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MULTAN, July 8: Electioneering for the vacant slot of Multan Zila Nazim entered its final phase with only five days to go for the polling on July 14.

The top district office has been lying vacant since the resignation of PPP stalwart Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi in August, 2002, who opted to play a role on the bigger stage of national politics.

Apart from his own clout in the area for being heir to the great seats of spirituality, Hazrat Bahauddin Zakariya and Hazrat Shah Rukanuddin Alam, Shah Mehmood’s successful venture to become the first ZN of the district was because of the support of the Awam Dost group of now incarcerated former Multan mayor Salahuddin Dogar and his close aide, former MNA Pir Riaz Hussain Qureshi. The latter is also a close relative of Shah Mehmood.

Besides, the then incarcerated PPP bigwig Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani had also put his weight behind Shah Mehmood despite the traditional political rivalry of Gilani and Qureshi families in the local politics.

As a matter of fact, the PPP enjoyed a decisive influence in the election of ZN, under a relatively neutral regime of absolute military rule at the time of local bodies polls, as the Qureshis, the Gilanis and the Dogars were in its ranks.

The situation for the July 14 election is, however, entirely different. The PML-Q is at the helm of affairs both at the centre and the province, courtesy the official patronage and defection by some of the PPP legislators to join the government under cover of P-5 amid speculations that Ms Bhutto had struck some sort of a deal with military.

Such conspiracy theories gain weight when one looks at the scene of forthcoming elections for the top slot of Multan district. Initially, there were six contestants in the arena. They were Pir Riaz Qureshi, Sheikh Tahir Rasheed, Mufti Hidayatullah Pasruri, Engineer Ashfaq Ahmed, Lateef Ansar Lajpal and Zaineb Khatoon. Zaineb has now withdrawn her candidature in favour of Pir Riaz.

Though, the LB polls are held on non-party basis under the devolution plan, Pir Riaz has recently deserted PPP to take oath of allegiance before Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi to join the PML-Q. His son, MPA Moeen Riaz Qureshi, however, is still in the PPP.

A PPP meeting was held with its central vice-chairman Yousaf Raza Gilani in chair at his residence to decide party line for the Multan DN election. District Naib Nazim Amer Dogar, the son of Salahuddin Dogar, was also present in the meeting. After several hours of heated debate, the meeting decided that the party would remain neutral.

Reportedly, the meeting also appreciated Amer Dogar for his ‘impeccable’ affiliation with the party. It may be added here that when Shah Mehmood had refused as district nazim to deliver welcome address to general Musharraf when he had come to Multan to address a referendum rally, Amer Dogar had done the job as the acting ZN.

Now, he is actively supporting Pir Riaz by addressing councilors’ gatherings in various parts of the district. Besides Dogar, Pir’s son MPA Moeen and Yousaf Raza Gillani’s close aide PPP MPA Dr Javed Saddiqui are also doing electioneering for Riaz.

Bound by the orders of the chief minister, the local PML-Q stalwarts and legislators are also leaving no stone unturned to ensure the victory of Pir Riaz. The scene becomes interesting and sometimes rather funny when legislators and activists of both PPP and PML-Q are snapped together working for one candidate.

Among the other candidates, Tahir Rasheed belongs to PML-N, Mufti Pasruri to MMA, Lateef Lajpal to Tehreek-i-Insaaf and Engineer Ashfaq has no peculiar party affiliation. Tahir Rasheed is facing opposition even from within the party ranks. For instance, former MNA and PML-N stalwart Javed Ali Shah has announced support for Pir Riaz instead of his party comrade.

Though, MMA bigwigs like Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Allama Shah Ahmed Noorani and Liaquat Baloch have come to Multan to seek votes for Mufti Pasruri, Multan is not the part of the Frontier province.

Therefore, under the circumstances the only thing to wait about the result of the July 14 election is whether Pir Riaz breaks the record of his predecessor who had bagged the maximum number of votes viz-a-viz ratio of the total registered electoral college members throughout the country.