Who has a better chance in polls?

Mazhar Abbas

Islamabad: Both Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) will have to defeat history if they want to retain their positions in Centre and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP), respectively in July-25 elections.

No party has ever retained either Islamabad or KP for two consecutive terms. All this has made the elections more exciting, as turnout has always been crucial in close contests. PTI leader Imran eyes both Islamabad and KP while Nawaz Sharif is confident of not only retaining Punjab but also forming the next federal government.

Now, who has a better chance depends on post-Eid election campaigns, which are likely to be launched by all parties from the next week. After a 30-day rest due to Ramazan and Eid celebrations, politics would take the centre stage as only 35 days are left in elections.

During the Eid days, people appeared to be more interested in elections than the Eid celebrations. What are Imran’s chances, most people asked? Will there be a change this time, or the PML is still strong? What if the PML-N retains its position? Who will be the next PM, Shahbaz Sharif or Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. What position Maryam Nawaz will get? And many more such question are perplexing people these days.

Many people also predict a hung parliament, and that in such a case Asif Zardari’s role will be crucial. While the conspiracy theory whether elections will be held on time or not is still very much a topic of discussion, most of people believe the process will be completed on time after repeated assurances from all quarters.

July-25 elections will certainly be a contest between Imran Khan’s Tsunami Vs. Nawaz Sharif’s wave.

The election campaigns would certainly revolve around pro-Nawaz and anti-Nawaz voters. Gone are the days when for almost 30 years, politics was all about pro- and anti-Bhutto forces. Both Imran and Zardari will target Sharifs, while Sharifs and the PML-N campaign would be based on the “injustice” done to Nawaz Sharif and the “victim card”, as well as the PML-N government’s development projects particularly in Punjab. They still consider Motorway and Metro as key to their success in the past.

It will also be interesting to see how many candidates in the race among the mainstream parties emerge ‘clean’, as a result of the declarations they had submitted to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). The National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) looked quite active and we may see their proactive role in the coming weeks, at least till elections.

Another question people ask is about the fate of disqualified prime minister Nawaz Sharif. A related situation is the deteriorating condition of Begum Kulsoom Nawaz, who has been on ventilator for the last one week. She was the one who gave a new life to the PML-N after Nawaz Sharif was first arrested on Oct 12, 1999. The writer himself saw her visiting the court in Karachi during the hearing of the plane hijacking case, and found her very courageous lady.

It was disappointing to see none of our top politicians called each other and simply said ‘Eid Mubarak to you and to your family’, the simple expression we use in our messages. But, then it’s a power struggle and politicians never want that their greetings be taken as an attempt to create some space for reconciliation or any kind of understanding.

In TV talk shows, politicians are invited along with their spouses and some with their family members, and people come to know the other side of politicians. The PTI enjoys an advantage of the media this time. However, the PML-N should not have any complaint in this regard, as the same media was on its side in 2013 against the PPP. Governments have their own disadvantages. But, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will have to be alert that no party workers or candidates host any talk shows, as it may fall in the category of a violation of the election code of ethics.

Now, who has a better chance and capacity to take their voters to polling stations and ensure free and fair elections, as not only promised by the ECP but also by the chief justice of Pakistan, the interim government and above all the army chief.

Imran, whose slogan is ‘Change’, is heavily relying on the ‘electables’ in Punjab, who are mostly from the PML-N and the PPP. His voting strength in 2013 came from families and youth. Now, he is hopeful that he will grab most of the seats in Punjab. His two close strategists, Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Jehangir Tareen, are looking after Punjab’s traditional vote bank of biradari and caste.

The PML-N and Sharifs on the other hand are looking towards their deep-rooted organisation to do a wonder for them. Unlike in 2013, they are going into the 2018 elections with lots of disadvantages, including disqualification of their leader, Nawaz Sharif by the Supreme Court, and an expected judgment against him and his immediate family just weeks before elections. But, it has an advantage of organisation and quite visible development projects in Punjab.

PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif, who was declared as the next PM candidate by Nawaz Sharif, is facing a serious dilemma of going into his campaign without his strongest and most trusted colleague, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. Besides, a number of strong families had also left the PML-N. However, one of party’s strong leader, Mushahidullah told this writer before Eid” “You will get a surprise when these so-called electables will lose to the PML-N nominees due to Sharif’s wave.” Some quarters are disappointed by no major split in the PML-N and they will be disappointed further in the polls, he added.

If the PML-N managed to retain its position in central Punjab and got few seats in south Punjab, the result will be quite interesting. Despite having upper hand in this scenario, the split mandate in Punjab will open space for other parties to bargain.

A major split in Punjab will not help the PML-N, as it is already at disadvantage in Balochistan and Sindh, where its chances of winning seats are very bleak. For the PML-N, it is not only important to take most seats in Punjab, but also to break the myth of the PTI chances in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

On the other hand, if the PTI manages to get 50 to 60 seats in Punjab and improves its position in KP, and gets few in Karachi, it will be in a better position to form a coalition government. Imran will prefer independent candidates or smaller parties than forming a coalition with the PPP.

Will this open the doors on fresh negotiations between the PML-N and the PPP, particularly after the kind of statements coming from Asif Zardari and other PPP leaders against Sharifs? But, politics is the game of opportunities and possibilities.

While the battlefield certainly will be Punjab and all eyes are on its 148 National Assembly (NA) seats, people are also interested in seeing the future of once Karachi’s most strongest party, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), as people generally believe that due to their infighting, they might lose unless they reach complete consensus solution to their mutual problems. There are still some ‘ifs and buts’ between the MQM-Bahadurabad and MQM-PIB Colony, as despite Dr Farooq Sattar’s visit to Bahadurabad and a patch-up, he has left his faction’s Rabita Committee.

The MQM differences allowed space for other parties. For the first time, even the PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif is contesting from Karachi. Besides, Imran Khan and his party PTI are also looking towards gaining seats in the mega city, along with the PPP, Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) and Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA).

The PPP can emerge as a big player in case of a hung parliament, as they are confident of securing enough seats to play a decisive role in government-making unless any of the two parties – PML-N and the PTI – get around 130 or 134 seats. The PPP is looking for 37 to 40 seats and would then try to reach an understanding with smaller parties and independents.

Unlike in 2013, the PTI ace team, which will play a decisive role in the campaign, is led by Imran Khan himself, KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, Jehangir Tareen, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Asad Umar, Aleem Khan, Mahmoodur Rasheed and Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar. They are backed by Dr Shireen Mazari, Dr Arif Alvi and others.

The writer is senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.