With hardly three-and-a-half weeks left for the NA-19, Haripur by-elections, electioneering has entered the final round. Corner meetings are echoing across neighbourhoods. Flags have been hoisted. Posters are up and the stage is set.
As many as nine candidates are in the running. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan Peoples Party and All Pakistan Muslim League have all pitted representatives while the rest are independents.
The PML-N seat
After Omar Ayub’s departure, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is counting on the rookie—Babar Nawaz Khan—to secure a seat his party has not lost for decades. Babar’s entry has had a ripple-effect on the entire political scenario of the region. Sensing trouble, the Tareens, Rajgans and Gujjars (also known as Mukadams) have all joined forces to keep Babar at bay. The newbie is out of favour with all of the district’s elected lawmakers and his own family feuds have added to his troubles. Babar’s long-standing rivals, Raja Shiraz Haider and Raja Ejaz Akhtar of Khanpur, have also diverted their energies towards making sure the new entrant loses.
Within party ranks
PTI’s Dr Raja Amir Zaman has gone all-out to bring his struggle against PML-N to a decisive end. In a masterstroke, Amir persuaded his brother, PK-49, Haripur-I MPA Raja Faisal Zaman (also from PML-N), to carve support for the former within PML-N’s own circles.
PML-N Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa President Pir Sabir Shah enjoys good rapport with the locals of his hometown in the same tehsil.
He is said to be unhappy with the party’s decision to count on Babar to uphold its legacy. Although leaders like Sabir and former K-P speaker Major (retd) Habibullah Tareen and former provincial minister Qazi Asad are supporting Babar publicly, the response has been lukewarm and not helpful.
The lesser of the two forces
Former PML-N MPA Sardar Mushtaq, who remained in office between 2008 and 2013, has also helped Amir, by leeching the Gujjars’ support for Amir, strengthening his ranks significantly. In return, PTI has agreed to back Mushtaq’s brother Sardar Muhammad Haroon for a district council berth. Another heavyweight in Amir’s camp is former provincial minister Yousuf Ayub Khan, the Tareen who defeated Amir by seven votes in the 2005 district nazim elections.
Close associates of the Tareens say both Omar and Yousuf see the family of the late Akhtar Nawaz Khan as a potential enemy while they feel Amir can be overthrown in no time. Although Yousuf’s cousin Omar did bow out of the competition earlier and is—on the surface—supporting Babar, the latter’s probable victory is said to have given Omar sleepless nights.
“Omar only supported Babar in securing the party ticket. He never promised to walk him through the mess,” said a staunch Omar supporter in Ghazi tehsil. He added if not Omar, they will all vote for Amir and no one else.
In high hopes
Rumblings from the opposition camp have not been disconcerting for Babar who is confident of single-handedly defeating all kingpins of the region.
He said both the Tareens and Rajgans have been in power for over six decades yet Haripur has not changed. Even though the area contributes heavily to the government exchequer through the Hattar Industrial Estate, Tarbela Dam net hydel profits and mining, the most essential issues have not been addressed yet, according to Babar. “Locals are done with these families who only care for their own interests.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2015.