By Fakhar Durrani

File Photo, Pak Voices

ISLAMABAD —The PML-N victory in NA 154 Lodhran will have a far-reaching impact on the upcoming general elections 2018. The constituency located in southern Punjab was considered a stronghold of PTI as this is the native town of PTI’s second in command Jahangir Khan Tareen.

Before this by-election, the political pundits were considering south Punjab a weak link of PML-N and were predicting that PPP and PTI might get more seats in South Punjab than the ruling PML-N in the general elections 2018. But the victory of PML-N candidate in N1-154 has changed the perception of political pundits.

As the time for general elections is approaching fast, all eyes are on Punjab province. The victor of this province is likely to rule the country for next five years and southern parts of the province play important role in the decision that who will rule the province and the country.

The people of South Punjab elect almost 49 MNAs to represent them in the National Assembly. The number of National Assembly seat from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is 35 which means south Punjab has far more importance in the upcoming general elections than the KP.

The heavyweights like Gillanis, Makhdooms, Khosas, Lagharis, Mazaris and others always play important role in the South Punjab politics. Though they have the potential to win in their constituencies even then their affiliation with a political party plays an important role.

Generally, these heavyweights have no permanent political ideology as they change their loyalty with popular political parties when the time for general elections come. They have been doing this for decades and will do the same this time too.

There was a general perception that Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) —the second largest party in the Parliament is still a popular party in Sindh and Southern Punjab but the recent by-elections in NA 154 Lodhran has proved that it is continuously facing downfall even in South Punjab.

One of the reasons for the downfall of PPP in South Punjab is that all the stalwarts have parted their ways from the party and have joined either PTI or PML-N. Hence, the real competition in general elections 2018 in Punjab generally and Southern Punjab specifically would be between PML-N and PTI.

The political pundits are having their bets on PML-N as the two major opposition parties PTI and PPP have failed to impress masses in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh respectively.

Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) which has the potential to upset in the upcoming general elections 2018 has failed to publicize its achievements in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where it ruled for five years. Imran Khan’s party has focused on bringing institutional reforms in the province but it failed to publicize its achievements in rest of the country.

There is no doubt the PTI-led government has brought reforms in Police, education and health in KP but it did not focus on development projects. Whereas its opponent PML-N has focused on the development projects which are presentable before masses during the 2018 general elections campaign. People want to see development in their constituencies and PML-N to some extent has delivered to masses.

Senior political expert and professor in Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) Dr. Rasul Bakhsh Rais believe the real competition in the General Election 2018 would be between Pakistan Muslim League –Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf. He sees Pakistan Peoples’ Party not a major player or competitive force in the upcoming general elections in Punjab province.

Talking to Pak Voices, Dr. Rasul said PML-N has succeeded to build the narrative in Punjab particularly in Southern Punjab that this is the party which can deliver.

“The Punjab government under the leadership of Shahbaz Sharif has created this impression successfully that there is only one party in the province that can fulfill the expectations of the masses. PTI has failed to advertise its achievements in the province. It cannot even woo the electable of South Punjab to join the party who are waiting for the right time to join a popular political party right before the general elections”, commented Dr. Rasul.

The southern Punjab politics revolve around some heavy weights and electable who have no specific ideology. They wait for the popularity wave of any political party and then decide to join the party, he said.

“Though there are many bigwigs in Southern Punjab who can win the elections single-handedly the dynamics of the politics have changed now. They too now need an affiliation with a popular party to get party’s vote. Beside party votes, the grouping on the local level also plays a pivotal role in the elections, especially in South Punjab. It will be interesting to see which electable join which party and this will decide the fate of political party in South Punjab” commented Dr. Rasul.

Majority of South Punjab’s vote bank resides in rural areas and this makes the electoral politics different than central Punjab. The next two to three months will be interesting as this is the time of political maneuvering and this it will set the elections’ tone, he said.

Talking about Nawaz Sharif’s slogan ‘Mujhay Kiyun Nikala’, Dr. Rasul doesn’t believe that this slogan can build a pro-PML-N narrative. Though Nawaz Sharif has played the victim card very effectively through a constant campaign and it will have a limited impact and that too in urban areas, not in the rural areas.

Senior political expert Zahid Husain believes that NA 154 by-election result cannot be termed a game changer for PML-N. However, he said this will help the ruling PML-N to keep its party members from South Punjab intact for the upcoming general elections.

“The PML-N party leaders from South Punjab were not happy with the top leadership and there were chances they might switch the party. But the NA-154 has helped the PML-N to retain its party members”, said Mr. Zahid Hussain. He said the South Punjab politics revolve around power-blocks and any party which succeeds to woo these power blocks will bag southern Punjab.

Muhammad Jahangir Khan — a resident of Karor Lal Esan (Layyah) while talking to Pak Voices said he was a PPP voter for the last twenty years but this is not the party whose head was Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. Asif Ali Zardari has totally changed the party and this is the reason all the ‘Jialas’ have left the party. In2013, like many other PPP Jialas I also voted for PTI candidate but I think PML-N has worked a lot and delivered in our district.

“The parties are not run through social media or TV talk shows. You have to come on the ground and deliver as well. In this context PML-N seems to be favorite as it has delivered in South Punjab to some extent”, he commented.