ISLAMABAD: In most of south Punjab’s 50 National Assembly constituencies, more or less the same lot of politicians is contesting for the May 11, 2013 general elections though their party platforms have changed.

This change of loyalty has among other things caused the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), which was a non-entity in the region before, to emerge as a major political force in this part of Punjab.

Four PTI candidates — Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Javed Hashmi, Afzal Sindhu and Jahangir Tareen — had won the 2008 general elections from south Punjab but on different party tickets. In addition, another 10 PTI candidates in the area were the runners-up in the last general election.

Take Multan for instance.

In three of its six National Assembly seats, the PTI is a major force that has a good chance of representing the city in the parliament house in Islamabad.

Former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who won the 2008 general elections as a Pakistan Peoples Party candidate from NA-148, Multan-I, is contesting the same seat for PTI against the PPP’s Syed Ali Musa Gilani, the younger son of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

After Mr Qureshi jumped sides, the contest in this constituency is seen to be between the PTI and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. Five years ago, he faced the PML-N’s Rai Mansab Ali as his main opponent.

Next doors lies NA-149, Multan-II, which is Makhdoom Javed Hashmi’s home ground. He won here in 2008.

However, back then he was the ‘baaghi’ of the PML-N and now he has donned the PTI colours for the May 11 elections. He had in 2008 defeated the PPP’s Malik Salahuddin Dogar and this time around he faces the candidates of the Jamaat-i-Islami, PML-N and PPP.

Although, both Mr Hashmi and Mr Qureshi are seen to be tainted by their past record in the tried and tested parties, observers feel their success or failure on May 11 will be the test case for the PTI.

Mr Qureshi is also the PTI’s candidate for NA-150, Multan-III, because of which this seat that was a two-way contest between the PML-N and PPP in 2008 is a three-way fight this time around. In 2008, the PML-N’s Rana Mehmoodul Hassan beat Abdul Qadir Gilani, the former prime minister’s son.

NA-151 is former prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s seat from 2008. He won it by defeating Sikandar Hayat Bosan of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid.

Later this seat was won by Mr Gilani’s son who is once again contesting the seat — but this time around he faces Mr Bosan on a PML-N ticket. In other words the PPP-PML-Q contest has become a PPP-PML-Q contest.

The last Multan seat is NA-153, which in 2008 was won by Dewan Ashiq Hussain Bokhari of the PML-Q. He scraped by with a narrow margin of fewer than 1000 votes against Rana M. Qasim Noon. This time around Mr Bokhari holds a PML-N ticket, whereas Mr Noon will be the PPP candidate — in 2008 he fought as an independent candidate.

Multan is not the only district in which the PTI is a serious contender.

In Vehari district, which has four National Assembly constituencies, the PTI has fielded some serious players as the runners-up in three NA constituencies from the 2008 elections have jumped the PML-Q ship and joined the PTI.

In NA-168, Vehari-II, Ishaq Khan Khakwani, who lost in 2008 by a margin of fewer than 2,000 votes to the PPP’s Azeem Daultana, is contesting the seat for the PTI.

Similarly in NA-169 Vehari-III, Khan Aftab Ahmad Khan Khichi, who was defeated by the PML-N’s Tehmina Daultana by a margin of 3,000 votes, has joined the PTI. He will once again face Ms Daultana but his switch means that the race is now between the PTI and the PML-N instead of the PML-N and the PML-Q.

Next doors in NA-170 which is Vehari’s third national seat, the margin of victory between Tochi Khan of the PPP and Aurangzeb Khan Khichi of the PML-Q was more than 30,000 voters in 2008. Now he faces Khichi once again who holds a PTI ticket. Though some people see the race as a walkover for Mr Khan, the general mood swing against the PPP and the un-quantifiable popularity of the PTI, the race may just throw up some surprises.

Similarly in Lodhran too, the two seats are now witnessing PTI candidates. On NA-154, Jahangir Tareen faces the PML-N’s Mirza Nasir Baig. While on the second one, NA 155, the PTI has awarded a ticket to Nawab Aman Ullah Khan against Akhtar Khan Kanju of the PML-N and Rana Muhammad Faraz Noon of the PPP.

Indeed it can safely be said that the result of these 14 constituencies may end up determining the fortunes of the PTI in the region.

Out of the 50 National Assembly constituencies from the south Punjab, if the PTI wins elections on these 14 seats, where its candidates enjoy their personal vote bank as well, the party will emerge as a strong political force.

Shakeel Anjum, who is a bureau chief of a private TV channel in Multan, said south Punjab was witnessing a three-way fight among the PPP, PML-N and PTI in general. He added that the parties were leading in different districts.

“If in a district like Vehari, the PTI has put up strong candidates, the PML-N has good chances in Khanewal district, and the PPP is in lead in Layyah district,” said Mr Anjum, who has been reporting from the region for the past 15 years.

Syed Gulzar Hussain Bokhari, who is secretary general of Layyah district PPP, said that the PTI had a number of electables on its side in the region and could manage at least five seats more there. He however hastened to add that the PPP would remain in the lead in the southern belt.

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