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Are we heading for another unpredictable election result? This is one question doing the rounds everywhere in the country at the moment.

To get the answer, pollsters, media houses and political pundits are busy working overtime and giving their estimates on the likely results.

All over the world, pre-poll estimates are made on the basis of political parties’ popularity. Some find their predictions closer to the actual result, others fall here and there.

In the west, with high literacy rates and established political systems, pollsters can exactly predict outcomes before the elections.

But in Pakistan, having a history of manipulated elections, this has not been the case.

During the last three general elections, political soothsayers largely failed to measure up which political party would win.

In the 1997 general elections, many were left dumbfounded when the PPP was restricted to merely 18 seats in the National Assembly against 86 it had bagged in 1993.

If the PPP’s falling from grace wasn’t enough to stun political commentators, the PML-N’s securing two-third majority - 135 seats - in the 207-member house was even hard to digest.

But this is also a fact how election results sometimes can be altogether highly unpredictable.

Dr Rasool Bakhsh Rais, a political scientist who teaches at Lums, said the element of surprise was always there in the elections but in Pakistan’s electoral history “we have too many.”

In 1997, Dr Rais, added, there were clear indications that Nawaz Sharif would win but with two-third majority was a bit of surprise.

M. Ziauddin, a veteran journalist, said, “In 1997 elections after the then president Farooq Leghari had removed Benazir’s government, it was written on the wall that the establishment would not let the PPP come back to power. Hence, the elections were massively rigged in favour of the PML-N.”

In 2002, both Nawaz Sharif and the late Benazir Bhutto were in exile. As a result, it was a foregone conclusion that their parties would not be allowed a level-playing field by the then president General Pervez Musharraf.

The PML-N’s poor showing in 2002 was more or less written on the wall as General Musharraf had formed a new political party - PML-Q - mainly comprising former PML-N leaders.

As a result, Nawaz Sharif’s party only settled for 18 seats.

But the 2002 elections had also got a surprise package of its own kind. The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), a conglomerate of six religious parties, bagged 59 seats which left many jaws dropped because historically religious right had always performed poorly in elections.

For Dr Rais, the emergence of the MMA in 2002 was a complete surprise because historically religious political parties had never performed so well in the elections.

However, for Imtiaz Gul, a former journalist who currently heads a think-tank on peace and security, the MMA cashed on the Americans attack on Afghanistan by whipping up the Pashtoon nationalism to its favour.

And to some extent, Mr Gul believed, the then establishment also played its role in propping a rightwing coalition of religio-political parties which they thought was their requirement to deal with the Americans in Afghanistan.

Next came the 2008 general elections, in which, it was the PML-N to surprise political pundits. After the PPP, which got 125 seats in the National Assembly, the PML-N stood second with 92 members.

Though some predicted a good run for the PML-N after Nawaz Sharif had returned from exile in Saudi Arabia, on the face of it the actual contest was between the PPP and the PML-Q, the latter only managed 50 seats.

A senior member of the PML-N, who was then member of the party’s parliamentary board which distributed tickets, said: “We just threw away party tickets because of lack of time and no election preparations.”

Frankly speaking, the party was just not ready for the elections in 2008 that’s why Nawaz Sharif immediately after the death of Benazir Bhutto announced polls boycott; he actually wanted some delay, said the PML-N leader in reply to a question.

However, the amount of response which the PML-N got wasn’t only astonishing for the party leader but also for ‘us’ involved in managing the elections, he added.

On the chances of the PTI in the coming elections, Mr Ziauddin, who at the moment is heading an English daily as its executive editor, said being an achiever in sports and social welfare sector Imran Khan stood a good chance.

“In my observation, the way the PTI is playing out its cards especially by mobilising youths, it has the chance to win 35 to 50 seats.”

However, he added, Mr Khan’s recent pandering to the rightwing vote bank by raising Islamic jargons on the lines of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) “has of late somewhat confused me. Let’s see how his youth-specific voters react to this.”

In his election rally speech in Minawali on Tuesday, Mr Khan thundered that he would unite the entire nation in the name of Allah.

He even raised the slogan of ‘Pakistan Ka Matlab Kia, La Illaha Illa Allah.’ But some political analysts argued that since an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis were religiously conservative; therefore, Mr Khan cannot ignore them in his stumping.

Although Dr Rais admitted that the PTI was emerging as a third largest political force, he like Mr Ziauddin was unsure how Mr Khan’s support among the young people will affect the election results.

“It’s difficult to make prediction on election results but the PTI is poised to throw up a huge surprise on May 11 at least in terms of voters turnout because everybody at the moment is talking about importance of voting,” Dr Rais observed.

Mr Gul has also its fingers crossed if the support which Mr Khan has mobilised in his favour among the youths of the country will actually translate into an election victory.

It will be an interesting election, said Mr Gul.