RAWALPINDI - Mainly comprising the downtown areas of Rawalpindi with parts of Rawalpindi Cantonment in it, the constituency for lower house of the parliament,NA-55, with total registered voters of 3,24,000, is typically an urban constituency, with no major clan or Baradari having decisive impact on the elections results.

The people inhabiting this constituency could be divided into three broad categories. Firstly, those who are sons of the soil and living here for generations. Secondly, those who came and settled here after partition of the sub-continent and thirdly a large number of people who came here in connection with their jobs in federal capital, GHQ and other government departments and settled down later permanently. There is also a sizeable number of Kashmiris living in this constituency but no single clan or Baradari is in a position to swing the elections in favour of any single party or candidate.

All the wholesale markets of the city also fall in this constituency and according to an estimate some 200 big and small Bazaars are located in the area and have their influence in elections.

The old and new players are in race, with their advantages and disadvantages, but as the major political parties have decided their candidates for both national and provincial assembly seats a couple of days back, so the campaign, which has been lacklustre so far, would likely pick up the pace in coming days.

Though Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) has repeated its candidates from both NA—55 and PP—11, yet fielded one of the party veteran Sardar Naseem this time from PP-12 replacing Sheharyar Riaz who had won the seat on PML-N ticket in 2008 elections. From NA—55, Malik Shakeel Awan and from PP—11 Ziaullah Shah will again be representing N-League.

The chief of Awami Muslim League Sh Rashid Ahmad, who had won five elections in a row from this constituency on PML-N ticket, is contesting elections from this constituency with support of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf while on both provincial assembly seats falling under NA-55, he has taken the candidates of PTI. It was also due to his persuasion that Imran Khan decided to contest elections from the adjacent constituency, NA-56. Political observers see the impact of Imran Khan coming to Rawalpindi on the adjacent constituency and definitely Sh Rashid Ahmad would try his best to take advantage of Imran Khan’s popularity.

The PTI candidates contesting elections under Sh Rashid Ahmad included Raja Rashid Hafiz from PP-11 and Ejaz Khan Jhazi from PP-12 with both of them are in electoral politics for quite sometime, though from different platforms.

It is interesting to note that Sh Rashid Ahmad will contest elections on the symbol of inkpot issued to his party while both the candidates under him would contest on the election symbol of PTI.

Jamaat-i-Islami too has fielded its candidates for these seats with Mohammad Hanif Chaudhry contesting on both NA—55 and PP—12 while Syed Kalim Gilani will be contesting elections from PP—11.

Pakistan People’s Party has also come up with a blend of new and old faces with Ch Iftikhar Ahmad contesting on National Assembly seat while Khalid Nawaz Bobi and Babar Jadoon were given the party ticket from PP-11 and PP—12 respectively.

JUI-F, which contested 2002 elections from the platform of Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, has now fielded its candidate from the area. Although the party would not be in a position to be in contest from the area but it would definitely bag its hardcore votes and could leave some impact on the election results.

Ali Ahmad Kurd who hit the limelight during the judges restoration movement for his fiery speeches has also filed his nomination papers as an independent candidate. But after filing the papers he has visited the constituency and would unlikely influence the results of election.

Besides these parties, over a dozen independent candidates are also vying for these constituencies, and would hardly leave any impact on the overall results.

A glance at the previous performance of the political players from the area showed that NA-55 traditionally remained a stronghold of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), which had by and large won the seats from the area since 1985 non-party based elections.

Before 2002 delimitation, both NA-55 and NA-56 were part of NA-38 and since 1985 non-party elections Sh Rashid Ahmad won all the five elections from this constituency in a row on Pakistan Muslim League ticket. But finally lost the elections form both these constituencies to PML-N candidates in 2008 elections. He once again lost the elections in by-polls at the hands of Malik Shakeel Awan, one of his foot soldier of yesteryear when he was part and parcel of PML-N. The constituency remained in hands of Pakistan People’s Party in 70s and PPP candidates Khursheed Hassan Mir had won the 1970 elections from this area with thumping majority. Again in 1977 another PPP stalwart Ali Asghar Shah won elections from the area.

But in 1985 non-party based elections Ali Asghar Shah was ousted on technical grounds and his nomination papers were rejected and Sh Rashid Ahmad, who was his covering candidate got opportunity to contest elections and stunned the people by defeating Sh Ghulam Hussain, linchpin of then dictator Ziaul Haq.

Sh Rashid Ahmad fortified his position in coming elections and won all the five elections till 2002 in a row. Although he contested 2002 elections as an independent candidate, yet he used to say in his public gatherings that after winning both these seats he would place it in the feet of Mian Nawaz Sharif, whom he portrayed as his leader. But, after winning both these seats, he joined Musharraf-tailored Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid), people of Rawalpindi got annoyed with him and he suffered first blow when his nephew was defeated in by-polls from NA-56 by a newcomer Hanif Abbasi, when he vacated one of the two seats he had won.

His political decline continued in 2008 general elections, when he lost both the seats to Makhdoom Javed Hashmi and Mohammad Hanif Abbasi. Even his surety money was forfeited from the constituency he had won five times in a row.

He again contested by-polls from NA-55 when PML-N MNA Haji Pervaiz was ousted in a fake degree case and PML-N came up with a new face Malik Shakeel Awan who once again defeated him with a big margin.

Over the past five years Sh Rashid Ahmad has seen many ups and downs and even his re-entry into Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) was quite imminent but the party’s Rawalpindi chapter leadership stalled the move. He, instead of accepting his defeat, came up with a smart move by wooing Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf into seat adjustment and even managing Imran Khan’s entry into electoral race on one of the two National Assembly constituencies in Rawalpindi.

Political analysts were of the view that Imran Khan’s decision to contest from NA-56 would have its impact on the overall elections of both the National and provincial assembly seats of Rawalpindi. And being the tough and clever campaigner Sh Rashid Ahmad would definitely cash in on the presence of a crowd puller like Imran Khan in Rawalpindi to turn the tables.

Sh Rashid has been canvassing public in NA-55 for well over three months. This has given him an edge over his political opponents who have yet to launch their formal election campaigns.

Sh Rashid Ahmad listed the Lal Masjid tragedy as one of the major factor in his crushing defeat in 2008 general elections and since his defeat he had worked hard and managed to win back the Ulema’s support and to a great extent erased the stigma of Lal Masjid massacre on him. He, by joining the Defence of Pakistan Council, and playing an active role in it diluted the anger of religious elements aghainst him.

On the other hand, the PML-N leadership was confident that on the basis of their performance over the past five years in Punjab and the development work they had carried out in the city would greatly help them once again win the seats from the area.

PML-N leaders were of the view that in the absence of strong candidates of the Pakistan People’s Party it would be easy for them to win the elections. About Jamaat-i-Islami factor, PML-N leaders from the area were of the view that people would not vote for the JI candidates as there was a realisation among the voters that they could spoil the elections of someone and not in a position to win the seats.

As the PPP leaders were flying low and their key leaders from the area had declined to contest the elections so with the blend of new and old faces the PPP would be banking on the division of vote bank of right wing and as all the three parties PML-N, PTI and JI would be banking on vote of right, so in case of some tough contest among these parties it would be a bit easier for PPP to win the elections.

The main strategy of the PPP in the coming elections would be to keep their vote-bank in the area intact and get it polled in favour of their candidates.

The political analysts see the upcoming elections in Rawalpindi as the most unexpected one where all the candidates are having their own advantages and disadvantages and now it would be up to the voters how they see all this, especially when a sizeable number of voters will be casting their vote for the first time in their life on May 11.