Although the Supreme Court directed President Asif Ali Zardari to stay away from politics, he addressed a public meeting at Malakwal in Mandi Bahauddin last week. According to advertisements, the event was an Eid Millan party.

The president's address is largely being interpreted as a part of electioneering for the upcoming polls, arsing hopes of timely elections. Unlike his past speeches, the president did not target any political party. The president's decision to express his political views at a public meeting negated the impression created in the media that he is going to shed his political office and bring somebody else to the fore as the PPP co-chairman.

The principal party on the opposition side, PML-N, criticized the presidential address as a violation of the Supreme Court verdict and the constitution but it was at such a low pitch that no notice was taken at the public and media level. Somewhat the same was the reaction from other parties. Political pundits deem the  address as an attempt de-escalated tension in the PML-Q over Manzoor Wattoo’s appointment as PPP central Punjab president. But they see the row would intensify. Experts believe the PML-N would be the beneficiary of this situation.

To assess what reaction comes from the Election Commission and the Judiciary on Zardari’s address, the PML-N has adopted a “wait-and-see policy”, instead of coming all out against the president.  Moreover, the Supreme Court entrusted the responsibility for implementing the Asghar Khan case decision to the government. But, the government has so far taken no decision on trying two former generals held guilty by the court, nor has it constituted any FIA team to investigate the alleged recipients of the public money.

And the Malakwal meeting points to the fact that the president wants to look beyond the decision and at the elections and his address can be a means to bring himself and the party workers out of the pressure. Political pundits say that the PML-N was emerging stronger at the moment than other political party and from the experience it had at the hand of Asif Ali Zardari in the past, the party had not only become circumspect but was also strategising its elections to defeat PPP, whom it considers its true rival.

Through a better strategy and sagacity it maintained pressure on the PPP-led government for on time elections, as a result of which doubts were gradually disappearing. At the same time, the party is mindful of the Karachi and Balochistan situation as well as the Election Commission's decision against 212 parliamentarians who have as yet not filed affidavits against dual nationality. In case the government tried to exploit any of the two factors to delay the polls, the PML-N has in mind a strategy to frustrate the plan. The PML's organization has entered the last phase and its new election manifesto will be unveiled soon.

Party committees at the district level have been formed for finalising the electable candidates, while entry of eminent leaders is on. A committee headed by central leaders has begun presenting reports on these names to the party head who would referred the nominees to a 12-member committee for further consideration before putting them before the Parliamentary board. The PML-N sources say that many notable leaders of PML-Q, PTI and PPP are in contact with the party but the PML-N leadership has stopped them from announcing their decisions untill the election schedule.

Sources say that the PML-N and the government are in touch with each other behind-the-scenes and possibility is being expressed about their formal talks on interim setup and caretaker prime minister next month. Sources say that the potential candidates who are willing to join the PML-N have also been considered by the district committees and, hopefully, the winnable of them can find place in the final list.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had met JI Ameer Syed Munawar Hassan at Masoora some months ago. Since then formal contacts between the two sides are suspended. For the purpose of the political alliance or electoral understanding a number of similarities are found in both on the basis of which they have been jointly contesting elections in the past. However this time round situation is a bit different as the JI is in the process of setting up an alliance of religious parties to match with the MMA following which it may enter negotiations with the PML-N or the PTI.

As for informal contacts between JI and PML-N, the sources say, the JI has set the condition of giving it most of the seats PML-N has already won. And both may join hand if a middle way is found. About Sindh, the PML-N is wooing nationalist parties and working on establishing a strong platform against the PPP at the head of PML-F, whose leaders have recently met the N leadership during which this and other election matters also came under discussion. President Zardari went to Multan to woo former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani after he was annoyed with the party’s leadership over the arrest of his son outside the President’s House and the FIA notice in ephedrine case.

Gilani, who already felt abandoned in the party after SC threw him out of the office and disqualified to contest election for five years, was reportedly mulling leaving the party when President Zardari took an unexpected visit at him to address his grievances and save the party politics in Southern Punjab. It has been learnt that Gilani has been assured that his disqualification will be challenged in the Supreme Court or a legislation would be introduced in parliament for a special package of incentives for the former prime minister. All options available to the government are under consideration at present.

The PTI has announced its long due intra-party elections. The first phase of the election will be held in Islamabad. The PTI had previously postponed the elections twice because of which the party organisation remained incomplete and misgivings about the party working and its structure were born. This factored many to leave the party besides igniting the debate of ‘old and new’ in the party. The elections will not only end the debate but also give a final chance to the shaky leaders to either stay or quit the party. After elections, a new strong political face of the PTI is likely to emerge.