LAHORE: In a surprising turn of events, the NA-148 (Multan) constituency has witnessed the politically influential groups of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and its arch rival Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) forging an alliance to defeat the Pakistan People’s Party’s Ali Qasim Gilani in the by-poll.

The seat, previously held by the PPP’s former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, had fallen vacant after his resignation to contest for a Senate seat, which he subsequently won, and later also became chairman of the upper house.

Despite efforts by both Malik Ahmad Hasan Dehar and Sikandar Bosan to secure the PML-N ticket for the by-election, the party’s coalition with the PPP at the federal and provincial levels led to denial of their requests.

As the by-election approaches, NA-148 has emerged as a focal point for all political parties. After Mr Dehar withdrew his nomination papers on the direction of his party, his top supporters are actively campaigning for the PTI candidate Taimur Altaf Malik in the constituency.The Bosan group, led by Sikandar Bosan, has also publicly declared support for PTI’s Taimur Malik after holding a press conference with PTI MNA Zain Qureshi, defying their party’s policy.

However, the PML-N’s local leadership comprising its district office-bearers have announced support for the PPP candidate, following the direction of the party’s high command, which has improved Qasim Gilani’s position to some extent.

Mr Gilani said that the coalition between the PPP and the PML-N would continue in both Centre and Punjab.

The local PML-N leaders, including district president Bilal Butt, have vowed active support for Gilani and warned the non-compliant party members, who are supporting the PTI candidate, of disciplinary action.

PPP MPA Malik Asif Mazhar Ra has been actively campaigning for Mr Gilani.

Political analysts claim that the constituency’s urban area voters would lean towards the PTI, while those in rural regions like Muzaffarabad Union Council and Sher Shah would show strong support for Gilani. This rural-urban divide underscores the intense competition in the upcoming by-poll.

The analysts also see a growing momentum for the Gilani group, as many workers from the Bosan and Dehar factions are shifting their support to the PPP candidate, following their initial endorsement of the PTI hopeful. They say that even young voters of the PTI are not active in the campaign for the party candidate.

They believe that the Gilani group will also get benefit of initiatives like the establishment of a Benazir Income Support Centre in the constituency, particularly winning over women voters.

With the total number of registered voters in NA-148 standing at 213,333, including 111,639 male and 101,694 female voters, the by-election is set to be a critical test of the coalition government’s strength and unity.

Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2024

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