At this late hour manifestoes don’t matter. Not even those that promise rivers of milk and honey or the Moon and the stars. Most people who have decided to go out and vote on July 25 seem to have already made up their minds. Performance does play a decisive role in influencing a voter’s final decision. But in poor countries like Pakistan, this factor invariably works against the sitting government. Because with limited resources at its disposal and pressures from escalating expenses of a security state perpetually at war with it’s neighbours and various terrorist organisations, the sitting government in Islamabad invariably fails to meet the growing expectations of a galloping population. So, on the face of it, one would not be wrong to conclude that the incumbency factor would cause voters at large not to vote for the PML-N, which has ruled the country for a full five-year term and the Punjab province for ten years, which in terms of population, is larger than the rest of the three provinces. This conclusion leads one to the logical corollary: Imran Khan’s PTI, seemingly PML-N’s main challenger in Punjab, is most likely to record a historic win at the polls on July 25. But Punjab’s current political scene seems to defy this logic. While no clear cut winner seems to have emerged in the province so far, the tilt, however, continues to be, surprisingly, in favour of the incumbents of the immediate past replaced on June 1, 2018 by the not-so-PMLN-friendly caretaker governments at the centre and in the Punjab. PML-N seems to have monopolised all types of media — broadcast, print and social — while at the same time PTI’s media exposure seems to be shrinking visibly in comparison Since late July 2017, when former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was disqualified by the superior courts, the PML-N seems to have monopolised all types of media — broadcast, print and social — while at the same time PTI’s media exposure seems to be shrinking visibly in comparison. Since the NAB court handed down the guilty verdict against Nawaz and Maryam on July 6, 2018 the PML-N seems to have virtually crowded out all other contesting political parties from the headlines both in print and broadcast media. Social media seems to have gone into a PML-N frenzy both for and against to the almost complete exclusion of other parties. And tomorrow when Nawaz and his daughter reach the Lahore airport to an anticipated historic reception by PML-N’s hard-core supporters it would not be possible for the media to resist live coverage of the event expected to last for almost the full day. Two ‘defiant’ leaders are returning home to face the hardship of long-drawn incarceration. In case the authorities try to arrest the two within the airport premises and whisk them away to Islamabad, it would most likely inject an element of high drama to the episode, which would perhaps further reinforce the public perception that the PML-N leadership is being stopped from contesting the polls fair and square. Meanwhile, Nawaz seems to have succeeded in goading the security institution to openly defend its political position vis-à-vis the on-going election process. For the first time in Pakistan’s electoral history an Army spokesman is being seen trying to clarify his institution’s position with regard to a number of serious allegations being levelled against it by some of the political parties contesting the elections. Addressing a press conference on Tuesday, the ISPR Chief, Major General Asif Ghafoor claimed that the armed forces have “no direct role in the conduct of elections.” Responding to questions on electoral engineering and the alleged role of the establishment in subverting the democratic order, Gen Ghafoor tried to explain away every single allegation, big and small being levelled by the PML-N leadership. In response to questions about people switching loyalties, he recalled that candidates switch parties before every election and that “there is nothing new about this”. But while there is indeed nothing new about it, the ISPR chief sounded like he was defending the practice of ‘lotacracy’. Maj Gen Ghafoor also disassociated the army from any role in the allotment of the ‘Jeep’ symbol to certain independent candidates, saying that it was the ECP which allots symbols to candidates. But here again, one had expected the ISPR chief to ask the journalist who had raised the question to ask the candidates who had been allocated the ‘Jeep’ symbol for an explanation rather than the ISPR chief himself offering the explanation seemingly on behalf of the candidates. Referring to the term Khalai Makhlooq that is being used by the PML-N leadership to imply that the security institution was interfering in the election process by pulling the strings from behind the scene, the ISPR Chief said “We are not Khalai Makhlooq (aliens), we are Rab Ki Makhlooq (God’s beings)”. Here again, one felt the proverbial lady doth protest too much. The ISPR Chief’s defence with regard to the code of conduct issued by the ECP envisaging a new and unprecedented role for security forces assisting the polling process sounded too thin to be entirely satisfactory. Meanwhile the media at large is finding it increasingly difficult to cover the election process with a desirable degree of freedom. It is being subjected to forced self-censorship by elements that refuse to come on record. The country’s oldest newspaper, Dawn is being continuously harassed by these very elements. We all know that the security institution is not very happy with Dawn, because of Cyril Almeida’s front page exclusive, published on October 6, 2017. There are many civilised methods that the institution could employ to express its displeasure. But it is totally unacceptable under any circumstances to forcibly interfere with the newspaper’s circulation and its broadcast media’s reach and that too at a time when the country is holding general elections, the irreducible minimum of a normal democratic process. But those who took the decision in question perhaps in the heat of the moment, seem to have failed to consider the possibility that people who read Dawn and watch it’s TV channel could easily access both the newspaper and their favourite TV programmes via the internet! The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad. He served as the Executive Editor of Express Tribune until 2014 Published in Daily Times, July 12th 2018.