LAHORE - Nine new realities will come into play in today’s polls which are eventually going to seal the fate of the nation and the political parties.

None of the nine factors being discussed below existed at the time of 2013 elections.

For the first time in country’s history, this election is going to be a battle of the narratives built by the major political parties over the past five years. They are in the elections this time to sell their respective narratives to the electorate.

PTI has pledged to build a new Pakistan which is corruption free though with the help of the same old masons. PML-N has built its narrative against the establishment which it thinks has no regard for the people’s mandate.

It is going to elections with the slogan of “vote ko izzat do” (Give respect to people’s vote). The PML-N expects the voters to give weight to its development work of its last tenure also.

PPP, on the other hand, has built its credentials of a progressive, forward-looking party with zero tolerance for the extremists and terrorism. In all his election speeches, its Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has tried to portray the PML-N and the PTI as pro-Taliban parties.

He has also been vocal against the PML-N for being slow on the implementation of the National Action Plan devised to defeat terrorism in 2014.

PPP leaders think that a peaceful and progressive Pakistan will help resolve all the issues plaguing this nation.

Who eventually emerges victorious in this battle of the narratives will be clear after the election results.

Entry of new religious parties into the 2018 elections and revival of the MMA is also a new factor which is not without its political impact.

This time, none of the major political parties is going to have its share of the religious vote which, otherwise, might have been polled either in favour of the PML-N or the PTI.

A good number of candidates belonging to Tehreek-e-Labbaik and Allah-O-Akbar led by Maulana Khadim Hussain Rizvi and Hafiz Muhammad Saeed respectively are in the run for the first time.

The former is seeking votes on the issue of Khatm-e-Nabuwat (Finality of the Prophethood) while the latter is luring the voters for its anti-India stance. Both these parties are in the race to capture the vote bank which previously belonged to the PML-N, a party which according to them had revived the once settled issue of Khatm-e-Nabuwat and which also had visible tilt towards India despite latter’s atrocities on the innocent Kashmiris struggling for their right to independence.

These parties have their small pockets of votes in different constituencies, but their vote may prove decisive in favour of or against the major parties candidates who are in close contest in certain constituencies.

In a recent by-election held in old NA-120 (Lahore), Tehreek-e-Labbaik candidate fetched over 14,000 votes, thereby reducing margin of victory of the PML-N candidate, Begum Kalsoom Nawaz. This party is banking on the Brelvi vote which traditionally goes in favour of the PML-N.

This time, the major religio-political parties like the JI and JUI-F are in the arena under the banner of MMA. This alliance had proved effective in 2002 elections when MMA formed government in KP with Akram Durrani as the then chief minister.

The presence of MMA and the new religious parties in this election will also give rise to polarisation of religious vote which may also prove self-destructive for them.

Present elections are being held under new delimitations.

Majority of the contesting candidates have lost their old constituencies along with their previous support base. Nonetheless, a few contestants might be happy with the new arrangement after having areas under them which traditionally support their party. It may not affect the overall vote bank of the political parties, but the new delimitations may affect the individual performance of certain candidates.

The emergence of a powerful social media is another factor which had little relevance in 2013 elections. It is a new tool to reach out to the electorate and influence their opinions. The social media cells of political parties were more active than ever this time. It also gave a new dimension to the traditional canvassing which has its limitations.

A divided MQM in 2018 polls is a new phenomenon in country’s politics. MQM lost at least four Senate seats in March this year due to divisions in its ranks. Currently, the MQM stands divided into three factions led by Mustafa Kamal, Farooq Sattar and Maqbool Siddiqui. The PPP and the PTI seem to be the major beneficiary of this divide in today’s vote.

For the first time perhaps, head of a major political party would be in jail along with his daughter as the country goes to polls today.

It is however yet to be seen whether or not his party gets the sympathy vote to regain power yet again.

PPP this time is going to elections with a young but energetic leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. He ran a very sane, sensible and mature campaign unlike other parties which went beyond a certain level of decency to criticise their opponents. It may not bring any immediate gains for the party in Punjab, but it may pave the pave for its victory in the next elections.

Also, today’s polls are being held under a strong perception that establishment is backing one particular party. There was also the talk of pre-poll rigging allegedly done by forcing the PML-N candidates to switch their loyalties to the PTI. A record number of so-called electables, previously known as lotas, jumped on the PTI’s bandwagon this time.

Today’s electoral battles will also decide their fate in the polls.