Although the Nawabs of Bahawalpur are not in power, they are still ‘king makers’. Political observers believe that, besides some other elements, two major factors – Nawabs of Bahawalpur and Restoration of Bahawalpur Province Movement – are going to play a decisive role in the fall or rise of any political party or group in Bahawalpur division in the upcoming general elections.

The mood of Bahawalpurites, commonly known as riastis, clearly reflects that no political leader can afford to oppose the demand for the restoration of Bahawalpur province.

Of the total 15 National Assembly seats of Bahawalpur division, nine won PPP, three PML-N, two PML-Q and one PML-F in the general elections 2008.

The division consists of Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan and Bahawalnagar districts. Political parties are employing all methods to improve their positions. PML-N has gained strength by roping in many important political players while PML-Q is going to emerge as the biggest loser. The Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI) has made some inroads and the riastis have started feeling its presence. Being the highest seat winner in this division, the PPP will have to work hard to keep its position intact. It is said if the PML-N supports Bahawalpur Province Restoration Movement launched by Nawab Salahuddin Abbasi’s Bahawalpur National Awami Party (BNAP) and succeeds in allying with PML-F in Rahim Yar Khan, it may sweep polls in the division.

The Jamaat-i-Islami has also a strong presence in Bahawalpur district because of its support to Bahawalpur Province demand. Punjab JI Amir Dr Waseem Akhtar is a popular personality in the Bahawalpur city. Former senator Muhammad Ali Durrani surfaced as the flag- bearer of this movement from the platform of BNAP. However, he is out of political scene these days.

Of five National Assembly seats of the Bahawalpur district, two were won by PML-N-backed candidates, another two by the PPP and one by PML-Q. NA-183 was won by Sheikh Arif Aziz of PPP, NA-184 by Ms Amir Warren who defeated Najeebuddin Owaisi of PML-N and NA-185 by Baleeghur Rehman of PML-N who defeated Farooq Azam of PPP. Similarly, Riaz Pirzada of PML-Q defeated independent candidate Tasneem Nawaz Gardezi from NA-186 and later joined PML-N while Saud Majid of PML-N defeated Chaudhry Pervez Elahi of PML-Q from NA-187.

Politically, Rahim Yar Khan district is highly polarised. It is said that if PML-N and PML-F join hands for the upcoming elections, they’ll win at least three out of six National Assembly seats of Rahim Yar Khan. But if they fail to realise the sensitivity of the situation, PPP will sweep once again.

The statistics show that four out of six National Assembly seats of this district are currently held by the PPP, one each by PML-N and PML-F. The NA-192 was won by PPP’s Syed Hamid Saeed Kazmi who defeated Makhdoom Ahmad Alam Anwar of PML-Q. Now Makhdoom Ahmad Alam Anwar has joined PML-N and is the strongest candidate for the party ticket.

On the other hand, Makhdoom Ahmad Mahmood of PML-F is said to have threatened that he will field candidates on all constituencies of Rahim Yar Khan if PML-N gives the ticket to Ahmad Alam Anwar. If this happens, PML-N may suffer heavy losses.

The NA-193 was won by PPP’s Mian Sattar who is reportedly not on good terms with South Punjab PPP President Makhdoom Shahabuddin. Sources close to Mian Sattar claim that he may quit the party and join PML-N if differences are not resolved. Makhdoom Shahabuddin had defeated PML-Q Central Vice President Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar from NA-194 while NA-195 is considered the stronghold of Makhdoom Ahmad Mahmood whose son Mustafa Mahmood is currently an MNA from this constituency.

The NA-196 was won by Javed Warraich of PPP who defeated Chaudhry Jaafar Gujjar of Nawaz League, Zafar Warraich of PML-Q and Mian Imtiaz, an independent candidate.

In NA-197, Sardar Arshad Leghari of PML-N was lucky to win the seat. He was a covering candidate of Sardar Azhar Leghari. The nomination papers of Azhar Leghari and his opponent Rais Mahboob of PPP were rejected and Arshad Leghari defeated Rais Munir of PML-Q. Now Rais Munir has joined PML-N and there are strong chances that he will get the ticket. Former district nazim Rafiq Leghari will be the candidate of PTI from this seat.

Of four National Assembly seats of Bahawalnagar district, three were won by PPP and one by PML-Q. However, the situation is fast changing and the PML-N which was routed in the last elections is improving its position. The PTI of Imran Khan is also proving its presence. Not a good future awaits the PML-Q in this area.

The NA-188 was won by Khadim Wattoo of PML-Q who defeated Shaukat Lalika of PPP. Wattoo has switched his loyalties, joining PML-N.

Similarly, NA-189 was won by Mumtaz Alam Gilani of PPP and NA-190 by Chaudhry Abdul Ghafoor of the same party. Chaudhry Abdul Ghafoor defeated Tahir Bashir Cheema of PML-Q who has now joined PML-N. However, his elder brother, former district nazim Tariq Bashir Cheema, still stands by PML-Q and intends to contest election from two National Assembly constituencies, NA-187 and NA-188.

Similarly, NA-191 was won by Afzal Sindhu of PPP who defeated Ijaz-ul-Haq. Sindhu has now joined PTI.

The trend of changing parties will continue until the next elections.