National Assembly candidates contesting the 2018 election, which is only three weeks away, have an uphill task to reach out to an average of around 389,000 voters — which is a 23 percent increase in the number of voters compared to the 2013 general elections.Logically, the 19.77 million voters that have been added to the electoral college of 2018 are expected to be very young. In the urban pockets of the country, the young voters are likely to be more attracted by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) Imran Khan. This advantage, along with the many ‘electable’ candidates joining his party prompted by the establishment, is likely to give more seats to PTI as compared to the 28 seats it won in the 2013 elections. But the real question is whether Imran Khan will be able to muster even a simple majority in the National Assembly. At present, it looks difficult. To fulfil his dream of becoming the Prime Minister, Khan will have to make a coalition government — most probably with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). This could prove to be very difficult for him because he has been very vocal critic of Mr Zardari, and has said multiple times in the past that he would never even consider forming a coalition with the PPP.On the other hand, the Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz (PML-N) is capable of making a coalition with the PPP. Shehbaz Sharif hinted as much in a recent TV interview, where he said that the country needs to have a national government so that it can face its many domestic and international challenges. This suggestion shows that PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif, perhaps, is not sure that they will be the majority party in the National Assembly, repeating their performance from 2013. Such a political arrangement would also suit the establishment, which does not want any party to win an outright majority in the House. This has been their desire in all the elections held in the past, as a coalition government in the Centre is usually shaky and does not put up any resistance to the establishment’s policies. The political engineers of the establishment have pressurised many candidates of the PML-N to return the party ticket and contest the elections as an independent. They do not realise that every time they have tried to engineer the results of the general elections, the consequences have been disastrous for the country. Intriguingly, these PML-N rebels have been allotted the election symbol of a jeep by the Election Commission of Pakistan. That these PML-N rebels, led by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, have opted for the jeep symbol doesn’t seem to be just a coincidence. The media is already insinuating that this ‘jeep’ is being ‘driven’ by the establishment. Mr Zardari has been forecasting that these so-called independent candidates will play a major role in the formation of the next government. According to the PPP circles, the passengers of this jeep might be courted by Mr Zardari himself.The PPP secured 33 National Assembly seats in the 2013 elections, excluding the eight reserved seats and the most probable scenario is that the PPP will manage to add to that number this time around. Its leadership is already trying to please the establishment, which might work in their favour if they can ensure that they can help clamp down on Mian Nawaz Sharif’s anti-establishment narrative. The political engineers of the establishment have pressurised many candidates of the PML-N into returning the party ticket and contesting the elections as independentsOn the other side, Shahbaz Sharif has been seen taking a softer stance against the establishment. Rather, it can be said, a more reconciliatory position. For Nawaz Sharif, the famous dictum that misfortunes don’t come alone, they come in stocks, is true.First, he made a mistake in allowing his son Hussain Nawaz to appear in interviews on television, without any coaching on how best to answer questions about his source of income with, which he had bought luxurious apartments in London. As a result, Hussain failed to provide any convincing responses in these interviews, ultimately hurting his credibility even more than before. Mind you, this incident took place sometime before the Panama Leaks story broke out. It seems that the Sharif family had some prior information about the Panama Leaks and had realised that once the stories about their offshore company were to be revealed, their cover would be blown. When the Panama story came out and it was revealed that Nawaz’s sons owned a couple of offshore companies, the opposition provoked him and he foolishly stuck his neck out. He could have at least tried to ignore the jibes of the opposition and kept his distance from the Panama case, as he did later on before the NAB tribunal. He told the tribunal that his name is not included in any Panama-based offshore companies and that he has nothing to do with his sons’ businesses in London or with the money provided by his late father to his grandchildren.He was punished for taking on the establishment through the judiciary, which invoked the black clause of the Constitution, 62(1)(f), and disqualified him from contesting elections for life. While the judgement against him was based on not showing the receivable salary from his son’s firm in the UAE, I think the better charge against him would have been the holding of an Iqama (long-term visa), on the basis of employment in his son’s company. This was a conflict of interest, as the Prime Minister of Pakistan cannot be expected to be a ‘salaried employee’ while in office.His narrative was that he was not punished for holding an Iqama, but for taking a tough stand against the establishment’s foreign policy and dragging General Pervez Musharraf to court on charges of violating the Constitution.As if the Supreme Court decision was not enough, Nawaz Sharif has also been struck by a personal tragedy — his wife, Kulsoom Nawaz, is on her deathbed and he has to take the most heart-breaking decision whether to allow the doctors to take her off the ventilator or not. It is true what they say; when it rains, it pours!The writer is the author of What’s Wrong with Pakistan and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgPublished in Daily Times, July 5th 2018.