On July 25, Pakistan will vote a new democratic government into power. The question is, will that choice come with a new direction? A country nearly 220 million-strong looks for its answers in three key parties: Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz (PML_N), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) — each with a distinct set of challenges underpinning their election prospects. PML-N start as favourites. With Pakistan’s most populated province of Punjab as their stronghold, PML-N’s favouritism is motivated more by numbers, than by choice. It secured a provincial majority in both the 2008 and 2013 general elections and 116 of the 148 National Assembly seats in the last term. What suggests a continuation of this dominance despite rapid party divides and weakening public opinion is PML-N’s iron-grip on decisive constituencies. The NA constituencies of 57, 79, 82 and 124 — stretching from Rawalpindi to Lahore — all rest with dominant members of the ruling party since 2008. PML-N’s decision to field tried and tested candidates for the upcoming elections leaves little room for PTI and PPP to offset a historical advantage grounded in dynastic roots. With the Avenfield verdict, PML-N is faced with a significant void in leadership. Nawaz has been the face of the party for nearly 25 years, and his dismissal was to be met with Maryam’s ascension. As a prison sentence looms for both, the party must now contemplate a vision independent of the Nawaz dynasty — an undertaking that could shake their support base, fuel internal rifts, and escalate provincial competition ahead of the elections. The road to success for PTI, the nation’s second largest party by votes, is marked by multiple challenges. An alliance with Jamaat-e-Islami became critical for its relative majority to assume power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. However, Jamaat e Islami’s decision to contest with Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal this time around — an ultra-conservative alliance of religious parties — denies PTI that crucial advantage. Increased factionalism in the party coupled with PTI’s resurgence refuses PML-N a lead as comprehensive as its 2013 win Beyond Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, PTI seeks to challenge the dynastic vote across larger provinces of Punjab and Sindh by proposing the highest number of candidates for national assembly seats. With 244 candidates spread across national assembly constituencies, there is a strong possibility that the party may end up backing independent candidates in opposition strongholds. Since it enjoys less than nine per cent of seats in both the Punjab and Sindh assemblies, seat adjustment may prove critical in bringing together contested votes, and denying PML-N veterans a clean sweep. Imran Khan’s party is entering the general elections with plenty to its credit. Consistent public engagement across major cities, a determined anti-corruption campaign against Pakistan’s political elite, and the subsequent ousting of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on corruption charges — all are major inputs to its populist campaigning. Should Imran overcome all odds to assume power, he promises to put right Pakistan’s trade deficit of $36 billion, and present zero-tolerance for American criticism of Pakistan’s war on terror. The third in contention is PPP, largely confined to the province of Sindh with little chance of making it to the centre. It emerged as the leading political party in 2008, largely due to ideological sympathies and the subsequent shortcomings of Musharraf’s dictatorship. But in the majority of instances where martial law was never a factor, such as the 1997 and 2013 general elections, the party suffered a landslide defeat at the hands of arch-rivals PML-N. The little public support achieved in Punjab during 2008 was quickly overpowered by faulty economic policies, increased energy shortages and widespread corruption during its rule at the centre. PPP’s prospects of triumphing beyond Sindh remain grim. However, a bold 68-page manifesto that proposes dialogue with India, parliamentary oversight over the nation’s defence budget, and constitutional amendments guaranteeing a fair trial, may end up irking the security establishment, and further cementing PPP’s dominance in Sindh. Interestingly, a provincial majority in Sindh could render PPP a major stakeholder in post-election politics. Its 52.7 per cent seat share in the province compared to PML-N’s 1.8 per cent indicates enough leverage in the parliament to influence decisions of majority vote, such as the crucial election of Pakistan’s prime minister. Any drastic change in Pakistan’s policy landscape, independent of PPP’s own interests, may prove to be a distant possibility. For both PPP and PTI, a dearth of numbers in Punjab could become a point of convergence. One can argue that the former’s manifesto stands in relative defiance to the security establishment, whose presence has facilitated the rise of the latter. Yet, in its pursuit of greater power, PPP has overcome this aversion on numerous occasions. In March, Sadiq Sanjrani was elected to the Senate as its new chairman, having contested as an independent candidate and mysteriously acquired majority support from both parties. This robust political-alliance building, encouraged by anti-democratic forces from the sidelines, was a win-win: PPP boasting a greater foothold in the Senate, and PTI, significant leverage over a weakening Nawaz-league. Ultimately, the outcome of Pakistan’s election favours PML-N due to its continued dominance in Punjab. However, increased factionalism in the party coupled with PTI’s resurgence refuses PML-N a lead as comprehensive as its 2013 win. The writer is a student of Public Policy at NUST, and author of the book onpost-modern poetry And theCandles Blew Published in Daily Times, July 13th 2018.