Faisalabad: Can the PML-N hold on to its citadel?’

This time a win isn't a sure shot for the PML-N in Faisalabad

It is a two hour, smooth, ride up a motorway from Punjab’s capital, Lahore, to its second largest city, Faisalabad. According to the 2017 population census, the city has a headcount of over seven million people, which is why, after Lahore, it also has the most number of national assembly constituencies – 10 – and 21 provincial.

Faisalabad, like Lahore, is in the habit of voting for the Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N). Take the last parliamentary election, for example. In May 2013, the outgoing PML-N walked off with 10 national assembly seats (out of 11) and 21 provincial (out of 22) from the city.

But this time, a win isn’t a sure shot.

A previous winner, in the running again, is the rabble-rouser Talal Chaudhry for NA-102. In 2013, Chaudhry secured a victory with over 100,000 votes in NA-102 (previously NA-76). But this time his most formidable rival is Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s Nawab Sher Waseer, an ex-member of the national assembly, who in April left the Pakistan Peoples Party for the PTI. Waseer bagged this constituency in 2008 but lost to Chaudhry in 2013. Also, hounding Chaudhry are legal troubles. A contempt to court case is pending against him in the Supreme Court.

Despite the challenges, on the ground, the 44-year-old is working assiduously to improve his prospects. Last month, he convinced his uncle, a former town nazim, to withdraw his nomination papers for NA-102 and support his candidacy, which he eventually did.

While Imran Khan’s political party may have been clueless and scattered in 2013, it has come back better prepared in 2018. Similar to other cities across Pakistan, to wrest control of Faisalabad it is relying on electables and entrenched politicians to guarantee success.

In several constituencies of the city, the contest seems to be squarely between PML-N and ex-PML-N leaders.

In NA-101, the PTI has handed out party tickets to three members of the Ghulam Rasool Sahi’s family, including his son Zafar Zulqernain Sahi. Sahi is a new entrant in the party. In 2013, he contested and won from NA-75 (new NA-101) as a candidate of the PML-N. But in May he quit the party and joined PTI.

Another N-league heavyweight in Faisalabad is Rana Sanaullah, the former minister of law and parliamentary affairs in Punjab. Sanaullah has been easily picking up a provincial assembly seat from Faisalabad since the 90s. This will be the first time that he will be in the race for a seat in the parliament. Against him in NA-106 is Dr Nasir Ahmad Jatt, who won this constituency (old NA-81) in 2013 as a PML-N candidate. This year, following an ostensible trend, he too left the N-league for PTI. Political experts predict a strong competition between the two candidates. Unlike Sanaullah, Jatt has the incumbency factor in his favour.

The Sher Ali family of Faisalabad is also a familiar face in the electoral battlefield. NA-108 has been ruled by it since the 1980s. After his father, the baton was passed on to Abid Sher Ali, the former federal minister for state. Ali is unlikely to lose this contest to the PTI candidate this time as well.

A shopkeeper displaying the flags of political parties to attract the customers ahead of General Election 2018. Photo: Online

Turncoats aside, spiritual leaders also bring in a considerable vote bank in the city. One of the most well-known is Hazrat Pir Khawaja Hameeduddin Sialvi who has considerable sway in the city of Faisalabad, Jhang, Chiniot and Sargodha. Last year, Pir Sialvi announced parting ways with the PML-N. Earlier this month, he was photographed with PTI chairman Imran Khan. How would that play into the electoral dynamics, remains to be seen.

“This time, the prospects of the bat [PTI’s symbol] are a lot better,” explains Majid Nizami, a senior producer of Geo’s Election Cell, “The PTI has successfully united anti-PML-N vote under the umbrella of their party. Strong electables from the PPP, PML-Q and PML-N are now in their fold.” But if rudimentary calculations are to be, Nizami insists that the N-League still has a strong hold over “six NA seats (out of 10) in Faisalabad, while three could go to the PTI.”