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ISLAMABAD, March 4: As the election season approaches, surveys, polls and predictions are flying in thick and fast.

The latest offering has come from the Pildat-Gallup camp which has followed in the footsteps of the IRI and puts its respondents’ faith in the PML-N.

Like the Nov IRI findings but unlike the Herald-SDPI findings (which put the PPP and PML-N neck and neck), the Pildat-Gallup survey, which was conducted in February this year in 300 villages and 200 urban localities, says 41 per cent of its respondents (of which there were nearly ten thousand) opted for the PML-N while 14 and 17 per cent put their faith in the PTI and PPP respectively.

These findings are not too different from the IRI which put the PML-N as the first choice of 32 per cent of their respondents while 18 per cent of them opted for the PTI and 14 per cent for the PPP.

However, the Pildat-Gallup team was quite apprehensive of their efforts being seen as a prediction of the election results and stressed again and again the need to take survey results with a pinch of salt – ‘as hazardous as predicting the weather,’ said the report which is titled “The Uncertain Political Weather Forecast.”

The initial findings of this survey which were released on Monday had been divided provincially and then further into regions.

In other words, the 11 territories where the interviews were conducted presented as Punjab 1 (Rawalpindi, Lahore and Gujranwala); Punjab 2 (Faislabad and Sargodha); Punjab 3 (Bhawalpur, D.G. Khan and Multan); Sindh 1 (Karachi); Sindh 2 (Mirpurkhas, Sukkur and Hyderabad); KP 1 (Malakand division); KP 2 (Kohat, Bannu and DI Khan); KPK 3 (Peshawar Valley which includes the provincial capital and Nowshera); KP 4 (Hazara areas); Balochistan 1 (Quetta and Zhob) and Balochistan 2 (Kalat; Makran and Sibi).

The idea, according to the survey team, is to provide a complete picture of each province because the local context is essential to understanding the picture.

In the provincial context, the results for Punjab and Sindh are far from surprising.

The PML-N leads in the Punjab with 59 per cent while the PTI and PPP trail behind by 14 and 10 per cent respectively.

However, the survey results provide circumstantial evidence that the drop in PPP’s popularity has fed into the surge for the PTI, which is contrary to the popular perception that the PTI is luring the PML-N voters.

The logic behind this is provided by some historical data collated for this survey which is based on the election results from 1993-2008. According to this data, the PPP had garnered 27 per cent of the vote in Punjab 1 in the past while in the Feb survey only four per cent of the respondents were willing to opt for the party.

This drop cannot be explained by the increased popularity of the PML-N which in Punjab 1 has witnessed a rise of around 20 per cent, especially as the PML-Q has also witnessed a drop of 16 per cent.

Hence the conclusion can be reached that the drop in the PPP’s support has fed into the surge for PTI which 15 per cent of the respondents opted for. The results for the other regions of Punjab are not much different.

There is little change in Sindh where the PPP continues to lead in the non-Karachi districts with 51 per cent, which is an improvement on its track record of the 48 per cent votes that it garnered in elections from 1997 to 2008 (for Sindh the 1993 elections were ignored as the MQM had boycotted them).

And unsurprisingly, the MQM reigns supreme in Karachi with 45 per cent.

But it is in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balchistan that the survey has thrown up odd results that will raise more than a few eyebrows.

Oddly enough, apart from Hazara, the PML-N has also witnessed a rise in its popularity in KP 2 and 3.

This is odd because KP 2 comprises the South where most analysts and experts are predicting a victory for JUI-F. What makes this result hard to digest is that the JUI-F did not even get a mention as a stand alone party. The survey claims that so few respondents voted for it that it was clubbed into the “all others” category which got 16 per cent of the vote.

More odd still was the survey team’s decision to claim that 32 per cent of the votes in KP 1 (Malakand division) were garnered by JUI-F/MMA. This was the highest vote given to any party in this district.

However, the problem is that the JUI-F has never had much of a presence in this region which is a JI stronghold that went to the ANP only because the JI boycotted the 2008 elections.

The Gallup-Pildat officials claimed that this was only due to a confusion and that they would recheck the exact phrasing of the question/s asked. However, in the meantime such simple mistakes can cast doubts over the entire results of a survey.

But Balochistan’s results proved to be even more startling. Here the ANP scored high in Balochistan 1 with 28 per cent, emerging as a front runner and the PPP scored a 27 per cent in the rest, far out stripping JUI-F/MMA (6 per cent); PML-N (15 per cent) while ‘all others’ got 54 per cent.

That the ANP would even configure in the voters choice for Balochistan is a bit baffling as is the surge in the PPP’s popularity. It is difficult to explain this.

Poor Mahmood Khan Achakzai! Not only are the chances of him becoming caretaker prime minister slim; his Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party seems to have no independent presence in the Quetta-Zhob region if Pildat-Gallup are to be believed.

And even if the PPP forgives them for this survey, Achakzai might just not.