PTI chief Imran Khan and PML-N’s Ayaz Sadiq have known each other ever since college days, before politics drove a wedge between them. Ayaz Sadiq secured an impressive 93,389 votes followed in closely by Imran Khan, who gave him a run for his money by bagging 84,517 votes in the General Elections of 2013. Ever since then, Imran has alleged rigging and Ayaz has denied the claim. After being de-seated, Speaker Ayaz Sadiq faces a strong opponent in PTI’s Aleem Khan in the battle for NA-122.
Winners, losers: Why the stakes are particularly high for this constituency?
Both PTI and PML-N have flexed their muscles to no end and held sizable political gatherings. Motorbike rallies, swarming youths, loudspeakers blaring music and streets echoing with slogans, it is quite apparent that this by-election is crucial for both political parties.
Everyone’s out and about to prove a point by bagging NA-122. For PTI, it could be utter and absolute vindication, as far as their electoral rigging stance is concerned. For PML-N, nothing could morally consolidate their right to rule the roost more than vanquishing PTI’s Aleem Khan in Sunday’s by-election. As goes for Pakistan Peoples Party’s beleaguered candidate Barrister Aamir Hasan, the prospects do not look bright. However, PPP is also contesting the elections to prove that they too are still relevant in the heart of Punjab.
If Aleem Khan turns out to be the victor when the dust has settled (or more appropriately, when the votes have been counted), then Imran gets the face saving he has yearned for, ever since his sit-in protests have ended without achieving their ultimatum- another general election. Imran Khan and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf did lose credibility when they returned back to the parliament, amid scathing criticism from mostly all members of the house (Khawaja Asif in particular). If Aleem Khan manages to turn the tide in his favour and bring home NA-122, it will earn PTI’s electoral fraud allegations some credence.
And speaking for the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, the exact opposite must happen in their case. PML-N must retain NA-122 in order to make it known to all that they do indeed enjoy the popular mandate and have formed their government fair and square. Also, the stakes are high for the ruling party, since Ayaz Sadiq’s de-seating from the parliament left the government red-faced; since Sadiq happened to be the Speaker of the National Assembly of Pakistan and when you nullify that, there remains not much to hold on to, does it?
For the Election Commission of Pakistan, as is also the case with PML-N and PTI, it all comes down to a matter of prestige and reputation. Imran has time and again called for the body to step down and hand in their resignations over failure to hold transparent elections in 2013. Perhaps the cricketer-turned-politician will mellow down if this by-election holds true to the principles of transparent elections.
So who will poll the most votes and take home the constituency?
In my opinion, Ayaz Sadiq will triumph over Aleem Khan in a close contest, which is likely to go down the wire. For one, NA-122 has been Ayaz Sadiq’s constituency right from the very start and it is no secret that he does enjoy popularity in the locality. Ayaz Sadiq has secured this seat and won it thrice, from 2002-2013, defeating Imran Khan two times out of his three wins. Last year’s victory over Khan though controversial, was significant in the sense that the PTI chairman was enjoying a popular wave of support from the masses. This time around, the candidate is not even Imran Khan, but his lieutenant Aleem Khan. Quite easy pickings for Sadiq, if you ask me.
Another aspect which might work against Aleem Khan is the fact that his tainted reputation still continues to haunt him. Aleem has been portrayed by N-league workers and party leaders as a land-grabber who’s minted a lot of wealth. The poor chap on the other hand could do little to damage Ayaz Sadiq’s credible image.
Lahore’s Metro Bus project and other development schemes are likely to be an influencing factor on the voters’ minds when they line up in cues to vote this Sunday. Hapless as its governance has been, PML-N has built an image of itself as a party which is closely attached to development projects and infrastructural progress. Promises of a Metro train and a flourishing Lahore are not ringing on deaf ears, mind you.
PTI’s recent dip in popularity has had an effect on their capabilities to win elections and amass voters as well. Remember the drubbing they were handed out by PML-N in Haripur’s NA-19 and the embarrassing defeat at the hands of MQM in NA-246? All as a result of Khan’s numerous U-turns and a lacklustre finish to the impassioned dharnas, if you ask me.
Let’s chalk it all up to a hotly contested competition tomorrow, in which Aleem Khan is likely to secure a sizable amount of votes against Ayaz Sadiq. However, the PML-N stalwart will most likely emerge as the victor, with a comfortable lead in the end. It seems like PTI will once again have to lick its wounds after another electoral defeat and content with their popular mandate in KP.