In a parliamentary system, an aspiring political party employ all means to score highest on electoral board in order to land in corridors of power. In our history, bundle houses all means from straight to crooked one. Their flagrant application makes will of people subjective or even captive. Amid such environments, it is quite difficult to predict final electoral outcome however, this time, new realities have emerged on the horizon and have the potential to alter electoral landscape drastically. The scenario is getting clearer with each passing day.
With emergence of MQM, Sindh distinctively turned into two parts politically as well as electorally; urban Sindh and rural Sindh. The MQM dominated urban Sindh on its linguistic/ethnic lineage and politics of coercion, violence and bullet. As a result of Karachi operation, now situation has changed qualitatively. With dismantling of iron grip of Altaf Hussian, MQM has splintered into groups, vying with each other to grab bigger share in ethnic cake albeit efforts also continue to reunite to deny share to others however, situation has also opened gates of Karachi to other political parties particularly, PPP and PTI. PPP is unlikely to benefit appreciably because of incumbency factor and deeply embed anti PPP sentiments among people of Karachi. PTI stands to reap more because of no past baggage and inroads already made into Karachi however, it may require to work harder mainly to compensate its relative inaction since election 2013 when it bagged largest number of votes in Karachi after MQM. In rural Sindh, PPP continues to capitalize on Bhutto’s legacy and still its domination faces no serious challenge despite forging of GDA and entry of PTI. They may take more votes but number of NA seats won in addition to what they had in 2013 election, may remain confined to single digit only.
In KP, PTI seems to be confident because of its governance and long term works of public welfare. No political party could afford to shunt half of its MPs, just a few days before general election until sure of its ground. Probably this is the reason for religious parties to revive long kept MMA on the shelf but is unlikely to revive their fortune in return because memories of terrorism, nurtured under their rule in province are too recent to be forgotten. ANP is still struggling. Similarly PML (N) and PPP have also done nothing significant to improve their position rather have slumped further because of their overall misdeeds. In Baluchistan, political situation remains unchanged. It largely remains in hands of chieftains. Zardari factor in politics of Baluchistan is far overblown. His role in toppling of PML (N) government was only momentary than enduring.
Punjab is mainland which makes or unmakes government at the Centre because it holds lion share of NA seats; 141 seats of total 272. Here, main contest is expected between PML (N) and PTI. PPP is no more force to be reckoned with because its political obituary is total and complete. The Bilawal is just a shot in dark because of his monumental inadequacies. The chances of independents are also restricted because strong contenders have either joined PTI or still in PML (N). Traditionally PML (N) has been winning in Punjab because of effective perception management, electable and backing of elements in state apparatus and media. The advantage of pre poll rigging/on polling day rigging generally rested with them. At present, though they have managed to generate a perception of their enough formidability coupled with development works in their credit but in reality, it has many holes, being largely bereft of traditional tools to outgeneral their foes. ECP has reshuffled civil administration to make it depoliticized. Army has been asked to help in conduct of impartial election multi dimensionally. Strong/more number of electable are in PTI. Media is also increasingly becoming dismissive. PML (N) also fears public backlash because of their recent controversial statements/actions on religious and national issues. Nawaz Sharif is in England. His return is uncertain and Shabazz Sharif is not firmly in saddle.
The ominous cracks have started appearing within PML (N). Zeem Qadri has blown the whistle as PML (N) would never return to power. Many apprehend, Choudhry Nisar is eyeing on remains of PML (N). Its stalwarts are trying to find safe constituencies. Though PTI has tainted its ideology by fielding electable yet it is unlikely to harm PTI greatly. Imran Khan has come straight that he has to win election to reform the country and is finding impressive audiences. His ideological workers/supporters are with him mainly because of the country and country is in dire straits. More or less, they would still come out in large number to vote for him. Imran Khan has relatively more energy and appeal to run election campaign in sizzling heat. Final push is always very vital. Possibly, on above plausible reasons, one could infer that PML (N) may find itself in election on losing end of the field. It may take a lot votes but finish with far less number of seats as happened with PPP in 1997 election and with PTI in 2013 election. Both took a lot of votes in Punjab but got zero and five seats only in NA respectively. It is a rigor of electoral game in democracy.
— The writer, retired Lt Col, is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.