March Issue 2008
Crash of the Titans
It has been said that the only thing that is permanent is change, and the February 18 general elections were a clear reminder of that truism. The day witnessed the collapse of a large number of political heavyweights in the country, especially in the Punjab. The majority, part of the ruling PML-Q, miserably failed to secure victory even in their ancestral constituencies — some against not-so-powerful opponents.
The losers included some of the bigwigs of the country such as former prime minister, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the erstwhile Speaker of the National Assembly Chaudhry Amir Hussain, and former ministers Shaikh Rashid Ahmed, Rao Sikandar Iqbal, Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri, Umer Ayub Khan and Humayun Akhtar Khan. Overall, this election purged 23 ministers of the previous government.
In one of the major upsets, a strong contender for premiership, Punjab’s former chief minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, lost one of the two constituencies from which he contested. Maulana Fazl-ur-Rahman of the JUI-F tasted defeat when he lost his ancestral seat of Dera Ismail Khan. This came as a shock, as the constituency has been a stronghold of the Maulana since the 1970s when his father, Mufti Mahmud, defeated Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Another defeat that came as a surprise was the fall of PPP’s secretary general, Jahangir Badar in Lahore. However, on the whole, his party surfaced as the winner.
A staggering defeat faced by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, in his hometown of Gujrat proved to be a shocker. In what is termed as the ‘Clash of the Chaudhries,’ Shujaat lost to his arch-rival, PPP’s Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, a former minister and owner of Service Industries. Both Chaudhries have been contesting against each other from the same constituency since 1990, with Shujaat winning almost each time, except for 1993 when Mukhtar defeated him. This time Shujaat bagged 63,797 votes against Mukhtar’s 77, 072.
Shujaat followed in the footsteps of former PML-Q president, Mian Muhammad Azhar, who lost his seat in the National Assembly in the 2002 elections. But in a post-election statement, Shujaat conceded defeat and described himself as being ‘relieved.’
Former railways minister and political astrologer Shaikh Rashid Ahmed, who won from Rawalpindi for five consecutive terms, could not continue his winning streak. Rawalpindi has been considered as the stronghold of the PML-N since 1985, while Rashid was their favourite candidate. However, in the 2002 elections, Rashid left the PML-N, campaigned as an independent candidate, winning two seats. Later he joined hands with the PML-Q and became the information minister.
On February 18, he faced a humiliating defeat on both, NA-55 and NA-56 of Rawalpindi. He was a distant third and received only 10,000 votes against the PML-N winner Hanif Abbasi, who obtained a whopping 73, 433 votes. While in NA-55, Rashid garnered 30,000 against PML-N Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, a man revered by his party men for doing jail time. Rashid has accepted defeat but has already predicted fresh elections sometime in the near future. He considers Lal Masjid and the wheat crisis as some of the major reasons for his defeat. He also anticipates a “game of cat and mouse within three months.”
Like Rashid, another former close ally-turned-defector of Nawaz Sharif, was the victim of the anti-Musharraf storm that hit the Punjab, during the recent elections. Hamid Nasir Chattha, competing from his hometown of Gujranwala, lost by a huge margin to his opponent, Justice (retd.) Iftikhar Ahmed Cheema of the PML-N. Chattha left Sharif in the early ’90s and won the last elections from the platform of the PML-J and later joined hands with the PML-Q. On February 18, this PML-Q candidate collected only 48,792 against Cheema’s 71,715.
In Okara, the person who once expressed “his ardent desire” to “see President Musharraf as life-time president” of the country was defeated by the PPP supported independent candidate, Sajjad-ul-Hasan. Musharraf’s personal friend and ex-defence minister, Rao Sikandar Iqbal could garner only 33,533 votes against Hasan who obtained 77,808 votes. During the 2002 elections when Iqbal contested as a PPP candidate he won the same seat by a huge margin.
The central district of Jhang, home to many famous sufi saints, witnessed the battle of two rivals once again. The sajjada nasheen of Shah Jewana shrine, Faisal Saleh Hayat, who has a huge following in the area, has been pitched against his cousin Syeda Abida Hussain since the early ’90s in the same constituency. This time Hussain, contesting on a PPP ticket, again lost to Hayat, a PML-Q candidate by a huge margin of 16,000 votes.
Interestingly, during the last elections, Hayat won the same seat on a PPP ticket defeating Hussain, a PML-Q candidate. Hayat later defected from the PPP to form the breakaway Patriots faction, joining hands with the government. He served as the interior minister and later as the minister for Kashmir and Northern Affairs.
Humayun Akhtar Khan, a multimillionaire, was another addition to the list of losers. Son of former ISI chief, General Akhtar Abdur Rahman, Khan once claimed that he could win from any constituency in the country. But all his claims proved wrong when he obtained a meagre 7,427 votes and stood third from a Lahore constituency. PML-N candidate Sheikh Rohail Asghar emerged as the winner, with 62, 345 votes. Originally, NA-124 was the seat of PPP’s Aitzaz Ahsan, who won in 2002, but boycotted the recent elections. Prior to the elections, Nawaz Sharif announced the withdrawal the PML-N candidate contesting against Ahsan, to show solidarity with the lawyers’ movement.
Known as the ‘hafiz’ of the constitution, Dr Sher Afgan Niazi, who appeared on numerous talk shows on private channels, also lost to an independent candidate, Humair Hayat Rokhari, by a narrow margin of only 4,000 votes. Rokhari is not new to the political scene, as other family members have been members of the lower and upper house of the Parliament in the past. Niazi, who switched loyalties to the PML-Q, after winning the 2002 elections on a PPP ticket, was later made the minister of parliamentary affairs. Contesting from his hometown of Mianwali, Niazi also had the support of the local government given that his son is the local Nazim. Cricketer-turned-politician, Imran Khan had also intended to contest from the same seat, but he later announced his boycott of the elections. In post-election developments, Rokhari has now joined the Pakistan Peoples Party.
But Niazi has not accepted defeat. The former minister has lodged a complaint with the Election Commission, requesting for re-election in his constituency. His claim is based on the grounds that his opponent rigged the elections.
NA-140 of Kasur, also called FM-140 by many, was the centre of attraction due to the clash of two former foreign ministers from the constituency. Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri, winner of the 2002 elections from this constituency lost to veteran politician, Sardar Asif Ahmed Ali of PPP. This is going to be Sardar Asif’s fourth term in the National Assembly. He received 41,549 against Kasuri who obtained 32,083 votes.
Another minister that fell prey to the anti-Musharraf drive was Ejaz-ul-Haq, who lost his seat of NA-191 of Bahawalnagar. A huge migrant population of the Arain biradari in the area have always ensured his victories. Haq, a former head of PML-Zia, merged his party with the PML-Q after winning the last elections. He served as the minister of religious affairs in the previous government. However, his image took a beating after the Lal Masjid operation and his massive 79, 240 votes couldn’t match the winning total of 83,935 of his opponent, Muhammad Fazal Sandhu of the PPP. Recent reports show that Ejaz-ul-Haq is reviewing his affiliation with the PML-Q and might revive his ‘Zia-ul-Haq’ faction of the PML.
NA-116 in Narowal witnessed the fall of another stalwart, Chairman of the National Reconstruction Bureau, Danyal Anwar Aziz, who lost to an independent candidate Muhammad Tariq Anees. This was considered Aziz’s family seat, as his father Chaudhry Anwar Aziz had won from this seat during the 1985 and 1988 elections. In the last elections Aziz, a contender of the PML-Q, had defeated Anees. However, this time his 35,000 votes fell short of Anees’s winning total of 42,000.
Surprisingly, Aziz has held his party’s ‘Gujrat mafia’ responsible for his defeat. He claims that as he never ‘lauded the Chaudhrys of Gujrat,’ they supported his opponent and massively rigged it. Aziz has also requested the Election Commission for re-polling in his constituency.
Among other big losers was the former minister of state for overseas Pakistanis Division, Muhammad Raza Hayat Hiraj, who contested from the upper house for the first time in 2002 on a PPP ticket, defeating his family-rival, Syed Fakhar Imam of the PML-Q. NA-156 of Khanewal has been a witness to the confrontation between the Syeds and the Hirajs since the 1985 elections. A barrister by profession, Hiraj, along with Faisal Saleh Hayat and others, later formed a separate faction called the PPP-Patriots. Subsequently, the group joined the PML-Q, under the leadership of Rao Sikander Iqbal.
In the recent elections, both Hiraj and Imam switched sides. However, the change of parties didn’t affect the results of this constituency. Hiraj, once again, defeated Fakhar Imam. The anti-Shia vote plays a crucial role in the area, which usually goes to the Hiraj family. The winner garnered a massive 71,225 votes against the runner-up’s, 58,452 votes.
Last but not the least, who can forget the former law minister Wasi Zafar? This Faisalabad MNA of the PML-Q won his first elections in 2002, defeating the PML-N candidate. In the post March scenario, Zafar gained notoriety for mishandling the chief justice’s issue, and using abusive language during a live television broadcast. This led to a change in his portfolio as he was later made minister of privatisation. Months before this defeat, Zafar got a real shock when he failed to obtain a National Assembly ticket from the higher-ups of the PML-Q. He took part as an independent candidate and finished a distant third, receiving a paltry 16,121 votes against the PPP winner Malik Nawab Sher Waseer, who got 42,281 votes.
The 2008 elections have indeed, changed the political scenario — not only within the PML-Q but throughout the country — as new alignments are now taking place. It is, perhaps, time for the PML-Q to institute an internal assessment to take stock of the situation in the aftermath of the recent elections. The party needs to examine the standing of the various claimants within the party and their public image and acceptability among the masses.