Money to play decisive role in Okara election

  • Tough contest expected in NA-142 between PML-N’s wealthy Riazul Haq against PTI’s Rao Hassan

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI) candidate from NA-142 Okara, Rao Hassan Sikandar, could face a tough time in the upcoming election as the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) has awarded ticket to the richest family of Okara.

The PML-N candidate for the constituency, Riazul Haq alias ‘juj’, who was also elected from the same constituency in the 2015 by-election, has a good support in NA-142 constituency due to his family’s vast business as well as the PML-N vote bank.

PTI’s Rao Hassan Sikandar, son of former defence minister Rao Sikandar Iqbal (late), can manage to get votes from the educated but jobless youth and from his clan, the Rangarhs, who have around 28,000 votes in this constituency.

The total voters of NA-142 are 421,873 comprising 231,195 male and 190,678 female voters. For the two Punjab Assembly seats, PP-188 Okara-VI and PP-189 Okara-VII, for this constituency, both the parties have awarded tickets to affluent families, hence money would play an important role in the elections.

The major clans and casts in this constituency are Sheikhs, Kambohs, Arains, Chaudhary, Siyals, Rangarh and Mughals who are known for voting for members of their respective families.

The main issues of the constituency are traffic mess, massive encroachments, poor and inadequate health and educational facilities, out-dated and broken sewerage and drainage systems and unemployment.

The outgoing PML-N government brought some improvement in DHQ hospitals but these steps could not meet the rising need of the mushroom and unplanned growth in population due to urbanisation as according to census 2017, the district Okara’s population stands at over 3 million.

Former defence minister Rao Sikandar Iqbal had approved the University of Education, now the University of Okara, but the outgoing MNA has not done anything for the improvement of the education system. As a result, people prefer to send their children to other universities due to lack of quality of education in the district.

In addition to that, the roads and streets always get flooded with water even due to light rains because of the poor and broken sewerage and drainage systems.

The previous government paid little heed to the employment issue, causing the educated youth to go to other cities in search of a job. Therefore, the youth are considering voting for PTI.

The PML-N candidate’s family has established businesses of paper, Nemat feeds, Gold Label tea, Nemat rice and Nemat Banaspati ghee in the city, but did nothing for the creation of jobs for degree holders.

Most of the people in the city belong to Barelvi sect, hence it could affect Riazul Haq’s vote bank as his family is Salfi due to which Barelvis can vote against him because of Khatme Nabuwat issue.

However, people of the area were of the opinion that the money would play a decisive role in the election as the PML-N ticket holder had disbursed millions of rupees in the by-elections and secured the seat as an independent candidate after defeating both PML-N and PTI candidates.

Riaz secured 85,714 votes while the PML-N candidate achieved 45,199 votes and PTI’s Ashraf Sohna remained on the third spot by getting only 6,356 votes.

Historically, the clan factor remains important in the whole district. Ousted premier Nawaz Sharif always awarded tickets to a candidate belonging to Arain, Rai, Watoo and Gilani families and on the other hand, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) awarded tickets to Rangarh, Kharal and Watoo clans.

In 2013, the PML-N gave the ticket to Arif Chaudary, who managed to defeat Rao Sikandar Iqbal’s wife, Shafeeqa Baghum, by a wide margin. In 2015, he was denotified as MNA after because of possessing a fake degree.

A voter of NA-142, Muhammad Saleem, told Pakistan Today that Riaz can again retain the seat through the power of money. Rao Hasan, on the other hand, wants to secure votes on his late father’s development performance, which is a wrong approach, he said.

“The PTI candidate should focus on door to door campaign and highlight the issues of the constituency”, he added.

Another voter of the constituency Muhammad Ahmed said that the outgoing government did nothing to solve the real issues facing the people, hence the PML-N candidate can face a tough time in the poll.