Despite the apprehensions of terrorism and insurgency, military takeovers, political upheavals and uncertainties during the last five years, democracy has survived in our country. Yesterday, May 11, 2013, 86.20 million registered voters had the option to freely exercise the right to cast their votes in favour of the candidates of their choice. 15,629 candidates competed for the 849 seats in the National and four Provincial Assemblies. By the time you read this article, most of the results would be known and discussed threadbare by experts on television news channels.

The three-week election campaign followed the American pattern with enormous budget allocations for television and print media networks. The internet, radio, cellular and landline phones were effectively and cleverly utilised to initiate debates and communicate messages through social media, FM radio and texting, in addition to the conventional large public meetings and smaller corner meetings. The focal points of all campaigns were the party leaders and the party electoral symbol, rather than the individuals. Ingenious strategies were devised by each political party for its campaign.

The following of Imran Khan and his PTI had grown exponentially since its successful Lahore public meeting in October 2011. The slogan of ‘change’ with new faces, coupled with his magnetic personality transformed his party from an underdog to the third largest political party within a period of one year and made him a real contender for prime ministership. His followers hailed from all social backgrounds though mostly from the literate youth, who were inspired by his single mindedness and his philanthropic achievements. PTI concentrated mainly on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Punjab with a few appearances in the other two provinces. The main contest had to be held in the Punjab for 148 National Assembly seats, out of a total of 272.

Imran’s personal approval rating reached the peak of 70 percent in 2012, when Nawaz Sharif trailed at 62 percent and Asif Zardari at 14 percent. However, the same PEW research centre’s most recent survey showed the approval rating of Imran as leader dropping to 60 percent, while Nawaz gained four percentage points to 64 percent and President Zardari stayed constant at a dismal 14 percent. Nawaz and his PML-N were thus perceived to be a common threat both by PTI and PPP, along with the PML-Q, and, consequently, faced a three-pronged attack from them in the battle of Punjab - considered a stronghold of PML-N.

The PPP decided to hold back personal appearances of young Bilawal and not to take the risk of bringing the two less charismatic (and tainted) ex-Prime Ministers or its party President in the limelight. Disadvantaged by the absence of a dynamic leader in the foreground, it played to the emotions of its committed voters by exhibiting the images of its martyrs and the Bhutto family, besides propagating its welfare schemes for the poor women and the farmers. Its second trump card was to lodge a fierce negative campaign against its main rival PML-N. Full page advertisements were placed in leading newspapers denouncing the development works undertaken by Shahbaz Sharif as Chief Minister of Punjab. Clips of the past were played on television portraying the Sharif brothers as unreliable. During PPP public meetings, the five-year PML-N rule of Punjab was lambasted.

Imran led his vigorous (ZAB style) campaign from the front. He converted his governmental inexperience into an asset and made Nawaz his main target, whom he relentlessly singled out for ridicule in all his public speeches. With no previous track record, he talked of a new Pakistan, promised never to lie, end corruption in 90 days and loadshedding in six months, education for all, down the American drones, rather die than beg for alms and to put Pakistan back on its feet. These lofty but attractive claims endeared him to the first time voters and to the uninitiated.

The PML-N, PML-Q and ANP made their past record of infrastructural development works, completed during their tenures, their showpiece and relied mostly on their party organisation and ideological workers. There is little remarkably different to choose from any of the party manifestos. Each made tall claims that none has the capacity to resolve. There is no quick fix to the issues at hand. The most daunting being the so-called TTP that proved their nuisance value by disrupting election campaigns of at least three major political parties in three provinces. There should, nevertheless, be any doubt that our fragile democracy will emerge a little stronger as a consequence of this election.

The otherwise decent campaigns were marred a little by attempts of character assassinations - mainly of Nawaz Sharif by PPP and Imran Khan and of President Zardari by Shahbaz Sharif and Imran Khan. Nawaz stayed composed and statesman like and President Zardari remained silent, choosing not to retaliate in deference to his position.

The thrust made by the PTI towards the end of the race is most likely to result in a surge of its votes. With every possibility of being proved wrong today, the PTI is tipped to win up to 65 national seats (give and take a few) - up from the previously estimated 40 seats. The PTI vote will eat into the PML-N support, disturbing the pattern of distribution of votes that may substantially reduce the originally forecast of up to 110 national seats for PML-N. The PPP is quite certain to retain a minimum of 60 seats - mostly from Sindh. The public is divided and appears in no mood to give an absolute majority to any political party.

Thus, an uncertain situation is forecast where no major party is likely to have anywhere near a majority and coalition of major parties is imminent. Each of the three major parties is likely to win 60-70 seats each, the rest split among others. Soon, formulae of permutations and combinations with the magic numbers of seats required to form governments and the influence of the usual invisible powers will be debated. The speculations now will be if our country is destined for stronger and more competent governments at the centre and in the provinces. Or, (God forbid) we are fated to another spell of inaction and chaos for the next few years.

The writer is an engineer and an entrepreneur.