The most likely outcome

With the elections set for May 11, the campaigning is at its peak. The questions in the minds of the electorate and observers abroad are: will the elections take place on time given the targeted attacks of the TTP; what will be the electoral outcome and what challenges lie ahead for the post-poll dispensation?
The TTP attacks and loss of valuable lives, though largely confined to areas outside Punjab and directed at certain parties, have certainly had an effect. However, it has not dented the enthusiasm of any party for the elections. The interim government too, backed by the military and the judiciary, has pledged to hold the elections on time. So, it would take a catastrophic event to cause any reconsideration and that remains improbable.
These attacks, nevertheless, will affect voter turnout. It is generally held that a low turnout around the traditional 43-45 percent would go against Imran Khan’s PTI, in what is basically a three-main party race with the PPP and the PML-N being the other contenders. The expectation is that a high voter turnout would favour the PTI given its young and educated supporters.
Despite this, it is not possible to predict the overall outcome for a number of reasons. There are no exit polls with the same rigour as in some other countries giving a clear indication. Furthermore, this is the first election after a democratically-elected government has completed its term. Hence, what happened when governments were overthrown in the 90s and were unable to win the next elections, apart from the PPP five years ago, offers no precedent.
There are certain political realities: the following of the two main parties the PPP and the PML-N and those of the parties such as the MQM in urban Sindh, the ANP in KPK and the religious parties like the JI and the JUI, the appeal of their leaders, the local electables and the prevalence of the biradari or clan system.
To analysts of Pakistan’s political scene, certain contours seem to be emerging. The PPP has the disadvantage of having been in power when inflation has risen, energy shortages have depressed the economy and law and order has deteriorated. No prominent leader is marshalling its campaign. The PPP can complain with some justification that there has been a global recession, that law and order is a provincial responsibility, of the PML-N in Punjab and that being buffeted by the courts and opponents has not allowed them to carry out their plans. But for the common man, it is, however, difficult to see beyond his everyday problems.
In central Punjab, the advantage seems with the incumbent provincial government - the PML-N. In South Punjab, however, the PPP retains more influence and will certainly get a majority in Sindh with the MQM retaining the seats in its urban strongholds .
The PML-N has entered into alliances in provinces outside Punjab, but in KPK, apart from the Hazara district in KPK, it may not significantly dent regional parties led by the ANP.
More so, the PPP has a following in pockets in both KPK and Balochistan. In Balochistan, the electoral results will most likely return a fractured house, as was the case after the last elections.
In addition, the impact of Imran’s PTI and whose vote bank it will deplete is the biggest question mark. However, whatever the strength of the PTI’s call for change and no matter how well it performs, it is unlikely to have the seats to form a government on its own.
Overall, while many observers foresee that the PML-N will retain control over Punjab and at the centre, it may end up with more seats than the PPP, but not enough to form the government. The most likely outcome at the federal level is that no one party will be able to govern on its own. Whatever the results, a coalition seems inevitable. But what shape it will take, cannot be predicted with certainty.
Also, while the shape of any coalition that will emerge will depend on the results, political bargaining and accommodation of diverse interests, one aspect is crystal clear: the incoming government will be confronted by multiple challenges. The key will be to get the economy going to generate resources to tackle law and order, improve education, rebuild infrastructure and improve social services.
The fulcrum will be tackling the energy crisis by improving management and distribution, improving energy efficiency as China has done, getting stalled and long-delayed projects such as the gas pipeline from Iran, an LNG terminal and state-to-state agreement with Qatar.
There are foreign policy challenges - foremost enhancing relations with America beyond 2014 and managing relations with India and Afghanistan, never easy at the best of times, in order to make space for internal priorities. The economy is the priority. A strong and stable Pakistan will make for the best dynamics to face the external world.
The writer is a retired ambassador. This article has been reprinted from the Gulf News.

The writer is a former Pakistani diplomat. Email:

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