NA-154 Lodhran is one of the four National Assembly seats from Punjab where Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has long been demanding investigations for the alleged rigging in 2013 general elections (other seats are NA-122 Lahore, NA-125 Lahore and NA-110 Sialkot). So much so that PTI even boycotted the National Assembly and bet everything for these four seats. The uphill task before PTI is to prove the allegation of systematic and organized rigging by design in order to influence the results. More than that, PTI has to come clean before their voters lest it lose the voters who are already on the brink of being exhausted now with the rigging mantra. Many would claim that PTI has already lost it all after losing NA-122 Lahore again.

On the other hand, PML-N claims that its stance on rigging claims stands vindicated. PML-N stalwart Hamza Shahbaz Sharif reiterated the same in Lodhran the other day. And why not? N can fairly take pride in claiming that especially after a series of victories in by-elections and local government elections. In any event, the Pyrrhic victory of PML-N in NA-122 Lahore against PTI should not mislead it into self-aggrandizement because the three-times PML-N MNA-Ayaz Sadiq only managed to secure the seat with a margin of nearly 2,500 votes and N lost the provincial seat in NA-122 to PTI too. 

Nevertheless, the stage was set in Lodhran again today with the same main contestants in the field except that Siddiq Khan Baloch was contesting on PML-N’s ticket and not as an independent candidate unlike the 2013 general elections, while PTI has its party’s secretary general - the industrialist Jehangir Khan Tareen in the field again.

In 2013 general elections, Baloch won the seat as an independent candidate and bagged almost 87,000 votes and Tareen secured the second position with almost 72,000 votes in his favor. And PML-N stood at the third position and secured almost 45,000 votes only. However, Baloch later joined the ruling PML-N.

More than a mere National Assembly seat, NA-154 has acquired a symbolic value. Stakes are too high and both parties realize that. PTI has gotten another chance to prove its rigging allegations. Tareen is running an extra mile especially after Baloch has been allowed to contest the election. Spending more time in the constituency, arranging public gatherings, corner meetings and playing around with the media tactics, the industrialist Tareen still finds his hands tied against the political juggernaut of the provincial government and the sudden massive development projects in the constituency as he claims. Practically speaking, he would have not much to offer other than adding to the mudslinging tactics already in place. However, the recent history of the by-elections tells us that a mere mudslinging and rigging manta on part of the PTI has failed as an effective campaign slogan. The irony is that they cannot bring anything new to the table except for “You call us bad? We will not refute that except that you are worse” and “we will serve you once we are in government but still vote us because others are worse. And by the way we just did not want to launch any personal attack but for some fun here is a video of thy Siddiq Baloch. Enjoy”.

On the other hand PML-N are not saints. Never have been. As far as mudslinging is concerned, PML-N is also not far behind with the prince Hamza Shahbaz leading from the front. Tareen was accused of tax evasion and was called a defaulter in a public harangue for canvassing votes while God Almighty was watching. And after the release of a video showing (God forbid) a mujra in presence of Mr. Baloch and him smoking something, there has been news from Lodhran that a PTI office has been attacked by PML-N people most probably infuriated by the video. TV channels did special coverage for the by-election today and all keen ayes are on the by election result. This is how important NA-154 has become.

PML-N with its rule in the province and the center has more cards to play and its strong position in the recent local government elections in Lodhran has also added to its confidence. For fair reasons, Mr. Baloch is confident to reclaim the seat and PML-N is confident that it is betting on the right horse this time. However, in the final analysis, NA-154 by-election may be a repetition of the NA-122 Lahore by-election. Who will win is a close call to make because both Baloch and Tareen are dominant groups in Lodhran. If Mr. Baloch is being supported by the PML-N’s 2013 election’s candidate, Mr. Tareen is also being supported by the influential Kanju group. More than 400,000 voters are registered in the constituency and each one counts.