Undoubtedly, four parties – Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N, Imran Khan’s PTI, Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s JUI-F, and Munawar Hasan’s Jamaat-e-Islami – were free to hold mass meetings for their respective election campaigns.
The PPP, the MQM and the ANP, on the other hand, were either brutally targeted or seriously threatened by the powerful TTP and its allies and restricted from freely canvassing for their candidates and even holding corner meetings, leave alone arranging mass rallies and processions. Subsequently, that targeting led to a certain unity among these three parties.
However, the recent attack on the JUI-F rally in Kurram separates the party from the other three right-wing parties. The irony is that, on the one hand, the Taliban reject the democratic process outlined in the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and on the other, they seem to have no issues in letting the right-wing political parties campaign freely for the upcoming general elections.
Therefore, what you see on television screens and the front pages of national newspapers is the coverage of the electioneering of two major right-wing political parties, the PML-N and the PTI. The viewers and the readers, mostly belonging to the different strata of the middle class, get the impression that there are two major parties contesting and the rest are out of the race. I am not sure how true this is when it comes to the decision of voters on May 11.
Let me concentrate on the 272 seats of the National Assembly elected directly and from the province of Sindh. There are 61 constituencies. A ten-party alliance of Sindhi nationalists and different factions of the PML led by the PML-Functional are fighting against the PPP and the MQM. The PTI has fielded candidates on its own on a number of seats while the senior vice chairperson of the PTI, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, decided to run as an independent candidate from Umerkot.
While friends where I live desire differently, those in the thick of things confirm that the PPP will get no less than 30 seats even after the nationalists and the Functional League put up a fight. The seats may actually increase due to the threat of religious militancy and the sectarian nature of politics pursued by major political parties with strongholds in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The MQM will not lose as much ground as is predicted or desired by political pundits in Islamabad and Lahore. The attacks on the MQM and the joint press conferences it held with long-time rivals the ANP and former coalition partner, the PPP, have actually strengthened its electoral position. Even if it is able to win 17 seats altogether from Karachi and the interior of Sindh – a couple less than 2008 – it will remain equally strong in the new legislature. Besides, the provincial government will again be formed by the PPP and the MQM. All others including the factions of the PML, the JI, the nationalists, etc will not bag more than a dozen seats. The PTI apparently has no seat to claim in Sindh.
Balochistan has 14 seats in the National Assembly. Insiders see the PPP, the PML-N, the PKMAP and the JUI-F or their supported independent candidates winning roughly two seats each, the PML-Q bagging one and the assorted Baloch nationalist parties led by the National Party winning five. The provincial legislature will be a mishmash as ever but likely to be led by a moderate Baloch nationalist chief minister, irrespective of who forms the government in Islamabad. Here as well, the PTI is likely to make no dent in the provincial politics.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has 35 seats in the National Assembly and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) has 12. The PTI has definitely made its presence felt in these areas. It is more than a dent in the traditional vote bank of all political parties. The PTI is marred by serious internal differences in the province but it is in a position to win about 10 seats in the settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and another four in Fata. This will largely be at the expense of the PML-N and the ANP.
The PPP is likely to win eight seats in both the settled areas and Fata with the JUI-F also claiming as many seats. This will be followed by the ANP’s seven seats in both these areas. The JI will claim one or two seats. Paradoxically, some say that people from those regions hit by militancy and drone strikes are less supportive of pro-Taliban parties than those living in other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and in north and central Punjab. The PML-N will get eight seats and PPP-Sherpao will get one.
The PML-Q may get an odd seat too. There will be a number of independents from both Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata who will decide their allegiances after looking at the overall results. The provincial government will be a coalition and either the PTI or the JUI-F will lead it. In the latter case, the PPP and the ANP will be the natural coalition partners of the JUI-F.
Punjab is the biggest battleground for two reasons. One, the province has 148 seats in the National Assembly out of 272. Two, it is the only province where real campaigning is going on without fear of violence. If we divide the seats between the south, the Seraiki Wasaib, and the rest of Punjab, there are about hundred seats where the PML-N is seen to be the leading party fighting with a surging PTI followed by the PPP and the PML-Q. There is an interesting arithmetic involved here.
The youthful or frustrated PPP voters who have switched to the PTI mostly live in constituencies which were not won by the PPP in the first place. Therefore, in terms of the number of seats, the PTI will eat into the PML-N’s and PML-Q’s share. Just to recall, the 2008 elections under Gen Musharraf saw his party, the PML-Q, win more than 50 seats.
Some key people from the PML-Q, Kasuri, Khakwani, Tareen, to name a few, have already joined the PTI. Therefore, if the PTI bags 24 seats in north and central Punjab, the PML-Q will win six, the PPP will bag ten and the PML-N will gain a maximum of 60 seats. Those in south Punjab are most likely to elect 25 PPP candidates, nine from the PML-N, three from the PML-Q, four from the PTI and about half a dozen independents. The two seats of the capital Islamabad are likely to be split between the PPP and the PML-N. However, if the right-wing vote is split between the PTI, the PML-N and the JI, the PPP can win both seats. It is unlikely but not impossible. Also, the JI candidate can win if the PML-N decides to support him internally.
Let us now sum up the total number of seats won by the major political parties mentioned here. The PML-N gets 73 seats in all, the PTI gets 42, the PPP gains 76, the MQM gets 17, the JUI-F gets 10, the PML-Q gets eight and the ANP gets seven. The rest of the 39 seats will be shared among smaller parties and independents. The president will then be bound to call upon the PPP to prove that it can form a government. Who runs coalitions better than the PPP?
While accepting that the PTI has wooed some PPP support as well, its gain in number of seats is inversely proportional to the PML-N’s loss. This will be the biggest surprise for both the electorate and the affluent middle class in northern Pakistan. I can be proven wrong only if the electorate in Punjab behaves differently from how we have perceived it to behave on May 11. – TheNation