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Opinion

July 20, 2018

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Predicting the unpredictable

It is not easy to predict an election in Pakistan. But the upcoming July 25 general elections have become even more difficult to predict. A lot has changed within a year; Pakistan’s politics is as unpredictable as London’s weather and the Pakistani cricket team. One week is a long period of time if seen in the context of Pakistan’s politics.

Despite all the unpredictability and uncertainty that still exists, three things have become clear now. One: that the PTI is now in the lead nationally against the PML-N. According to my assessment, the PTI is now leading on nearly 90 National Assembly seats. The PML-N is trailing behind on 79 seats, whereas the PPP might be able to win around 50 seats.

Second: no party will be able to win enough seats to form its own government with the help of smaller parties. At least 137 seats will be required to win a simple majority in the National Assembly. A hung parliament or a split mandate seems to be the mostly likely outcome.

Third: the PTI might not be able to win a majority in the Punjab Assembly and is likely to finish behind the PML-N. Although it is not easy to make such a prediction in a close election, the main reason for this assessment is that the PTI chose the best possible candidates for the NA seats, but for the provincial assembly, the PTI appears to not have done its homework.

The PML-N might be able to win 70 National Assembly seats from Punjab, whereas the PTI seems to be winning 57 seats, its allies could win three seats, the PPP seven and the Independents six seats. There is a possibility of 12 seats swinging to either side as the margin of lead is very narrow. Both the PTI and the PML-N can lose and win more seats. The other reason for the assessment is that most of the PML-N’s influential provincial assembly candidates did not ditch the party. The party only lost its strong National Assembly candidates in southern Punjab.

Currently, the PML-N is leading on 136 Punjab Assembly seats, whereas the PTI is leading on 107 seats; independent candidates might be able to win 25 to 30 seats. If the PML-N failed to win 149 seats on July 25 then it will either need Independents or the PPP to form the provincial government.

The situation in Punjab has become more complex, as it is going to be the real battleground this election. Although the PML-N still has an edge, the gap is narrowing. As the latest surveys and opinion polls suggest, the PML-N has maintained its popularity, but the PTI too has made big strides. The gap between the two has now narrowed down to just 10 percent. In 2013, this difference was 23 percent. The PTI has doubled its support from 17 to 34 percent.

The PML-N might be able to secure a majority of Punjab’s national and provincial assembly seats, but it will get only a few seats from other provinces. The PML-N can only form a coalition government in Islamabad with the help of the PPP and MMA. On the other hand, if the PTI manages to win more than 110 National Assembly seats, it can form a coalition government with the help of the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), Independents, MQM and BAP. But if the PTI fails to do so, the PPP’s role will become decisive.

The PTI is expected to emerge as the largest party in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Assembly – with 32 seats. But it will not win enough seats to form government in the province. Again, a hung assembly is going to be the most likely outcome. The MMA might be able to win 22 PA seats, whereas the ANP is also making a strong comeback and can win 14 seats. The PML-N looks set to win 14 seats, PPP seven, Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) five and Independents six.

On KP’s National Assembly seats, the PTI is leading on 17 seats, MMA on eight, PML-N on five, ANP on four, PPP and Independents on two each and QWP on one.

In Balochistan, the real contest will be between the MMA, Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), PkMAP and BAP. The PTI, PPP and PML-N appear to be in a very weak position. The PML-N has two strong candidates contesting on two NA seats, but it can win only one seat, while one each will go to the PTI and PPP. The BNP can win two seats, MMA four, BAP and PkMAP three each and the National Party and Independents one each. In the provincial assembly, the BAP is likely to win 12 seats, MMA 11, BNP-M five, PkMAP seven, NP and PML-N three each, PPP and PTI two each and Independents four. The BAP, BNP and MMA can form a coalition government in Balochistan.

In Sindh, the PPP was expecting smooth sailing in the absence of a strong opposition, but the situation has changed in the last couple of weeks. The GDA has formed an alliance with the PTI and has also made seat-adjustments with the JUI-F in rural Sindh. The three have fielded joint candidates on national and provincial assembly seats. The PPP is facing a serious challenge on, at least, 10 national and 36 provincial assembly seats. There are 40 NA seats in rural Sindh and the PPP is expected to win 32 seats of them, while the GDA will win seven seats and the PTI one.

Around 21 NA seats and 42 PA seats are going to be decisive not only in Sindh but also nationally. The MQM is weak and no more a dominating force in Karachi. The PPP, PTI, MMA, PML-N and MMA are trying to take advantage of this situation. On the PA seats, the PPP is more likely to win 62, GDA 26, MQM-P 16, MMA eight, PSP seven, PTI six, PML-N three and ANP two seats.

This analysis is based on the assumption that the elections will be relatively free and fair, and on the ground realities that exist today with the hope that the election results will not be influenced or changed.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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