Religious groups jump into electoral fray in a big way

ISLAMABAD: A lesser known religious party — Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) — that gained prominence after it staged a prolonged sit-in at the intersection between Rawalpindi and Islamabad crippling life in the twin cities last year on the issue of Khatm-i-Nubuwat declaration, has jumped into electoral politics in a big way, fielding more candidates than many of the parties active in the political arena for decades.
According to an incomplete ‘final list’ of the candidates announced by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) after an unexplained and unusual delay on Wednesday, the TLP has fielded more than 150 candidates for National Assembly seats across the country.
The details of the candidates from 23 constituencies in three Punjab districts — Lahore, Rajanpur and Rahim Yar Khan — are missing from the ECP data. The commission, which has uploaded the list of the candidates on its official website, claims that it has withheld the details of the candidates of the three districts due to “court cases”. Besides these three districts, the details of the candidates from a Rawalpindi constituency, NA-56, are also missing, for which the ECP has not mentioned any reason.
Thus, the ECP has announced the candidates contesting elections from 248 NA constituencies out of total 272 seats and it has provided the details of the candidates from 117 NA constituencies of Punjab out of 141 general seats from the province.
A careful analysis of the list shows that besides three major political parties — the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — the TLP headed by Maulana Khadim Hussain Rizvi is the only party which has fielded over 100 candidates in Punjab’s 117 constituencies. The number of its candidates is even more than those fielded by a bigger religio-political parties’ alliance — Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA). The total number of TLP candidates in these 117 constituencies stands at 103, which means that the party has fielded candidates on 87 per cent of the total constituencies in the province.
The ECP data shows that the PPP has fielded the largest number of 225 candidates (90pc) in 248 constituencies across the country. The PTI and the PML-N have fielded 218 (87pc) and 193 candidates (77pc), respectively, all over the country.
The MMA headed by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman has put up candidates in 173 constituencies, followed by 152 candidates by the TLP.
The candidates of the Milli Muslim League, which has been denied registration by the ECP due to its alleged links with banned outfit Jamaatud Dawa led by Hafiz Saeed, will be using the platform of the Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek (AAT) to contest the polls. The AAT has fielded 43 candidates in Punjab and seven in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), which makes the total number of its candidates 50.
Another little known religious party, Tehreek-i-Labbaik Islami, has also put up 18 candidates in Punjab.
Symbol of ‘jeep’
The data reveals that the symbol of ‘jeep’ allotted to estranged PML-N leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, this time contesting for two NA and two Punjab Assembly seats independently, is the most sought-after symbol of the independents across the country — particularly in Punjab.
In Punjab’s 120 constituencies alone, as many as 66 independent candidates will be contesting polls on the symbol of ‘jeep’. Overall, 119 candidates have been allotted the symbol throughout the country.
In KP, 23 independent candidates are contesting the polls on the ‘jeep’ symbol whereas there are 16 such candidates in Sindh and 14 in Balochistan.
The allotment of the ‘jeep’ symbol in such large numbers and to most of the PML-N dissidents has triggered a debate, particularly on social media, suggesting that those contesting on the symbol are backed by the establishment.
Chaudhry Nisar, however, has disassociated himself from the other independent candidates contesting on the ‘jeep’ symbol, and denied formation of any group within the PML-N.
He made this clarification during a news conference in Taxila in the wake of media reports that a number of PML-N leaders belonging to southern Punjab, who had returned their party tickets, will now be contesting the July 25 elections independently and on the symbol of ‘jeep’.
Maryam Nawaz in a message on her official account on Twitter has alleged that “the votes to be polled for jeep will go to khalayi makhlooq”, a reference to the “invisible forces” which, according to her father and ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, are behind the alleged victimisation of the PML-N and the Sharif family.
“As Mian sahab had said, it should be found out how people are being forcefully brought off from the lion symbol and being made to climb the jeep,” she tweeted from London, where she had gone with her father to look after her ailing mother Kulsoom Nawaz.
Chaudhry Nisar, on the other hand, clarified that he had not asked anyone to seek the symbol of ‘jeep’, trying to suggest that it was a mere coincidence.
The province-wise data of the candidates shows that the PTI has fielded 112 candidates in Punjab’s 120 constituencies, followed by the PML-N (111 candidates) and the PPP (108 candidates). The MMA’s candidates are contesting for 60 NA seats from Punjab.
In Sindh, the PPP has fielded 60 candidates, out of 61 constituencies. After the PPP, the MMA has fielded the largest number of 53 candidates in the province, followed by the PTI (45 candidates) and the PML-N (32 candidates).
Two breakaway factions of the former Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) are contesting the elections this time. The MQM-Pakistan led by Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui has fielded 30 candidates whereas the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) headed by former Karachi Nazim Mustafa Kamal is in the field with 21 candidates.
The Awami National Party has fielded 38 candidates in KP.
Meanwhile, the ECP has extended the date for applying for postal ballot for persons with disabilities from July 5 to 10.