All opinion polls, surveys and predictions are clearly indicating two things. One, that no political party will be able to get the required majority to form the next government hence, a hung parliament seems to be the most likely outcome of the July 25 general elections. Second, the politically affiliated voters are going to stick to their parties.
The PML-N has been able to maintain and keep its core vote bank intact. On the other hand, the PTI has been able to increase its vote bank nationally. Both the parties seem to be going neck and neck in the electoral race.
Punjab is the real battleground in this election. The PTI will need at least half of Punjab’s 141 National Assembly seats to form a coalition government in Islamabad, whereas the PML-N will need 90 seats from Punjab to think about forming a coalition government. So, every National Assembly constituency won or lost in Punjab will have far-reaching effects on the final outcome.
Around 25 to 30 National Assembly seats in Punjab can change hands with the swing of 10 to 15 percent votes. The PML-N can lose these seats it won with close margins in 2013. However, a 15 to 25 percent swing of votes in favour of the PTI will ensure 25 to 30 more seats for the latter. But achieving this will be an uphill task.
All the surveys are showing that the PML-N hasn’t lost its core voters. But the real problem for the PML-N is to attract independent voters. In the 2013 elections, the majority of independent voters went for the PML-N, but this time around the situation is different. Independent voters are much more divided now as compared to the last elections. In a close election, two factors become decisive. One is the importance and the role independent or undecided voters play, and the other is the maximum mobilisation of a party’s support base.
The term ‘independent voter’ means someone who is politically open-minded and is not loyal to a certain political party. These kinds of voters go into each election without preconceived ideas about which party to vote for, and instead consider the merits of each candidate and party in every new election. It could be because of the image of a free-thinking independent voter that so many people like to call themselves independent. But the truth is that few voters are actually independent.
Independent voters are diversified and divided as far as their political, social and religious views are concerned. They are not only divided on rural and urban lines but also on the basis of class. One issue may attract the middle-class independent voters, but not necessarily independent voters belong to the working class.
There are around 10 to 15 percent independent voters in every constituency. One section of these voters has already made up their minds to vote for the PTI. Their reason to support the party is that they want to give Imran Khan a chance to prove his claims of reforming the government. ‘Give Imran Khan a chance and try him this time’ has been a dominant sentiment in this section of independent voters.
The other section of these voters which has strong religious sentiments and leanings, especially those belonging to the Barelvi sect, is going to vote for Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s TLP. The TLP is going to attract a good number of independent religious Barelvi voters in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi. Many of these voters had voted for the PML-N in the last elections. The TLP votes are clearly going to be a loss for the PML-N in many constituencies. But, on the other hand, the PML-N’s loss does not necessarily mean the PTI’s gain. Had this section of the voters moved to the PTI, the situation could have been much more favourable for it.
Moreover, there are undecided voters as well who can go either way. These voters might not be in big numbers but can decisively swing the election in favour of either the PML-N or the PTI. Both the parties are trying to win over these voters through media and door-to-door campaigns.
Around 20 percent voters, according to Gallup Pakistan’s survey, and 14 percent voters, according to Pulse Consultants’ survey, who had listed themselves as ‘undecided’ in May/June, may turn the vote count on July 25 in favour of either of the top two contenders. Independent voters are important, but in close elections, the turnout of a party’s support base may be of more importance than the former. Sometimes candidates and parties concentrate too much on independent voters and ignore their own support base.
Both the factors will decide the result of the July 25 general elections. The party which succeeds in mobilising its voters in big numbers will be the winner of the elections in Punjab. Political parties will have to work hard to mobilise their voters, especially where they are stronger.
The writer is a freelance journalist.