All political parties have started electioneering after awarding tickets to their candidates. The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) faced serious rifts and protests by workers over tickets. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Muttahid Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) awarded tickets without hassle because few candidates were interested in them. The PTI received the most number of applications, which shows it is most like to win the July 25 election.
The PTI had received over 5,000 applications for tickets. Its chairman Imran Khan has decided to contest elections from three provinces, except Balochistan, to present himself as a candidate for the prime minister’s slot. PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif is his main contender, who is also contesting the election from three provinces. The PML-N did not disclose the number of applications it had received but it had to extend the deadline for receiving applications twice after lukewarm response from candidates. Most electables have joined the PTI and the rest are contesting elections as independent candidates because they believe the PML-N cannot come to power again. The PML-N has lost its grip in south Punjab. In the three divisions of the Punjab — Bahawalpur, Dera Ghazi Khan and Multan — no one was interested in contesting the polls on Shahbaz Sharif’s ticket.
The PTI has embraced a large number of electables in the past few weeks. According to a report by the Free and Fair Election Network, over 248 politicians, including dozens of federal and provincial lawmakers, have changed sides ahead of elections and 92 of them have joined the PTI. But it had to bear the backlash, as it could not provide tickets to all of them. It was the first party from where the voice of dissent rose. It was also because of the fact that it had started awarding tickets before any other party. Protest grew after it neglected some strong candidates and awarded tickets to newcomers. A tussle between PTI leaders Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Jahangir Tareen also intensified on the award of tickets. Experts say the PTI may lose six National Assembly seats and seven of Punjab Assembly seats because of differences. However, it is still acceptable to it.
The situation in the PML-N camp was no different. Former Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan, former Punjab Ministers Zaeem Qadri and Abdul Ghafoor have revolted against the party. Qadri announced that he would contest the election from Lahore’s NA-133 seat as an independent candidate. “I cannot polish Hamza Shahbaz’s boots,” he said during a press conference. Before his outburst, former Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique attempted to convince him to rethink his decision, but he refused. “Bring on your employees, boot polishers and masseurs; my election is against you, Hamza Shahbaz,” Qadri thundered. Experts see more groups in the party before elections.
On the hand, the PPP awarded tickets in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa without any resistance because of the fact that very few people from the provinces were interested in its ticket. However, it faced a tussle in Sindh, where its position is strong. Reeling from an exodus of electables and senior members from its ranks, the party was in a quandary over finding suitable candidates to field in the Punjab. Even its office-bearers in the province refused to contest the election on its ticket. Former PPP Punjab President Manzoor Wattoo is contesting independently because he thinks a PPP ticket means a certain defeat. The situation provided a chance to a large number of second and third tier workers and leaders to apply for tickets. Recently, former President Asif Zardari had claimed that his party would win in the Punjab as he decided to come into the field with his son Bilawal Bhutto and daughters Bakhtawar and Aseefa. However, neither Zardari nor Bilawal filed papers from any constituency in the province.
The PTI hopes to form governments at the Centre, the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Its position is strong at the Centre and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but it is not sure about its position in the Punjab. It has fielded strong candidates for the National Assembly in the province. It hopes to win most National Assembly seats in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and even from Sindh and Balochistan, but it is not sure about forming the government in the Punjab. It had to face protests mainly over Punjab Assembly tickets. Many experts predict a hung parliament and in that case, Asif Zardari’s role will become crucial. Others say the PTI will win with an absolute majority at the Centre and it would not need the support of the PPP or other parties. In any case, it will head the government even if it failed to get a clear majority.
The PML-N, under former Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, apparently has no chance to form the government at the Centre, as it cannot win many seats outside its home province. Its only chance is to retain the Punjab but the fate of Shahbaz Sharif is not clear after the disqualification of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He and his favuorite bureaucrats are still on the National Accountability Bureau (NAB)’s radar. He also faces the Model Town case. Rumour has it that almost 80pc politicians, who face corruption charges, will be arrested before or after elections. It will also be interesting to see how many candidates in the race among the mainstream parties emerge “clean” after declaration of their assets. The PML-N and the Sharifs are banking on their deep-rooted organization in the province. Unlike the 2013 polls, they are going into the 2018 elections with a number of disadvantages. However, Shahbaz Sharif is considered close to the establishment. If he survives the Model Town case and other cases against him, it will boost the chances of his party to retain power in the province but it will still have to deal with a heavy opposition.