It is the job of the media to monitor the trends during an electoral process to keep its readers and viewers abreast on which party or individual is likely to achieve what position on D-Day. The job demands the highest in professionalism and responsibility. Of course, it is not possible to remain objective to the last ‘t’, but those that guard their integrity and credibility with their lives do take extra care in formulating their opinions while reporting or analysing electoral trends. It is in this context that when you look back on the performance of the Pakistani media with regard to predicting election results, that you come to the conclusion that our performance has not been all that ideal. It is true that the media has never been able to correctly predict the outcome of a general election in Pakistan. Not at least since the one held in 1970. While the media was predicting a clean sweep by the religious right, it was the left-of-centre elements that had carried the day in that fateful general election. In 1977, the media was totally oblivious to what was awaiting the nation once the results of the election had started pouring in. It was caught completely off guard by the nation-wide post-election violent protests against what was being hyped then by the nine-party opposition alliance, the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) as wide-scale rigging by the sitting government. The 1985 party-less election was actually a selection by the ISI. Only those that the regime approved could enter Parliament, making it impossible for the media to predict who would be in or who would be out. In 1998, the media was predicting that the PPP would sweep the elections. But by the time governments were formed at the centre and the provinces, the IJI and the MQM had confined the PPP to Islamabad and interior Sindh Therefore, one cannot blame the media in this case because the NA and the leader of the House did not emerge as a result of a fair and free elections. Both were chosen by the GHQ. As the 1988 elections approached, the Benazir Bhutto-led Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) seemed invincible. The media was predicting that the PPP would sweep the elections. But by the time governments were formed at the centre and the provinces, the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) and the MQM had confined the PPP to Islamabad and the interior of Sindh. The results of the 1990 elections once again turned out to be against the trend that the media was reflecting in its news and views. The PPP was being predicted to come back to power with added strength. But the IJI, led by Nawaz Sharif won an almost two-thirds majority. On the face of it, the popularity of the PML-N led by Nawaz Sharif was seen to be in ascendance during the 1993 elections. The PPP’s presence in both Punjab and urban Sindh had appeared to have drastically shrunk. But again, bucking the trend being reflected in the media then, the PPP returned to power both in Islamabad as well as in Punjab and urban Sindh. In this case as well, the media is not to be blamed for creating a misleading picture of the electoral trend because in order to stop Nawaz from returning to power, the establishment had used the PML-J, PPP’s electoral partner in Punjab to deny the PML-N a clean sweep in the province both on the provincial as well as National Assembly seats. In urban Sindh, it had the MQM boycott the polls on some flimsy pretext so that the PPP could win enough seats from the Muttahida stronghold to form the government at the centre. The media had predicted that the PML-N would win the 1997 election but it had not prepared the nation for the landslide that the Nawaz-led Party achieved in that electoral contest. The 2002 elections too were subjected to blatant engineering to keep both the PML-N and the PPP confined to the margins. Therefore, the media could not predict the emergence of the MMA in such a big way as to form the government in KP province, nor could it see the PPP not winning enough seats to make the government on its own or failing which enter into coalition with a couple of smaller parties and independents. But the PPP was stopped in its tracks by General Musharraf by blackmailing a dozen or so PPP MNAs using the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) as a weapon into forming a breakaway party of their own called Patriots and joining the coalition government led by the ruling PMLQ. The media had predicted a PPP landslide in 2008 elections which did not happen. The Punjab remained in the hands of PML-N and urban Sindh with Altaf’s MQM. There was a PTI wave in Punjab but the way Imran Khan had led his Party before and during the 2013 elections, the media seemed swept off its feet and it had begun predicting albeit in muted terms a big win for the PTI, if not a landslide. The Party did make a good show across the country and win the government in KP, still the position of official opposition had remained with the PPP, a party the media had written off completely. Now we are only about 27 days away from 2018 general elections. Still, the media does not seem to be in a position to make firm predictions about the outcome. Despite so many setbacks that the PMLN had suffered since April 2016 when the Panama Papers scandal hit the international media headlines, the party seems to have remained solidly behind its seemingly disgraced supreme leader, Nawaz Sharif except for a dozen or so defections of electables. On the other hand while the PTI lacks the wave on which it rode in the 2013 elections, it has, however, seemingly improved its chances by bagging a number of electables. The PPP, on the other hand seems a distant third as of today. On the basis of the obvious trends it appears that the forthcoming elections are most likely to throw up a hung lower house, but who would succeed in forming the government is still unclear. Some trends show that the PTI would be the ultimate winner, others insist that the PML-N will still emerge victorious. So, let’s be prepared for surprises. The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad. He served as the Executive Editor of Express Tribune until 2014 Published in Daily Times, June 28th 2018.