Democracy in Pakistan is like changing of socks. People keep choosing the same leaders. The leaders keep changing parties and positions for their own benefits, while the system remains unchanged. And so does the condition of the ordinary citizens.

The same horses are in the run again in the general elections to be held on May 11, 2013. Most have been in power before one or more number of times. Imran Khan has been a one-man band for years and the only one whom power has eluded during the last 16 years - though not for lack of trying.

His PTI appeared little more than a bunch of insignificant starry-eyed novices, a few absconders from the JI and other parties and another few of his affluent technocrat friends. The mammoth rally of November 2011 in Lahore changed everything.

Fortune has been smiling over him ever since. Numerous political heavyweights, intellectuals, celebrities, wealthy aspirants for political recognition and average people now stand in line to join his party. While the party’s membership swelled, its face also transformed from the party of the youth and fresh faces to the old tried hands hunting for the gold.

The PTI has become the wild card in the current elections. Having boycotted all elections since 2008, it has now entered the arena for the first time as a freshly invigorated party of substance. Its electability remains an unknown commodity. Predictions of the degree of its success are quite wild too.

Given normal circumstances, the pundits grant this party a token presence, perhaps, as a small block that will gain an edge of a certain bargaining power. No one is guessing the outcome if the promised tsunami does materialise and sweeps all that comes in its way (it can be 20 or 120 seats!).

This year promises to be a make or break for him, for sure. A further five years in the wilderness consequent upon an insignificant showing in 2013 may be too long to wait for the restless captain - with advanced age catching up.

On the other hand, the PML-N is oozing with confidence. It claims to possess better understanding of electoral politics. It has developed over the years an army of experienced workers linked with various bonds of loyalty like biradri, tried and tested organisational capability and inroads at the grassroots levels in their constituencies in the Punjab. Mian Nawaz Sharif has been quietly at work cobbling up alliances in the other three provinces to enable him to form a government at the centre - should he get a sizeable majority in the Punjab.

Meanwhile, Shahbaz Sharif had been busy setting record times in completing several development and infrastructural projects in the major cities of Punjab. To balance the youth factor beholden to the star value of Imran Khan, the untiring Chief Minister organised several events and schemes to attract the youth to PML-N during the last few years. In a comparative analysis of governance in the provinces, Punjab has been accredited by various surveys to being the better among the four. The PML-N as a political party is also shown to be leading in popularity polls and Nawaz Sharif as a national leader.

The PPP is disadvantaged by the incumbency factor that is further compounded by its poor record of governance. The economy has been allowed to slide to near bankruptcy by lack of attention and irresponsible expenditures. Electricity generation and distribution have been grossly mismanaged causing unbearable power shortages. A few political parties in power patronised armed groups and mafias resulting in a breakdown of law and order. These factors have a direct bearing on people’s daily lives and will overshadow the legislative reforms that Parliament introduced.

Many of the PPP stalwarts have jumped the ship they deem is sinking and have defected to other political parties. President Asif Zardari has relinquished his position of party Co-Chairman, ostensibly in compliance of the Lahore High Court ruling, and has so far abstained from running the party election campaign openly. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who inherited the Bhutto legacy, is underage to contest the elections and is wary of making grand public appearances due to security concerns. Consequently, the party presently stands headless.

The two former Prime Ministers entrusted to lead the electioneering are tainted and lack the charisma to enthuse people. Yet, the party has a large following of deep convictions among the lower strata that may not be visible, but has a habit of springing surprises. The electoral strength of the PPP may have weakened, but cannot be written off by any means.

The political party PML-Q, created by President Pervez Musharaf and nurtured as crutches for his decade-long rule, has disintegrated to a large extent. The remnants may be influential in their own right, but are a considerably less potent force in the reduced strength and may even disappear into oblivion. The regional parties like MQM, JUI and ANP that were components of the last government are striving hard to keep their previous vote bank intact. The extent of electability of the nationalist and other religious parties will be put to test in the elections. One only hopes they do well in the polls that is imperative for the regional cooperation and national solidarity.

All previous elections in our country have been manipulated one way or the other by the establishment that is the army and the bureaucracy - aided by the judiciary. This time, however, the roles are reversed. It is the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) fully supported by the judiciary that is calling the shots with the establishment quietly following the events. The outgoing government accomplished its last minute objectives (that their opponents term as pre-poll rigging) by doling out undeserved funds to their favourite constituents till the last moment of its rule. The caretaker governments installed in the centre and four provinces have all been nominated by them.

The caretakers have too much administrative work on their plates for which they had not done much homework. In the present scenario, it is unlikely that they will be able to influence the results in any way. If nothing untoward happens, the elections are expected to be the fairest in our history.

The cleansing process during the scrutiny of nomination papers of the candidates has almost fallen flat. The overzealous returning officers, who were neither issued clear and unambiguous directions, nor any uniform guidelines by the ECP, embarked on a disqualification spree. Most of the decisions taken by them amidst a great deal of confusion have already been reversed by higher tribunals. The credibility of the interim setup, particularly the ECP that commenced on a high moral ground, is thus already slipping. The clear indication is that the nation is desirous of change, but is not ready for it.

 The writer is an engineer and an entrepreneur.  Email: k.a.k786@hotmail.com