Shahbaz Sharif’s “electoral magic” at the 2013 ballot box engineered their seat count upwards by 30-35 NA seats. That contrived “majority” proportionately guaranteed more reserved women seats, encouraging a maximum number of independents joining PML (N). The 2018 elections are for PML (N) to lose, that “magic” not working this time because (1) the provincial machinery Shahbaz wielded with impunity courtesy of the Provincial Caretaker Regime (subsequently suitably rewarded) that allowed him a free hand is no more in place. Moreover the grievances the PCS officials who man the electoral machinery in the field have against Shahbaz’s blue-eyed DMG favourites manifested itself by scuttling the Fawad Hassan Fawad-inspired DMG strike on Ahad Cheema’s arrest (2) Nawaz Sharif’s unelectable advisers and Shahbaz inner circle of DMG officers in a sense isolated the Sharifs, only Nawaz Sharif’s charisma keeps their rank and file in line. (3) 30-35 of PML (N) NA electables are now seeking elections as independents, while 35-40 have already defected, mostly to the PTI (4) losing Southern Punjab with 22 MNAs deserting en bloc to PTI, leaving PML (N) with only 5 NA seats at best (5) Nawaz Sharif’s attacks on the superior judiciary (and his conviction for corrupt practices) has swayed undecided voters against PML (N) even in their Lahore stronghold. (6) While Imran Khan has done his best to turn off the elite vote, they will hardly vote for Nawaz Sharif instead, at worst they will abstain (7) the “Khatme Nabuwat” gaffe will give more votes to TLP, increasing the number of religious-minded voters who previously voted solidly for PML (N) (8) the public backlash at many TV anchors changing their tune clearly “sold” out to Nawaz Sharif. (9) PML (N) attacks on the Army are ill-advised, particularly in Northern Punjab almost every family has retired or serving soldiers. Neither do they like Nawaz’s love for Modi. Even a 10% voter swing in our “first past the post system” will mean a PML (N) electoral setback of some proportion.
The PPP has done nothing in interior Sindh with respect to water, sewerage, electricity, education, transportation, health services, etc. Paradoxically those who decry the PPP (read Asif Zardari) will still vote for Benazir’s son (read Bilawal Bhutto Zardari). Bilawal notwithstanding, the PPP will still lose even more NA seats in the Punjab. Unless Zardari’s monetary magic works, the newly formed Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) will make inroads into PPP’s rural stronghold. A giant meltdown of MQM (P) notwithstanding, hardcore Altaf foot soldiers of the 1980s will still remain loyal, MQM (P) managing about half a dozen NA seats. Helped no end by Anis Qaimkhani’s incredible logistics network Pak Sarzamin Party (PSP) is the biggest beneficiary of MQM’s break up. July 25 is PSP’s moment of truth, Mustafa Kamal is hoping for about 14 NA seats but even with Hyderabad and Mirpurkhas will probably get 9 or 10. His shunning ethnicity reaching out to the Punjabi and Pathan voters in Karachi could translate into more seats. MMA, PPP and PTI could stand to gain a couple of seats because of the divided Mohajir vote. Notwithstanding support from the MQM (P) the PPP will not be as comfortable making a govt in Sindh.
A crude poll suggests that the NA seats in “Battleground Punjab” will be divided District-wise as (1) Rawalpindi [Attock, Chakwal, Jhelum) total 13 seats (PTI 6, PML (N) 4, PPP 1, Independent 2] (2) Sargodha [Mianwali, Khushab, Bhakkar) 11 seats (PTI 5, PML (N) 2, PPP 1, Independent 3] (3) Faisalabad Toba Tek Singh, Jhang, Chiniot) 18 seats (PTI 6, PML (N) 11, PPP 1) (4) Gujranwala [Gujrat, Mandi Bahauddin, Narowal, Sialkot, Hafizabad] 20 seats [PTI 6, PML (N) 8, PPP 1, Independent 5] (5) Lahore (Kasur, Sheikhupura) 24 seats [PTI 12, PML (N) 12] (6) Sahiwal [Okara, Pakpatan] 10 seats [PTI 3, PML (N) 5, Independent 2] (7) Multan [Lodhran, Vehari, Khanewal] 16 seats (PTI 11, PML (N) 2, PPP 1, Independent 2 (8) Bahawalpur (Bahawalnagar, R.Y. Khan) 15 seats (PTI 8, PML (N) 5, PPP 1, Independent 1 (9) DG Khan (Layyah, Muzafargarh, Rajanpur) 15 seats (PTI 10, PML (N) 2, Independent 3. This totals PTI 67, PML (N) 51, PPP 6 and Independent 18. The MMA will come at 3 seats.
For KPK, the prediction is that out of a total of 39 NA seats, PTI is expected to win around 23 seats with PML (N) 4 seats, MMA 4, PPP 3, ANP 2 and Independent 3. Tough MMA competition is expected in areas like Dir. For Sindh’s 61 NA seats PTI should get 4, PML (N) 2, PPP 26, GDA 7, PSP 10, MQM 8, MMA 4 while Balochistan’s 14 NA seats will go to PTI, MMA 3, PKMAP 4, BAP 2, PML (N) 1, NP 1, BNP 1 and Independents 1.
PTI has done good work in KPK in reforming the police, health, and education, the MMA working together will still make some gains. Imran Khan’s charisma will help make a PTI-led coalition. Balochistan will have more of the same, a coalition supporting whoever makes the Federal Govt. Anticipating their coming off worse in the July 25 polls, the masters at pre-election rigging, Zardari, and the Sharifs, are vociferously yelling “pre-election rigging”. The mood of the electorate indicates but there could even be a PML (N) meltdown.
PTI’s likely count is 90-95 seats, could even manage a 100 plus against PML (N)’s about 50-60 and the PPP maximum 35-36 seats. With 25-30 independents joining PTI post-election, along with GDA, PSP, and maybe even MQM (P), PTI should make the govt in the Center.
Sharif/Zardari combined illegal wealth will go to any lengths to deprive PTI of forming a government. With about a 100 seats and given the “available for sale” status of our politicians, can anyone stop PML (N)/PPP from purchasing democracy for another five years? Imran may well win the battle but without coming close to 110 PTI seats, he may well lose the war. Only 90 days of total accountability post-July 25 will ensure the next few hours will see a new Pakistani dawn.
The writer is a defense and security analyst