OVER the last three decades, Pakistan has held enough general elections to be familiar with the current post-poll phase. This is a period in which the independents reign.

The PTI is wooing the latter, even though the scenes of some of them being flown in private jets under the watchful eye of Imran Khan’s chief trouble-shooter might not have everyone’s approval. But technically, there’s nothing wrong in these visits to Bani Gala. The Punjab crown is at stake and the independents can tip the scales in favour of the PTI.

A government in Punjab is crucial to establishing Mr Khan’s writ across the country. It is also vital to the existence of the PML-N which appears to have lost the race to form a government at the centre. Hamza Shahbaz, who is leading the PML-N’s push for power in the biggest province, has been emphatic in demanding that his party’s — and his family’s— attempt to set up a government in Punjab be respected.

The PML-N has a big presence in the Punjab Assembly. The 129 members it has in the house is testimony to its deep roots in the province, especially central Punjab, in both the rural and urban areas not too far from Lahore.

Still, the PTI appears far more likely to succeed in forming the provincial government. Though the PTI was behind the PML-N when the results for the provincial seats first came in, Imran Khan’s tally has since improved after five or six independents joined the PTI.

Not just that, it can be presumed that the PML-Q, which won seven seats in the Punjab Assembly after striking a deal with the PTI, will be more inclined to join the Khan camp — unless the Sharifs are able to miraculously woo Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, which may not be possible if the PML-N is reluctant to give up the office of chief minister to their one-time friends from Gujrat.

The PPP also has six members in the Punjab Assembly, but so far the party’s attention has been focused on establishing a government in Sindh. Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has categorically said he wants to play an effective opposition role in parliament — an assertion that has poured cold water over the plans of those politicians who were striving to put up a joint opposition to alleged rigging in the July 25 election.

This was a path-defining moment even though it seemed the PPP could have come up with several reasons to say that the general polls had been rigged. Maybe, the PML-N’s decision to sit in the National Assembly is in part inspired by the PPP; the N-League’s members-elect are certainly looking forward to taking their seats in the house. Perhaps the fireworks are being kept for later.

The independents, meanwhile, are helping the proceedings in a big way. They would be hoping that their role is not forgotten and that they are rewarded for their efforts in the interim before the parties take over.

Published in Dawn, July 30th, 2018

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