Election Season: what to expect?

As election season fast approaches it is only natural that we look towards our leaders, their politics, and the vision they hold for the country. While the country has greatly changed since 2013, the issues plaguing it have hardly made a headway. Issues of security, healthcare, education, political transparency, accountability, economic and social development, and democratic stability have since gained a fresh momentum in today’s relevance. But more importantly, while political dynamics within and outside political parties are set in stone, it is likely that a new age might be upon us; an age where the political leadership of Pakistan is not only in the process of transformation but also stands at a crossroad where the ‘old-guard’ has to gradually make way for ‘young blood’. But does that mean a new wave of political thinking might finally make an appearance in the coming political term?

PPP’s new and approved strategy has landed itself from the confines of Sindh onto the big table. Bilawal’s fiery speeches and Zardari’s recent return has induced the party with fresh zeal and confidence. But more importantly the new strategy includes public meetings, political steering, and seat to seat adjustment- especially in Punjab- Pakistan’s electoral hub and a sure shot tactic to jolt the political establishment into action. It is clear that the party is gearing up to give a tough time to the ruling party PML-N, while at the same time generating its own political power. But surprisingly, there is also talk of a PTI-PPP alliance in the making that might give new shape to politics in the country. Though the parties shared the opposition seat, it will be a difficult feat to outline future agendas that differ from each other thereby cementing their individual moral positions. PTI’s schema is more or less based on governance, accountability, and transparency- issues that might put PPP’s bid under the bus. Yet PPP, a seasoned opponent, will always have a trick up its sleeve. With Zardari’s return, one can be sure of that. It is likely that the two parties will either accommodate each other, or be at each other’s throats. But the question is: how will the leadership of both parties vary in the coming elections and beyond? Will Bilawal be more prominent? Will he able to operate outside Zardari’s image? Will Imran Khan give the reigns to an able party member? Will he be too to contest elections if he loses in the next term? Where would that leave PTI?

PML-Q, a long forgotten dream, is awake, active, and ready to enter the arena. In a bid to gain popularity, legitimacy, and perhaps an assertive stance, party leaders were seen approaching Musharraf to join. While it is not clear if the former president has accepted the offer, the party itself is surely making small changes and with slight progress. Lahore, usually seen as the Sharif hub, also has pockets that support the Chaudhry brothers. Their short stint in government is remembered by the city, but more than that, the city seems to be looking for a power alternate. What is even more interesting is their attempts at power will have to include either a coalition with the winning party in Punjab, or in support of a major one. It is highly unlikely that PML-Q will win the national seat. But then again, it is Pakistani politics we’re talking about; the motto is- anything goes, anything can transpire. Moonis Ellahi, Lahore’s golden boy, might have a chance at proving his political wit and worth.

MQM seems to be in disarray, at least on the organizational level. Altaf Hussain has gone into oblivion, or rather into strategic silence. While Karachi retains much of its Muhajir support through MQM, PSP is the new contender. Karachi’s political dynamics is still based on ethnic concerns, but with the security situation under the paramilitary’s domain, governance, law and order, and economic uplift are now issues that the provincial government has to necessarily not just acknowledge but also engaged with. PPP, in contrast, has maintained an impeccable although questionable image in public discourses. Its longevity and its experience gives it more of an edge in democratic processes as opposed to MQM’s street politics and political gimmicks.

PML-N, on the other hand, might still retain enough electoral support to win yet another term. Its democratic reign has been relatively optimistic, filled with mega developmental projects, legislative initiatives, with a semblance of accountability brought upon by the Panama scandal. While allegations against the ruling family has put it on the back foot, the party preserves its rural and urban support well beyond claims of corruption and money laundering.  In truth, legal technicalities cannot undermine the political image the party has created and maintains to this day. According to sources, Sharif brothers are now preparing their kith and kin to take over ‘affairs of the state’. While it is being said that Hamza Shahbaz will take over the Punjab seat, and Maryam Nawaz the federal seat- it is still a long way till that can become an actuality.

Political parties in Pakistan are not internally democratic, politically transparent, or management impartial. How then do they reckon to represent democracy is unclear? Political pandits predict that PML-N will win the federal seat again, the real competition in terms of an image overhaul will be seen between PTI and PPP. MQM may win Karachi, but Sindh will remain under PPP. KPK will have a tough fight between ANP, JU-F, and PTI. It is also possible that PTI might gain momentum if it strategizes its moves in the next one year; their overt dependence on the Panama verdict will not be enough.

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