MULTAN – The region of South Punjab will play an important role in the upcoming electoral battle for what political quarters call ‘the Lahore throne'.

It’s not just the two mainstream parties – the PML-N and the PPP – that have been trying to get the support of the people of this region, but Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf has also focused on this area. The PML-Q, however, is losing ground gradually, since its members are switching loyalties one by one.

While the PPP launched a massive development package, 'tailored' by former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, for South Punjab, and President Asif Ali Zardari paid two visits to Multan to give a subliminal message that the ruling PPP did give tremendous importance to the area, the PML-N also did not lag behind.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif visited Multan and announced a multi-billion rupee package for the establishment of two universities, hospitals, parks and roads.

Fully cognisant that the people of South Punjab wanted the region be given the status of a province, the PPP raised the slogan of Seraiki province. To offset the impact of this initiative, the PML-N started supporting a campaign for the revival of Bahawalpur province.

Nevertheless, the PTI has been trying to outdo both the PPP and the PML-N, for which it is trying to bring into its folds as many heavyweights as possible. With the PML-N's Makhdoom Javed Hashmi and PPP's Makhdoom Shah Mehmud Qureshi already in the PTI, the position of Imran Khan’s party in the region has been strengthened.

Since most of the people in South Punjab are agriculturists, the PTI has been trying to capitalise on the resentment the farming community has had against the PPP-led central government. This resentment is because of the inflated electricity bills.

Recently, PTI chief Imran Khan paid a special visit to Multan to address activists of the Kissan Ittehad. He addressed the farmers and explained his party's policy to improve their lot.

The PML (Q), on the other hand, launched a massive media advertisements campaign, reminding the people of the public-welfare projects Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi had launched during his tenure as the Punjab chief minister. Interestingly, Pervaiz Elahi has distanced himself from general (retired) Musharraf in whose tenure these projects were launched.

The South Punjab region consists of Multan, Bahawalpur and Dera Ghazi Khan divisions. The Multan division includes Multan, Vehari, Khanewal and Lodhran districts. With seven National Assembly seats, the PPP is in the lead in Multan division, followed by the PML-N that has five seats and the PML-Q that has four. The prevailing political scenario indicates that the real match will be between the archrivals, the PML-N and PPP, in Multan division, although the PTI would also do its best to show its presence.

In Multan district, three National Assembly seats (NA-148, NA-151 and 152) are currently held by the PPP, while the PML-N has two (NA-149 and 150) and the PML-Q one (NA-153). Keeping in view the recent political activities in the region, political observers are of the opinion that the PML-N may grow stronger in the days ahead. The PML-N has also gained strength in NA-148, with roping in former PML-Q MPA Mazhar Abbas Raan.

Previously, Makhdoom Javed Hashmi and Shah Mahmood Qureshi used to contest elections against each other from the same constituency. At present, the seat is occupied by former prime minister's son Ali Musa Gilani.

Neither Shah Mahmood Qureshi nor Javed Hashmi are interested in contesting from this constituency that reflects a shift in their thinking. The former foreign minister was found campaigning in the constituency of NA-150, while Makhdoom Javed Hashmi expressed his interest in the NA-149 constituency.

Moreover, PML-Q senator and former MNA from NA-152, Javed Ali Shah, has now joined the PML-N. This seat is currently held by Nawab Liaqat Ali of the PPP, but Javed Ali Shah’s 'conversion' has brought the PML-N in a better position.

The sitting MNA from NA-153, Dewan Ashiq Bokhari of the PML-Q, is also likely to switch loyalty and join the PML-N before the upcoming polls. Similarly, another bigwig, Malik Sikandar Hayat Bosan, who is currently with the PTI, is also likely to join the PML-N in the near future. Informed sources claim that a 'deal' between the two sides has already been reached, but a formal announcement to this effect would be made at a later stage. Once this happens, the PML (N)'s position in NA-151 will also improve. It may be pointed out that this seat had been won by former premier Gilani, but fell vacant upon his disqualification by the Supreme Court on contempt charges. In the by-election, his son Abdul Qadir Gilani won back the said seat, however.

Lodhran is the only district in the entire Multan division, where PTI is visible on the political horizon and its candidates are being considered stronger than others. In case the PPP pits weaker candidates against them, the PTI could easily win.

Of the two National Assembly seats of Lodhran, one, NA-154, is currently held by Siddiq Khan Baloch of the PML-Q and the other, NA-155, by Akhtar Kanjoo of the PML-N. At least four political parties – the PTI, PML-N, PPP and PML-Q – will be in the run in the upcoming polls besides the Shaheed Kanjoo group.

Jahangir Tarin is being considered as PTI’s potential candidate for NA-154 and it is being heard that the incumbent MNA is reluctant to face him in the coming polls.

Similarly, former federal minister Mirza Nasir Baig will be a PPP candidate from the same constituency. Akhtar Kanjoo won this constituency with the help of former district nazim and Shaheed Kanjoo group’s leader Abdul Rehman Kanjoo, but there are chances that both will be face-to-face in the next polls.

The PTI is likely to field Nawab Amanullah Khan, while former MNA Nawab Hayatullah Khan Tarin, who got disqualified because of fake degree and then lost to Akhtar Kanjoo in by-election, will be the candidate of the PPP. If there is any area, where the PML-Q) till holds the ground, it is Khanewal.

Observers believe that the real contest in this district will be between the PML-Q and the PML-N. Out of four National Assembly seats, three were won by the PML-Q and one by the PPP. However, one of the MNAs, namely Muhammad Aslam Bodla, has become a turncoat and joined the PML-N.

Even in this district, the PML-N is growing stronger and will be in a much better position if a major switchover, which is talk of the town these days, takes place.

Former NA speaker Syed Fakhr Imam is said to be thinking of joining the PPP. However, sources close to him claim that he and his wife, Abida Hussain, plan to contest the next elections as independent candidates. To be able to trounce their challengers, the couple have requested the PML-N chief that he should not field candidates against them. So far, it is not clear whether the PML-N will accommodate the couple.

In the last elections, Q-League leader Raza Hayat Harraj defeated Syed Fakhar Imam of the PPP and Khawar Ali Shah of the PML-N on NA-156. Similarly, his cousin Hamid Yar Harraj also contested from the platform of the Q-League and defeated Muhammad Khan Daha of the PML-N and Faisal Imam of the PPP. The NA-158 was won by Aslam Bodla, while NA-159 by Iftikhar Nazir of the PPP, who defeated Murtaza Maitla of the Q-League. Maitla has now joined the PML-N.

The Vehari district is dominated by the PPP, as three out of four National Assembly seats are currently held by it. The only seat that went to the PML-N in 2008 elections was NA-169 that was won by Begum Tehmina Daultana. However, Daultana will have to face a tough contest this time as a very active candidate, former MPA of the Q-League Tahir Cahudhry, is planning to challenge her.

As things stand, the PTI might succeed only in NA-170, where Aurangzeb Khichi, son of late Dilawar Khichi, a five-time MNA from the same constituency, is likely to be fielded.

The constituency of NA-167 was won by Asghar Jutt of the PPP. He is the nephew of former MNA Chaudhry Nazeer Jutt, who got disqualified for holding a fake academic degree. Similarly, Natasha Daultana of the PPP defeated her opponents in NA-168. Both of them are considered strong candidates by the PPP. The constituency of NA-170 was won by Mahmood Hayat Khan Tochi of the PPP.

The PML-N is likely to field former Punjab Assembly speaker Saeed Ahmad Khan Manais against him. As he is new to this constituency, the PPP candidate is likely to be benefited by this factor.