It could be said that the position of the chief minister (CM) of Punjab is the second most powerful post in politics. The government of Punjab has a strong ticket to influence in the next elections as well. With such breathtakingly close results in Punjab, with 127 PML-N seats, and 123 PTI, it is a game of thrones, with both major parties scrambling to make government.

With such a tight chase, it is a race for which party can woo the independents, who constitute 28 seats, and PML-Q, with 7. Already the scramble has begun, with reports of PTI leaders approaching independent candidates, even meeting with banned outfit ASWJ’s member from Jhang in a much criticised decision. Both PML-N and PTI are reported to be in talks with Pervaiz Elahi of PML-Q.

While PML-N has almost unequivocally pitched Hamza Shahbaz for the role of CM, there is competition in PTI for the final choice. The predicted choices Shah Mahmood failed to win a provincial seat, and Aleem Khan has NAB cases pending against him. The party’s spokesperson Fawad Chaudhry has pitched himself for the CM seat, yet he remains an unpopular candidate amongst PTI supporters, with Dr. Yasmin Rashid being a more popular choice, which would make her the first Pakistani female CM. To make matters complicated, PML-Q will likely agree to support PTI in exchange for a CM spot, probably Pervaiz Elahi, who brings the benefit of having had prior CM experience.

The next week will reveal which party is truly more strategic. PTI is known for shooting itself in the foot in the past by being indecisive, so it needs to get its act together quickly and pitch a strong candidate if it has its hopes set on Punjab, and not succumb to past errors of back-tracking on decisions as it did for the care-taker government.

Surprisingly, the campaign from PML-N, which has always played the politics game well, has also been lacklustre. Between shuffling from declaring elections void, to a virtually absent campaign, Shehbaz Sharif’s ambitions for the party’s future have never been as ambiguous as now.

A lot is at stake for both parties. A PTI federal government, without Punjab, would be a weak one, faced with obstacles preventing them from achieving the goals they have grandiosely promised; a PML-N loss in Punjab would greatly weaken the party’s influence and perhaps even wipe them out till the next elections. Both parties need to act swiftly.