LAHORE - Although their timing will be decided by the government keeping in sight the political situation, the next general elections will be held in a much different environment than the ones held in 2008 because of the emergence of some new factors and arrangements that were not there in the past.

The interim government that will supervise the electoral process will be chosen both by the ruling party and the opposition, just like the Chief Election Commissioner. Arrangements being made to obviate the possibility of the use of bogus votes will make the polls fairer and more transparent, after which nobody will be able to challenge them.

Then, parties which had boycotted the previous elections will be taking part in the ensuing polls - better prepared and with greater public support. The Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf, the Jamaat-i-Islami, the Sunni Ittehad Council will be putting up their candidates from their own platforms or in alliance with other parties.

The presence of these parties in the arena will mean division of the rightist vote, a situation that can be averted only if all rightist forces join hands. If the PML-N takes these parties along, it will be serving its own cause. Otherwise, these parties will be sharing the same vote bank, a situation that will benefit the PPP.

The Jamaat-i-Islami and the PML-N have been cooperating in elections in the past, but it’s not clear whether the former will be willing to join hands even this time when the option of reviving the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal or entering into some arrangement with the PTI is also there.  The Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf also poses a serious challenge to the PML-N, and the latter is fully cognizant of the fact. Both are trying to woo the youthful voters, who will be playing a decisive role in the victory or defeat of any party because of their numbers.

Another new factor to be seen in the next elections is the PPP’s decision to take all its coalition partners along. This means that the PML-Q, the MQM, the ANP and the PML-Functional will be cooperating with one another, a situation that will go against the PML-N.

The PPP has been working with the MQM and the ANP in the past, but this will be the first time that it will be cooperating with the PML-Q, a party which was held responsible for the assassination of PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto and which Asif Ali Zardari had branded as ‘Qatil League’. Leaders of both the parties claim that their electoral cooperation will help them trounce the PML-N contestants.

This claim is being made despite the fact that the performance of the ruling coalition has been simply disappointing. The parties in power have miserably failed to solve common man’s problems and their leaders are mindful that voters are very angry. Still they feel that they have very strong candidates for many constituencies who will win the elections despite all factors going against them.

The PTI, which has been a non-entity ever since it was launched in 1996 and which had stayed away from the 2008 elections, has improved its position after its October 30 rally in Lahore. Many important political figures, previously working for other parties, have joined hands Imran Khan. Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, former foreign ministers Khurshid Mehmud Kasuri, Shah Mehmud Qureshi and Sardar Assef Ahmad Ali and former federal ministers Jehangir Tareen and Ishaq Khakwani being among them.

The PTI’s position in south Punjab is improving because of new entries.

The Pakistan Democratic Party of late Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan has also merged itself with the PTI. Although the PDP doesn’t have a vote bank, its decision will strengthen the impression that Imran Khan is gaining popularity in the region.

The Punjab would, as usual, be the province where the battle for Islamabad would be fought. A party having greater number of seats from here will stand better chance of ruling the entire country.

Last general elections held in 2008 threw a split mandate divided among three political parties-PML-N, PPP and PML-Q – each getting 63, 47 and 26 seats, respectively, out of total 148 National Assembly seats allocated for the Punjab.

The election results show that 70 per cent of PML-N vote bank is concentrated in northern Punjab comprising districts of Rawalpindi, Gujranwala and Lahore divisions. It grabbed 44 seats from this region out of total 63 national seats that the party secured from the entire province. The statistics indicate that popularity graph of the PML-N starts declining as it moves downwards from central to south Punjab. The party of Nawaz Sharif obtained only nine national seats from districts of Faisalabad, Sargodha, Multan, DG Khan and Bahawalpur divisions.

Compared to 44 seats of the PML-N in northern Punjab, the PPP got only 13, while PML-Q ended up securing four seats out of total 61 national seats from the region. The PPP and the PML-Q, which plan to contest the coming elections jointly, will have to concentrate more on this part of the province to be able to compete not only with the PML-N but also the PTI, which has already improved its position in the region with the joining of some influential political figures from Chakwal district. Former Chakwal district nazim Sardar Ghulam Abbas, ex-PML-N leader Faiz Tamman and Col (R) Sultan Surkharo have joined the PTI and may give tough time to the PML-N candidates there.

In central Punjab, comprising districts of Faisalabad and Sargodha divisions besides two districts of Sahiwal and Okara, the PPP had emerged as the party with maximum number of national seats (14 out of 31), closely followed by PML-Q which secured 12 seats. The PML-N stood at a distant third position with only five seats. Six national seats from this region falling in the districts of Khushab, Mianwali and Bakkar went to independents in the last elections.

These seats would be up for grabs in the coming elections for all political parties. Mazhar Qureshi and Ghulam Sagheer Lak are the two notable political figures who have joined the PTI so far from this region. No political ‘bigwig’ has joined PTI from Faisalabad division till date.

South Punjab comprising districts of Multan, DG Khan and Bahawalpur divisions has traditionally been a stronghold of the PPP. Though it got maximum number of national seats (22 out of 50) in 2008 general elections, its performance remained dismal keeping in view its previous standing in the region. The combined seats of PML-Q and PML-N who got 13 and 10 seats, respectively, outnumbered those of the PPP while five were bagged by independent candidates. 

In the coming elections, the PTI will play an important role in this region because people like Owais Leghari, Jamal Leghari from DG Khan and some others from Multan and Rahimyar Khan have joined hands with Imran Khan. This development will affect the PML-N, the PML-Q and the PPP equally, although all three are trying to maintain their hold in their respective constituencies.