With election season officially underway following the announcement from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) earlier this month, the focus has now turned to the real lynchpin of Pakistan's electoral politics, the 'winning horses' electables and the influentials.
With Punjab the largest province (by population) of Pakistan and catering to the most seats for the national assembly, its landscape of electables and influentials -- who operate not just through traditional party politics but have entrenched themselves in the political fabric based on the votes their personality, caste, family, or social activities can attract in their native constituencies -- presents an interesting scenario.
Unsurprisingly, these candidates and influential groups, tribes and families, have taken this opportunity to flex themselves before the proverbial highest bidder.
Some of the electables choose not to join political parties for party tickets. Instead, they opt to take their pick of parties after winning elections. Thus, the onus is on the parties to woo and reward the most promising candidates with a ticket.
Among the individuals and families who dominate the political landscape of Punjab, particularly the south, include Mazaris, Khosas, Daraishaks, Legharis, Gopangs, Tochis, Gilanis, Buzdars, Qureshis, Abbasis, Cheemas, Chaudharys, Sharifs, Haraj, Tareens, Sehars and other.
If some of these names sound familiar, it is because members of these families have occupied one coveted government position or the other at the provincial or federal level for the past 20 years, including the highest posts of prime ministers and chief ministers.
Most of these families and tribes usually contest against each other for seats in both the provincial and national legislatures and in the upper house of Parliament.
Let us break down this landscape.
In Rajanpur, one will likely see former Punjab Assembly deputy speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari contest. Hailing from the Baloch origin Mazari tribe, he is the grandson of the fabled Mir Balakh Sher Mazari. He was caught in the eye of the storm during the political battle for the Punjab assembly last year as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and its allied Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) squared off against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) who were vying to elect Hamza Shehbaz as the new chief minister of Punjab.
His opponents from the district are the Dreshak family. In particular, Nasrullah Dreshak, Dr Hafeez Dareshak and others.
In Dera Ghazi Khan, some main players include Sardar Awais Ahmad Khan Laghari -- the son of former President of Pakistan Farooq Leghari. Others include Khwaja Muhammad Sheraz, Amjad Farooq Khosa and others. They have started to flex their muscles to contest the upcoming general elections.
In Layyah, electables, including Niaz Muhammad Jhakar, Sahibzada Faizul Hasan, Shahabdin Sehar, and Bahadur Khan Sehar, may contest in the upcoming polls.
From Muzaffargarh, the candidates include Raza Rabbani, Sultan Hanjra, Dr Sher Ali, Amir Talal Gopang, Nawabzada Iftikhar, and the upstart Jamshed Dasti are set to contest the polls.
In Multan, the heavyweights include former foreign minister and PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Amir Dogar, former prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, Ali Muhammad Gilani, Sikandar Bosan, Javed Hashmi, Javed Ali Shah and others will politically lock horns in the upcoming polls.
In Khanewal, the political scenario is unclear. The major electables here include Raza Hiraj, Iftikhar Nazeer, and members of the Daha family may contest polls here.
In Lodhran, the contest will be interesting. The major candidate is Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party (IPP) Chairman Jehangir Tareen and his family. Previously, he would side with a party of choice, but now he has set up his own party. His major competitor is Abdul Rahman Kanjo, but it is unclear if they will go up against each other. A clearer picture will emerge in this district in the coming weeks.
In Vehari, locals believe that Saqib Khursheed, Asif Mian and members of the Tochi and Khichi families could contest polls.
In Bhawalpur, several senior politicians will be vying for seats. Amongst the district's most prominent politicians and electables are Punjab Governor Balighur Rehman, Nawab Salahuddin, Riaz Hussain Pirzada, and Tariq Bashir Cheema, among others.
In Rahim Yar Khan, the major electables include former federal industries minister and PTI leader Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar.
Other heavyweights include Javed Warriach, Makhdoom Ahmed and others who may test their political muscles in the upcoming general elections.
In Sahiwal, local political stalwarts include Rai Hasan Nawaz, Noman Langriyal, Rai Murtaza Kharal, Nadeem Kamran and others.
Lahore, the main hub of political activity in Punjab, is highly urbanised. Despite that, the base tendencies of how people vote in other parts of Punjab are not completely lost on residents here, even if the politics here is divided between traditional party politics.
Once considered a stronghold for the PML-N and the Sharif family, that narrative has been acutely challenged in recent years, with Imran Khan's PTI posing a stiff challenge, if not completely sweeping the PML-N clean off the chessboard.
Other senior politicians who have been elected to Parliament year after year include Ayaz Sadiq, Shafqat Mehmood, Hammad Azhar and many other big names.
In Faisalabad, the survey shows former federal and provincial interior minister and PML-N Provincial President Rana Sanaullah, former leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Raja Riaz, PML-N stalwart Abid Sher Ali, PTI's Farrukh Habib and others are ready to contest in the elections.
Toba Tek Singh sees a return to the kind of electable politics as witnessed elsewhere in Punjab, with Chaudhary Sarwar, Waqas Akram, Fakhar Imam and others among the major electables here.
In Sheikhupura, Javed Latif leads the pack in party-aligned politicians. His rivals include Munawar Zaki and some others.
In Bhawalnagar, Shaukat Basra, Irfan Bajwa, the politically veteran Lalika family and other electables exist to dominate polls.
Major candidates in the twin city of Rawalpindi include Sheikh Rashid Ahmed (if he can secure bail and is allowed to contest polls), who heads his Awami Muslim League (AML). His main rivals in the city include PML-N's Hanif Abbasi. Some major politicians who could also contest from Rawalpindi include Fayyazul Hassan Chohan -- who has left PTI to join Tareen's IPP, among others.
Many of these politicians have not given a final nod to contest in the polls, but they will soon announce their final decision in the coming days.