MULTAN: Electioneering for by-election to NA-154, being held on Feb 12, has been a lackluster affair so far.

PPP candidate Mirza Muhammad Ali Baig, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Ali Khan Tareen and PML-N’s Muhammad Iqbal Shah are in the run. The Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan is supporting independent candidate Azhar Sandila.

The absence of vigour in the election activity is due to the absence of Siddique Khan Baloch, who has decided to opt of the bye-polls. The 2015 bye-poll was held after the disqualification of Mr Baloch.

On Jan 17, the Election Commission of Pakistan requested the ministry of defense for the deployment of army in the constituency to avert any untoward incident on the polling day.

The bye-poll sees the return of former federal minister Mirza Nasir Baig to the PPP who has fielded his son as the party candidate. He had earlier left the party before the 2015 bye-polls and joined the PML-N. Those interested in electoral science are curious to see if the PPP makes any difference in the constituency, which has been dominated by Mr Baloch and Mr Tareen since 2008.

Jahangir Tareen has fielded his son Ali Khan Tareen is PTI candidate, while Mr Baloch’s son Umair Khan Baloch had also submitted his nomination papers but only to hold back as at a PML-N meeting held in Lahore last week, Mr Baloch expressed his unwillingness to take part in the election because of its high cost.

The meeting was attended by MNA Hamza Shahbaz, MNA Abdul Rehman Kanju, MPA Ahmad Khan Baloch and MPA Amir Iqbal Shah. The party refused to sponsor electioneering for his son and said he should bank on the mega projects initiated in his area as per the promise of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. The argument could not convince Mr Baloch and after his refusal, the party decided that Mr Shah, the former tehsil nazim of Dunyapur and the father of MPA Amir Iqbal, will be the party candidate.

PML-N Lodhran president Tahir Amir Ghauri has opposed the party choice and said the party had become hostage to electable at the cost of loyal workers.While the PML-N was busy selecting the candidate, the

Tareen family, which has been contesting its third election in the constituency, is working tirelessly to clinch the poll.

Local journalist Mirza Rajab Baig says the family has become the most powerful political group of the area because of the constant presence of Jahangir Tareen and his son in the constituency and their public welfare projects.

“The entry of Tareen as a philanthropist has changed the entire political situation of the district,” he said, adding that the family’s sugar mills in Katcha Khoh, Khanewal, had also become a best election campaign tool where sugarcane growers of Lodhran were being largely accommodated at a time when the farmers of other areas were facing hardship to sell their crop. He said the Tareens would win over several groups in this poll, which earlier belonged to the Baloch camp.

PTI Chairman Imran Khan will visit Lodhran on Feb 9 to address a public gathering while many PTI leaders, including Ishaq Khakwani, Firdoos Ashiq Awan, Aleem Khan and Shoaib Siddiqi, have participated in the election campaign.

Published in Dawn, February 5th, 2018