LAHORE - The present National Assembly will serve out its constitutionally mandated five-year term by the end of May and the next election will be held after the two/three months.

People desirous of contesting the next polls have to decide during the coming weeks which party’s platform will serve their interests and ensure their victory. It is because of this reason that news about people changing their parties – or the new faces joining their choice platforms – will be seen in the days and weeks ahead.

The PML-N, the PTI and the PPP will be the major contestants at the national level. The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal will also be in the field to provide an alternative to the more religious-minded elements. Sindh, KP and Balochistan have some regional parties that will play an important role at the local level.

If the indications available so far are anything to go by, the major contest will be between the PML-N and the PTI. Defections from the PML-N and most people’s choice to join the PTI, ostensibly, show that powers that be have a liking for the party of cricketer-turned-politician and they will prefer to see it in power.

Most people regard the PML-N’s ticket as a guarantee for success. But it is unthinkable that some sitting parliamentarians have parted ways with this party at this juncture.

The situation is reminiscent of the 2002 election before which a new party - Pakistan Muslim League - was launched, under the leadership of Mian Muhammad Azhar, who was replaced by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain after some time. This was the era of Gen Musharraf and the Sharif brothers were living in exile in Saudi Arabia. The establishment wanted to oust the Sharifs from politics for good.

The National Accountability Bureau was very active against politicians.

Many PML-N leaders changed loyalties and joined what was commonly known as the PML-Q, although its official name was the PML. They knew that changing a party was a better option in the changed situation than facing court cases.

In the 2002 election the PML-Q emerged as the largest party with some 78 NA seats. The PML-N could get about 15 seats only. The PPP and the MMA got 63 and 45 seats, respectively. Imran Khan and Dr Tahirul Qadri got one seat each, although both of them were very close to Gen Musharraf, the then ruler.

About 20 senior leaders of the PPP parted ways with their party to join the Musharraf camp.

A coalition was cobbled together as a result of which Balochistan’s Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali was elected as prime minister with a single vote majority in the 342-member lower house of parliament.

The PML-Q remained in power for five years, although during this period Jamali was replaced by Shaukat Aziz. Musharraf decided to remove the leader from Balochistan because he thought the latter was very “lazy”.

The 2008 election, held only a few months after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, brought the PPP to power mainly because of the sympathy vote to this party. The PML-Q could get 38 NA seats – or 30 less than PML-N’s 68.

The PTI did not contest the election and had no representation in the assembly.

The PPP’s victory under the leadership of Asif Ali Zardari, who did not have a good reputation, was an unexpected development. However, the PPP remained in power for full five years, with the backing of parties like the PML-Q, the ANP, the JUI-F and the MQM.

Mr Babar Awan played an important role in bringing the PPP and the PML-Q closer, although the two parties were like sworn enemies. It was during this period that PML-Q’s Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi became the deputy prime minister, a post not provided in the Constitution.

The PML-N, though in opposition, helped the PPP complete its tenure. It did not create any problem which it was in a position to create.

The PPP-led coalition enacted a constitutional amendment which made it possible for the then two-time prime minister to try his luck for a third time. Had this not been done, Musharraf had effectively sealed the fate of Mr Sharif.

Now that the PML-N is about to complete its term, all parties are weighing their new options in the changed situation.

It appears as if the PTI is being prepared for the role of the next King’s party. Had this not been the case the PTI would not have been the destination of most of the defectors. Whether the PTI gets majority seats or not, hidden hands certainly want to weaken the PML-N by encouraging its adherents to part company.

The NAB is also active as it was before the 2002 election. Many important PML-N leaders are facing references, inquiries and investigations. Whatever their final outcome, these moves so close to the election will certainly affect the PML-N’s performance in the polls, due to be held in July.