LAHORE - Round the clock traffic mess, massive encroachments, poor health and educational facilities, and cattle sheds and barns in urban union councils are the salient features of NA-123 (old NA 118) – the first national assembly constituency of the provincial metropolis.

Like other parts of Lahore, this area is also considered a stronghold of PML-N but a tough contest is expected here between Sharifs and Imran Khan’s nominees in the upcoming general elections.

Likewise, the two provincial assembly seats – PP-144 (old PP-137) and PP-145 (PP-138) – falling under NA-123 will also witness an interesting match among the candidates of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) seems nowhere in the contest in this constituency and so do the other religious and political parties.

There are 792,786 registered voters in NA-123 that has 20 union councils.

Shahdara, Saggian, Ravi Road, Sabzi Mandi, Begum Kot, Qila Muhammadi, Jia Musa, Lajpat Road, Wandala Road, Yousuf Park, Saeed Park and Kot Shahabud Din, Qaiser Town, Saeed Park, Matchus Factory are the important areas of the constituency.

Major clans of the constituency are Arain, Gujjar, Kakkay Zai, Rajputs, Jat and Kashmiris; whereas, settlers hailing from the Pakhtun community are also in good number.

In General Election 2013, PML-N won the NA and PA seats with big margin.

MNA Riaz Mailk was winning candidate and he beat Hamid Zaman of PTI and Faraz Hashmi of PPP with margin of more than 50 percent and 80 percent votes respectively.

Malk secured 104,000 votes against Hamid’s 43,000 and Hashmi’s 14,000.

Malk Riaz had also won the 2008 election when he secured 55,900 votes against PPP’s Syed Aasif Hashmi, who got 31,200 votes.

In the 2002 election, the then PML President Mian Azhar contested the election from the area and to the surprise of many, Azhar, who until the election day was being considered the next PM of the country, witnessed a defeat at the hands of PML-N and Jamaat-i-Islami-backed candidate, Hafiz Salman Butt.

During the 2002 election, the PPP stood at number three with Chaudhry Abdul Qadir in the run.

In 1997, the PPP didn’t put any candidate and supported Mian Mehmood Ahmed of the PML-J who lost to the PML-N’s Mian Azhar.

In 1993, Nawaz Sharif chose NA-92, which consisted of many areas of present NA-123 (NA-118), to contest election and he won with an even bigger margin against the PPP’s Haji Azizur Rehman Chan.

In 1990, the PPP, once again, pitched Sheikh Rafique Ahmed who had lost with a big margin to the IJI’s Humayon Akhtar.

In the 1988 election, the PPP managed to win NA and both the provincial seats, PP-116 and PP-117.

Insiders say a tussle has started among PML-N leaders Malik Riaz and Khawaja Imran Nazir – the former provincial health minister – to get the NA ticket.

Since Malik belongs to Nawaz camp and Imran is favourite of Shehbaz, both are hopeful of securing the party ticket. If Malk succeeds in getting the ticket then Imran will be provincial assembly candidate.

PML-N parliamentary board is likely to announce ticket on July 10 or a day later. Imran Goraya, Samiullah Khan and Ghazali Butt are among aspirants from other PA seat under NA-123.

Although PTI issued ticket to Mehr Wajid Azam for NA-123, some local leaders still claim the decision will be reversed as Wajid is being opposed for being an ‘outsider’, and keeping him in the race could cost the party dearly.

PTI had lost this seat in 2013 because Mian Hamid Zaman too was an outsider. He neither had connections at the street level nor any knowledge of the dynamics of the local politics.

PTI fielded Ch Khalid Advocate on PP-144. He is considered close to Senator Ch Muhammad Sarwar, who was earlier a strong consideration of PTI for MNA candidate from NA-123. The party has yet to announce decision about PP-145.

A PTI leader says Ch Sarwar has sought Imran Khan’s permission for choosing candidates of his own choice from the constituency, providing guarantee of winning the polls.

The PML-N has completed some important development projects in the constituency during last ten years of its rule and major work included rehabilitation of two-way Baradari Road, a 300-bed Hospital at Matchus Factory and Government Girls College Shahdara besides setting up water filtration plants and improvements of sanitary and infrastructure. But, a major project “Shahdara Flyover and Underpass” could not be started despite claim by former Punjab CM Shehbaz Sharif.

Starting from current location of Ravi River Toll Plaza and ending at Rachna Town near Kala Shah Kaku, after the Imamia Colony Railway Crossing, the 5.8km G.T. Road Express-way is considered a solution to the area’s round the clock traffic mess. The estimated cost of the project is Rs 7.5 billion but it could not be even initiated in PML-N tenure and lies in the centre of criticism against the former ruling party.

Locals say the PML-N government could not establish good educational institution and hospital to facilitate the people. Similarly, the presence of cattle sheds in residential areas and their movement to and from Ravi River during morning and evening creates traffic mess in the areas. Unavailability of clean water and poor sewerage system in different localities are also among the main problems of the constituency. Encroachment in Shahdara, from Shahdara Chowk to Imamia Colony Phatak and from Shahdara Chowk to Begum Kot was also a major problem could not be resolved for years.

But, despite presence of multiple issues, a good number of people when contacted expressed confidence on PML-N and said they would again vote for the party.

Ali Akbar, a resident of Shahdara, said he and his family members will vote for PML-N no matter who will contest on the party ticket.

“Malik Riaz did a lot of development work in our area. We are confident he will do hat-trick in election and beat his rival,” said Akbar, a 40 year plus shopkeeper.

Shabir Ahmed lives in Saggain and is quite confident about PML-N victory from the constituency. He however said Imran Nazir will be a better choice for MNA over Malik Riaz. A student Danyal Ali lives in Shabir’s neighbour said PML-N would win the election but this time its candidate will face a tough contest. He said his family members were divided and vote for both PML-N and PTI.

People’s opinion was divided when The Nation surveyed Begum Kot to get their views on who were they going to vote for on July 25.

PML-N supporters were hopeful that their candidates will win while PTI workers were sure about the victory of Khan’s nominees.

Many of the PTI supporters, however, said that Imran Khan should give a ticket to local candidate as common man prefers to vote for local leader because of easy access to him. But, majority of young people were staunch supporter of PTI and said that they will vote and support candidate with ‘Bat’ election symbol no matter what was his name and identity.

Sohail Ahmed, a resident of Begum Kot and small businessman said only Imran Khan’s candidate deserved his vote. He said his family and friends would support PTI candidate. He was sure that over 80/ 90 percent of youth’s vote would go for the PTI.

This scribe asked a good number of people in the area who they will vote for but interestingly could not find a single man in favour of PPP.

A 50 year old vegetable vendor Arshad Hussain standing at Shahdara Mor said he was a fan of Zulfikar Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto but would not waste his vote on PPP candidate this time. He said he will vote for PTI candidate on July 25.

His fellow vendor was the supporter of Jamaat-i-Islami and said he will vote for MMA candidate in the election.  

A government official working in education department who lives in Shahdara said while requesting anonymity that the PTI could give a surprise in this constituency as youth of this area seemed very charged in favour of Imran Khan.

PTI’s veteran leader of the area, Yasir Gillani said it was true that PTI couldn’t perform well in 2013 but this time it will give a surprise.

“Our candidate was an outsider last year and was unaware of the mindset of the constituency,” claimed Yasir, an aspirant of PTI’s ticket for MNA. He said PTI local cadre made a comprehensive strategy for the election campaign and every single voter will be contacted during the campaign.

However, PML-N local leadership was still confident to clinch this constituency again. Ghazali Butt, a former MPA from the constituency, claimed the PML-N candidates on NA and PA seats will secure victory with even a big margin in 2018 polls as compared to 2013’s election. He said he worked day and night for the welfare of the people and remained in their touch during last five years.

Although PML-N secured the constituency with easy margin in 2013, it is difficult to predict who will emerge winner on July 25 as voters of the area seem equally divided in favour of Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan.