Islamabad is a fine microcosm of Pakistan in more ways than one given its composition of ethnic backgrounds with citizens from all over the country eking out a living here and making the seat of the federation their temporary or permanent abode.
Like elsewhere in the country, the preceding buzz to the 2013 general elections in both its constituencies — NA-48 and NA-49 — was evident witin the city and suburbs. The electric atmosphere on the night of the last campaign day gave a lie to the pervasive view about a city whose denizens have a stiff upper lip and generally, a low decibel mien.
The general perception was that Islamabad was within the sights of PML-N not only because it was the major draw of Circa 2013, but also that it had in Anjum Aqueel (NA-48 winner in 2008) and Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry (NA-49 winner in 2008) candidates with a strong support network.
Since Chaudhry was fancied to pip PPP’s Mustafa Nawaz Khakhar, the battle royale was for NA-48, where Jamaat-e-Islami’s Mian Aslam (winner in 2002) was making a re-entry (the JI had boycotted the polls in 2008).
Again, like the rest of the urban heartland, the entertainment chartbuster was the PTI. Islamabad was deemed a decent barometer of its prowess since it had no previous vote bank to rely on in the capital.
While the pundits were surprised at how an unheralded Chaudhry Ilyas Meherban of PTI pushed PPP’s Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar into third place in NA-49 where PML-N’s Dr Tariq Fazal retained his seat, what was impressive was his tally of 57,000 plus votes.
But to return to NA-48, not only was Anjum Aqueel favoured to win, Mian Aslam was tipped to give him a close call, especially after it became known that PTI veteran and outsider Javed Hashmi was certain to vacate his seat if he won from his home turf in Multan. In fact, the primary reason for his decision to contest from here was to take on General (r) Pervez Musharraf before the latter was barred from contesting.
To make matters worse, the PTI was the last party to arrive on the campaign trail, by which time Aqueel and Aslam were well entrenched. PTI’s half-hearted campaign however, did not appear to have a bearing on the residents who seemed inspired by Imran Khan’s mantra for change.
The tide seemed to have turned after Khan fell from a fork-lifter 15ft high in Lahore and was unable to greet the finale at D-Chowk in person. It is difficult to say with any assurance if sympathy was a factor in Hashmi’s stunning victory — no thanks to a dismal campaign and all thanks to Islamabad rising — since it seems not to have contributed meaningfully, if at all, to PTI’s national tally.
However, the bye-poll in NA-48 with Hashmi’s vacation will now determine if Islamabad will rebel against one of the outstanding corollaries of Pakistani politics: the electorate gravitating to the centre of power.
The PML-N is now in power with full administrative control of the capital. Asad Umar is a suave newcomer tasked with defending PTI’s new fort against a rival whose party is unmatched for its patronage.
Will the electorate go with the flow or rebel Hashmi-like? A mouthwatering spectacle is in the offing.
– Kamran Rehmat