bahadur, the current president of the district chapter.
According to party sources, Jadoon’s membership remained suspended for sometime after he challenged the results. The matter and the internal differences were later resolved, at least on the surface. However, the wedge between old party workers and those perceived to be ‘new entrants’ remained.
Party chief Imran Khan has yet to iron out differences within party ranks in Abbottabad, and the upcoming by-election on PK-45 has posed another challenge for the ruling party that is desperate to win the seat.
A worthy opponent?
Another challenge the party faces is to field a consensus candidate against a contestant that will have the backing of the governor’s family and other political aides. As PTI has already tested the political stature of its candidates like Abdul Rehman Abbasi and the political clout of its disgruntled office bearer Nazir Abbasi, it is left with no option but to emerge with a consensus candidate.
A senior party leader, requesting anonymity, told The Express Tribune their probable choice is going to be PTI’s regional president Ali Asghar Khan. Since Ali Asghar enjoys great respect among party workers and is equally acceptable to the party’s lawmakers, the senior party leader disclosed that many were lobbying for his selection.
From urban Abbottabad and with no connections with local communities, Ali Asghar has managed to carve a niche for himself, mostly with the help of his NGO Omar Asghar Foundation. The NGO has several developmental projects in Bakot and surrounding areas, especially after the 2005 earthquake.
Asghar is the son of Tehrik-e-Istiqlal’s founder Air Marshal (retd) Asghar Khan and younger brother of the late social scientist and federal minister Omar Asghar Khan.
Three other aspirants, Abdul Rehman Abbasi, Nazir Abbasi and Raja Abdul Mubeen, are also lobbying for the PTI ticket. According to party sources, Chairman Imran Khan is likely to select one candidate to field at a meeting in Islamabad on Thursday (today).
From the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz camp, Mehtab’s son and former MPA, Sardar Shamoon Yar Khan, his cousin Sardar Kashif Fida Khan and Sardar Ishtiaq Ahmed are vying for the PK-45 ticket.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 24th, 2014.