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KARACHI: Considering the number of parties and independent candidates contesting in general elections on February 8, Pakistan is going to see a largely polarized political landscape, experts said.

This scenario is also reflected in various polls conducted during past few days. It seems that there will be a stiff competition between major political parties which depicts signs of a large coalition government in the aftermath of general elections. Moreover, this time it may take longer (30-40 days) to form a consensus as role of independents and smaller parties will be crucial.

“An early formation of the next government with a lower number of parties in coalition (less fragmented) will be taken positively by the market as it may ensure that the new setup will carry on economic reforms smoothly and negotiate a bigger IMF program,” Farhan Mahmood, senior analyst at Sherman Securities said.

Interestingly, it will be the toughest elections for each candidate this time around as total of 5,162 candidates are contesting for 266 seats of National Assembly. Besides independents other than PTI, 2,146 candidates representing various parties will be contesting for 141 NA seats in Punjab, 61 seats in Sindh, 16 seats in Baluchistan and 45 seats in KP.

Thus, with higher number of parties at national level along with increased number of candidates, around 08 candidates are contesting for each constituency compared to 07 candidates in last elections showing tough competition.

Farhan observed this is the first time that 58 percent of candidates nominated this time are independents out of which 266 represent PTI.

Despite party facing challenges, PTI has fielded higher candidates (260) compared to last year’s (247). Contrary to popular perception, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) with 245 seats is the biggest party which is contesting for 266 seats, up 07 percent versus last year.

In contrast, PML-N is the only major party which reduced its candidates to 206, down 05 percent compared to last election while MQM is contesting with 78 candidates compared to only 33 candidates nominated in previous election.

“We believe that this time vote bank will also be divided between Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party (IPP) and PTI independent candidates while Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) are also separately contesting unlike previous years. Thus, assuming voter turnaround of 50-51 percent (in-line with past trends), given these dynamics, we believe, no single party gaining more than 80-90 seats depicting a fragmented nature of the political landscape,” he said.

“Out of 266 NA seats on which elections are to be held, probability is low that any party could gain more than 80-90 seats - unlike previous three elections where winning party secured at-least 98 seats (in 2008 won by PPP), unless voter turnaround remains higher,” he said.

Based on surveys of Gallup and IPOR it seems that PTI and PML-N will be taking highest seats (based on popularity votes) setting the stage for a fierce competition between PTI’s independents and PML-N. “Our estimates suggest that out of 266 seats, 56 seats (20 percent) will decide whether PTI or PML-N clinches majority seats as last time close competition was observed on these seats between PTI and PML-N with winning candidate securing a margin of maximum 15 percent,” he added.

According to him, PPP cannot be ruled out to form coalition government at center with alliances with smaller parties and independent candidates as stated by party chairman Bilawal Bhutto. Major parties will be focused on seats which they won twice during last two elections as that will give them edge in cementing their position to form next government.

Analyzing outcome of elections 2018 and 2013, where PML-N won highest number of seats (60) in both the elections from same constituencies.

He said formation of government may take 35-40 days. This time formation of government will be difficult and might take a longer time. Considering higher number of candidates and parties, there are chances that most of the candidates might appeal the results.

Additionally, reaching a consensus among coalition partners to form the government at the center may prove challenging and time-consuming. It’s worth noting that in the past 08 elections, the government formation process has typically taken around 23 days, with a maximum duration of 40 days from the election day to the voting of the Prime Minister.

This historical context underscores the potential for extended negotiations and deliberations in the formation of the next government. Thus, it is assumed that IMF will conduct second review of the nine months SBA with new government by mid of March 2024. However, key challenges for the incumbent government for continuation of the current SBA would be to keep balance between the center and provinces to carry on structural reforms and maintain fiscal discipline.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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