The election fever is on. Corner meetings are being held. Banners are being hoisted. The leaders of major political parties are most visible on television screens with their paid broadcasts. Some want another chance based on their past record; others with no previous experience are relying on unabashed criticism and promises of a new Pakistan and unachievable goals. A few are seen following packed schedules of whirlwind tours to remote areas that would conceivably not be on their itinerary under normal times. Several rallies are squeezed in a single day, addressing charged crowds of thousands, then hurriedly being whisked away from one venue to the other - transported through helicopters, private planes and armoured limousines. Indeed, electioneering cannot be a poor man’s hobby.

The main battle is being fought in the province of Punjab. The PML-N and its leader Nawaz Sharif have been singled out for attacks from all fronts. Imran Khan of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI) has embarked on a fierce personal onslaught against the Sharif (whom he considers his main rival to be knocked out from Punjab) that has gradually turned nastier and more intense. The MQM chief has threatened to take over the Sharif Raiwind farm and their other assets, once he assumes power. The PPP has dug out the archives to hit the PML-N by their own previous statements. Amidst all this, Nawaz Sharif has adopted a strategy to refrain from paying in the same coins, in an effort to portray himself as a statesman and above petty insinuations.

In the other three provinces, the faceless TTP is making good on its threats to target three (self-proclaimed secular) political parties that has, to certain extent, prevented them to freely campaign and hold public meetings. In a joint press conference on April 29, the second tier Karachi-based leaders of the PPP, MQM and ANP presented their credentials as “liberal, secular and progressive” parties.

At the same time, they declared all other parties as “rightist, sympathisers and harbourers of terrorists.” The same voices have been raised by them in the Senate, directing their guns blazing exclusively towards the PML-N. Thus, they have resorted to divide the (already deeply polarised) nation among the fictional lines of right and left (that had ceased to exist many moons ago). Such political gimmicks are least desirable and shocking, as they originate from mature political parties of national status.

The three partners in prosperity, who governed the country in a coalition for the last five years, have joined forces once again in austerity. Formerly, their common cause was to rule the country, of which they made a royal mess. This time their common cause is to beat a joint foe in the Punjab and prepare the ground for a convincing excuse in case of poor showing in the elections. Their aggressive negative onslaught against the PML-N has provided an additional weapon in the armoury of Imran Khan.

The PPP campaign is hampered by security threat to young Bilawal and the Co-Chairman of last five years acting presidential under the Lahore High Court ruling. The leaderless party is counting on its traditional committed vote bank that they consider is pretty much intact, even without large public meetings. The PTI offensive has made significant inroads in the youth and the middle class of all parties, particularly denting the vote bank of PML-N and the religious parties. The PML-N renewed its efforts to retrieve these votes during the last year or so, the success of which will be known only after May 11.

Meanwhile, it appears quite certain that the direct confrontation between the PTI and the PML-N will divide their common votes. The beneficiary of this division will be the PPP and the PML-Q, whose dark horses may spring a few surprises by winning some of the safe seats of PML-N at lower counts. The Imran Khan factor has disturbed the two-party system. Consequently, the political wizards are reluctant to offer predictions of the outcome, making the process of these elections exciting as never before.

The three parties, that are now making the most noise, are those who governed the country for the last five years. The occurrence of casualties is hardly a new phenomenon in Karachi, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Violent killings by criminals or those consequent to political gang warfare have sadly been daily news for years in Karachi that was not controlled by the ruling parties. The Supreme Court ruling had, in fact, held the militant wings of these parties responsible for the extortion, infighting and loss of lives in the financial hub. The sudden protests on this account appear highly exaggerated, with the sole objective of carving some political mileage.

News reports indicate that the incidences of crimes and murders (ignored or abetted by these political parties) have declined in Karachi, since the governments relinquished power in preparation for general elections. The recent election related attacks and casualties have been tragic as always, but not as catastrophic as in the past. The terrorists that continue to be on the rampage in other parts of the country hold no distinction of sects, ethnicity, political affiliation or class. They are against the Constitution of Pakistan and have declared their intention to disrupt the election process that they deem to be un-Islamic. They have targeted security installations, mosques of all sects, funerals, public meetings, civilians and military personnel - that places them in the category of insurgents, who must be dealt with accordingly. The caretakers and the Election Commission neither possess the expertise, nor the mandate and constitutional authority to guarantee or control the law and order. They cannot be expected to perform this miraculously in a few weeks that the governments with people’s mandate could not accomplish in five years.

The silver lining is that all Pakistanis across the board (including the Army Chief as reiterated in his recent speech) are on the same page. A consensus exists that there is no alternative to the general elections and that nothing is to be gained by postponing them nor is it administratively feasible in the current environment. All political parties are determined not to be deterred by the terrorists and have now actively entered the arena of elections despite limitations, with a determination not to let the misguided minority prevail over the vast majority. There should, therefore, be no doubt that the elections will be held on time.

There should also not be any doubt that the present elections will be historic and the first of its kind in our country. They will be transparent with equal opportunity for all. They will bring no revolution, but will only transfer power peacefully in a democratic process, never witnessed before.

Democracy and our system of government will be reinforced as never before. By the grace of Allah and the undaunting people’s struggle, we are destined to a better Pakistan and a brighter future during the next five and the following years to come. Long live Pakistan!

    The writer is an engineer and

    an entrepreneur.