Today, political prognosticators and pollsters are able to precisely predict election results by applying advanced modelling techniques or scientific pre-poll surveys and multiple regression methods. In this piece, I’m not predicting the outcome of the forthcoming elections in Pakistan but a couple of possible scenarios based on “historical analogy” theories, i.e., the voting behaviour in the past nine elections. As far as the “conspiracy theory” is concerned, it is the PML-N’s turn. After the 2008 elections, international guarantors supposedly gave this assurance to Mr Nawaz Sharif. According to this theory, the PTI will also be given a “reasonable share” in power along with the status of a “party-in-waiting”.
There will be a coalition government as there will be a “hung” parliament with a strong opposition. Small parties and independents will play a major role in the formation of the government. Neither the PML-N, the PTI nor the PPP and PML-Q alliance will get a simple majority, i.e., 137 general seats out of the total 272. As far as the popular vote is concerned, the PML-N will be the single-largest party. The PTI will also gain a huge number of votes. The real test though is the gain in seats. Both the PML-N and the PTI will have more popular votes but less seats compared with their popular vote. Pakistan follows the “first past the post” electoral system where winning candidates have to lead in votes without having the simple majority of total votes polled. In other words, a minority candidate can also win if the votes of other candidates are divided. There will be a huge vote split in the forthcoming elections and the PPP-led coalition could benefit the most.
Let me show you the vertical Manhattan bar chart indicating the gains of three major political forces, i.e., the PML-N (91 general seats expected with the margin of error plus or minus three), the PPP-PML-Q alliance (84 total seats or 68 and 16 respectively), and the PTI (33 seats). The PPP alliance’s net gain fluctuates due to a strong correlation between the PTI bar and the PML-N bar. The higher the PTI bar goes, the PML-N bar decreases and vice versa. Hence, the smaller the difference between the PML-N and the PTI bars, the greater the chances of the PPP bar to go up. The formation of the government depends upon two major factors: 1) the performance of the PTI in terms of seat gains and 2) the seat difference between the PML-N and the PPP-PML-Q alliance. If the difference of seats remains under 12, the PPP-PML-Q alliance with its previous partners (the MQM’s 19 seats, the ANP’s eight seats, the JUI-F’s nine seats, independents/small parties 17 seats) will also be in a position to form the government.
There are two strong reasons of the above-mentioned scenario taking place. The PPP-PML-Q alliance still has a chance to win because of: 1) the PPP’s solid vote bank and 2) historical analogy i.e., in the past, ruling parties which completed their terms got huge electoral success in subsequent elections. Let me put it this way, the military-ousted governments or governments dismissed under Article 58-2(b) never ever came back to power immediately after new elections. It is the first time in history that the PPP is contesting elections after the completion of its constitutional term. As far as the first reason is concerned, the average vote share of the PPP in the previous eight elections is slightly over 30 per cent. This is out of the 43 per cent overall voter turnout percentage in all elections. Statistically, the PPP has a one-third vote share among abstained voters (registered voters who don’t vote), too. My point is that only the PPP’s vote bank is safe, tested and consistent. The PPP can win if it mobilises just its own voters, particularly those who abstained in the last two elections. If the PPP brings 10 to 15 per cent of its “abstained” voters out on polling day, along with its regular voters, it can win the majority seats due to the “vote-split” factor. In a nutshell, the electoral exercise on May 11 is just a trailer and the real movie starts when the elections are over.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2013.