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Elections 2024: PMLN ‘Sacrifices’ Loyalists for Allies, Turncoats in Punjab

Tickets allocated for upcoming elections feature several uncontested constituencies and candidates who are recent entrants to the party

by Sumeera Riaz

Photo courtesy PMLN

Ticket allocations for the upcoming general elections highlight the compromises made by the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) in its Punjab stronghold, sidelining several party loyalists in favor of seat adjustments with allies and turncoats who only joined the party after the 2022 vote of no-confidence that saw the ouster of PTI founder Imran Khan.

Over the past two months, a PMLN committee—under the leadership of Nawaz Sharif—has made much hay of interviewing potential candidates for all constituencies, repeatedly assuring workers and the general public that only the best aspirants would be picked to represent it in the Feb. 8 elections. Contrary to the bonhomie suggested by party leaders, however, the process has been marred by reports of internal rifts and complaints of undue favor to allies such as the PML (Quaid) and the Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party (IPP), which have been granted clear sailing in several constituencies considered to possess strong voter support for the PMLN.

Overall, per the allocated tickets, the PMLN is not fielding candidates on 11 Punjab Assembly and 7 National Assembly seats to support the IPP. It has similarly sat out two seats each in the provincial and national assemblies for the PMLQ, which has expressed its dissatisfaction by withdrawing from the seat adjustment agreement, accusing the PMLN of “double standards.”

Additionally, the PMLN has sidelined party loyalists to accommodate 11 former PTI members in “thanks” for their support to the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) during the vote of no-confidence. Among these are Raja Riaz Ahmad and Nawab Sher Wasir from Faisalabad; Riaz Mazari of Rajanpur; Syed Mubeen from Rahim Yar Khan; Basit Bukhari and Amir Gopang from Muzaffargarh; Sami Gilani of Bahawalpur; and Farrukh Altaf from Jhelum.

Additionally, Abdul Ghaffar Watto from Bahawalnagar, and Ahmed Hassan Dehar and Qasim Noon of Multan have been granted tickets, while Wajiha Qamar has been granted a reserved seat for women in the National Assembly.

Seat adjustments

To accommodate the IPP, the PMLN is not fielding any candidate on NA-54 (Rawalpindi-III) to leave a clear field for Ghulam Sarwar Khan. Local PMLN leaders in the constituency have voiced opposition to the move, hinting at contesting the polls as independent candidates to protest their party leadership’s decision. The party had initially also left NA-47 (Islamabad-II) vacant to support Aamir Kayani of the IPP, but after Kayani withdrew his nomination papers, it allocated a ticket to former minister Tariq Fazal Chaudhry.

As part of its currently imperiled seat adjustment with the PMLQ, the PMLN dropped former minister for state Chaudhry Jaafar Iqbal Fatta Bhand, NA-65 (Gujrat-IV), and former mayor of Gujrat Municipal Corporation Haji Nasir Mehmood, PP-31 (Gujrat-V), from its tickets in the Chaudhry stronghold.

The PMLN’s seat adjustments with the IPP also claimed several victims in Lahore, traditionally considered a party stronghold. Malik Riaz, a four-time winner on the PMLN’s ticket from NA-117 (Lahore-I), was sidelined to leave the field vacant for IPP President Aleem Khan; while NA-128 (Lahore-XII) has been left open for Aun Chaudhry—though the PMLN has consecutively lost this seat in the two previous elections. The field has also been left empty in PP-149 (Lahore-V) to accommodate the IPP.

Referring to the Lahore constituencies, PMLN senior leader Rana Mashhood Khan told Standard the party had decided against granting tickets to any candidate that had failed to perform, regardless of their past electoral victories or losses.

Sidelined candidates

In NA-96 (Faisalabad-II), the PMLN sidelined stalwart Talal Chaudhry to accommodate PTI defector Nawab Sher Wasir. Speaking with the Standard, Chaudhry admitted he was disappointed but downplayed the decision as a “natural” occurrence ahead of every general election. Noting the party leadership was forced to take tough decisions by accommodating candidates that had helped the PMLN “get rid of hybrid system which was meant to prolong till 2030,” he said he held no expectations for future accommodation within the party.

However, he confirmed, the party had promised him a Senate nomination and two Punjab Assembly seats—PP-100 and PP-101—for his nominated candidates in exchange for his cooperation.

From NA-104 (Faisalabad-X), the PMLN awarded a ticket to Raja Riaz, who defected from the PTI, sacrificing its traditional candidate, Rana Ishaan Khan, who is reportedly displeased but has vowed to adhere to party policy.

Meanwhile, disgruntled former PMLN MNA Ayesha Rajab Ali has announced she would contest as an independent candidate from her late husband’s constituency, NA-97 (Faisalabad-III), where the PMLN has granted a ticket to her brother-in-law Ali Gohar Khan. Ali claims the PMLN assured her the ticket but denied the Rajab family its political right and has lamented the party’s “ingratitude” for those who stood by it during hard times.

The ticket allocations have also seen some aspirants defecting from the PMLN, with Chaudhry Muhammed Riaz of Gojar Khan forming a five-member independent bloc over anger at his son being denied a ticket. Similarly, in Multan, Mehmoodul Hassan has defected to the PPP over the denial of a ticket.

Battle in Narowal

A long-simmering conflict between former minister Daniyal Aziz (NA-75, Narowal-I) and PMLN Secretary General Ahsan Iqbal has also come to the fore in this election cycle, resulting in Aziz announcing he would contest the polls as an independent candidate.

Ahead of the ticket allocation process, Aziz accused Iqbal—as planning minister—of failing to curb inflation, thereby damaging the PMLN’s reputation. The party subsequently issued a show-cause to Aziz and attempted to broker peace but to no avail. Aziz’s wife, Mehnaz Aziz, has similarly announced an independent candidacy from NA-77 (Gujranwala-I).

Speaking with the Standard, Aziz alleged Iqbal wished to adjust his son on the PP-54 (Narowal-I) constituency. “On seeing the public distrust on the new candidature, Ahsan Iqbal planned to file his own nomination papers for the provincial seat and then vacate it after general elections for his son,” he claimed, adding Iqbal threatened to resign from the party if he was denied his demand.

Iqbal, however, has denied this. “I was absolutely not behind anything he has claimed,” he told Standard. “He was denied ticket because he was trying to secure a provincial ticket for a candidate who ditched the PMLN twice,” he claimed, adding his son was the chairman of a district council and the local chairman and PMLN leadership wanted him to contest general elections, which was his right.

“Daniyal Aziz launched a political campaign to malign me by holding me responsible for inflation, despite the fact I was the planning minister and inflation was directly related to the Finance Ministry,” he continued, adding PMLN President Shehbaz Sharif had sought to broker peace during a three-hour-long meeting. “But he [Aziz] continued spitting venom against me on national TV channels and social media, which upset the party leadership,” he said.

Necessary sacrifices

Justifying the party’s decision to sacrifice loyalists for defectors or seat adjustments, Iqbal said it was a necessary cost for aiming to achieve a broad-based coalition after the Feb. 8 polls. “You have to sacrifice few constituencies to maximize the chances to victory,” he maintained.

For candidates like Talal Chaudhry, who have supported the ticket allocations, Iqbal said the party would try to adjust them in the Senate. He also stressed that all applicants were under oath to respect the party decision on the allotment of tickets. “If the PMLN leaders contest as independent candidates, they would violate their undertaking and it would be considered a breach of party discipline,” he added.

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