With less than ten days to go for D-Day, even the fence-sitters are likely to have already made up their minds. So, no amount of last-minute electioneering on the part of the political parties is expected now to make much of a difference to the final results.
Of course, the parties that would succeed in bringing out their voters in larger numbers and making hassle free arrangements to commute them to the polling booths on the polling day and placing strong teams of polling agents at each polling station would certainly make adifference perhaps to the extent of approximately 10-15% one way or the other.
In any case, the contest is expected to be rather very close between the two centrist parties—the PMLN and the PTI. The Lahore show of the PMLN on July 13, the day its Quaid Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz returned home to be arrested seems to have pushed the PTI on the back-foot in Punjab in the final hours.
Neither of the two, however, is expected to gain a clear-cut majority but political pundits who believe massive pre-poll engineering has already taken place give the PTI a slight edge.
Still, it is hard to predict at this stage which of the two parties would finally succeed in forming a coalition government after July 25.
The coalition partners of the PTI are likely to include the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) of interior Sindh, PSP and MQM of urban Sindh and most independents who contested the election with ‘Jeep’ as their election symbol.
There is no possibility of the PTI inviting the PPP which is expected to win around 34 seats to join the coalition even if Imran fails to reach the magic figure of 137 with the help of BAP, GDA, PSP, MQM and the independents.
But then if the engineers who have been trying to keep the PMLN out of Islamabad since the day former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was disqualified by the Supreme Court finally found it impossible to achieve their objective and saw that the PMLN which is expected to win around 75 seats is all set to form the coalition government on its own then the engineers are likely to force Imran to invite Zardari to join the coalition and he would perhaps do their bidding in an about-face similar to the one he displayed during the election of Senate Chairman and his Deputy.
Political pundits believe this would pose long-term challenges, including sustainability of the setup due to PTI’s visceral antipathy towards the PPP’s top leadership.
In case Imran refuses to join hands with the PPP, the PMLN would certainly stake its claim to government formation in partnership with the PPP. But this coalition could last only if the two allowed each other to rule their respective fiefdoms without any interference from the other.
The PTI is seemingly a strong proponent of institutional reforms, willing to crackdown on corruption and work for revenue mobilisation. One also expectsthe PTI to go for higher allocations towards education, health care and housing sectors. On foreign policy, Imran Khan has hawkish views towards the US and will lean more towards China and Muslim-majority countries, while domestically it will stay, for at least one year, on the same page as the military establishment.
The PML-N government, if it returned to power against all the heavy odds the engineers seem to have raised in its way to Islamabad,will focus, as in the past, on physical infrastructure development, would continue to mismanage the State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) and once again neglect tax reforms. The PPP is firmly opposed to privatisation.
Amidst a record high current account deficit of $ 15.9 billion and eroding forex reserves amounting to $9.8 billion; 1.9 months of import cover, the incoming government would face an immediate prospect of the need for a bailout package from the IMF.
Similar to 2008, a Stand-By Arrangement would perhaps be sought with upfront disbursements to alleviate the stress. Pakistan would need to secure funding of at least 3 to five months of its quota amounting to about US$9-14 billion.
But to be sure, a split mandate resulting in a hung Parliament remains a key risk leading to further political turmoil and making it difficult for the new government to take adjusting measures.