New Delhi: As the world watches the counting of votes in Pakistan after the country voted in a tense and close election race on Wednesday, Punjab is where most of the action is expected.
Out of the four provinces of Pakistan, Punjab, is the most populous and also has the maximum number of the National Assembly seats. With 141 seats, the province sends more than half the lawmakers to the NA and would prove decisive in the race.
Historically, the party that has won Punjab has won Pakistan. Analysts including Dr Syed Farooq Hasnat have predicted the same.
Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PMN-L) has ruled Punjab for 10 years. In the previous 2013 election, the Sharif led PML-N had secured an overwhelming majority with 117 seats out of 148. But according to Hasnat, PTI is expected to lead this year.
However, several pre-poll surveys had maintained that Sharif’s party will continue to maintain its lead in the state, despite two PMN-L candidates in Punjab’s Narowal defecting just days before polling. Another party official from Punjab, Hanif Abbasi, was also detained by the military in an ephedrine quota case.
It is to be noted that Sharif was born and raised in Punjab and was also elected Chief Minister of the province after winning from the Lahore constituency. From 1990 onwards, the province was handed over to Sharif’s younger brother (and current PMN-L President) Shehbaz Sharif.
Apart from being the most populous state (The 2017 Census recorded about 11 crore people) Punjab is also the site of heavy investment from business families in Pakistan, including Sharif’s own and the powerful Nishat group with assets more worth over 9.6 billion in the state, according to a report in Firstpost.
Apart from internal investment, Punjab also receives international investment from companies such as Gap Inc, Levis Staruss.
A province with eight divisions and 36 districts, the second largest state in Pakistan is also home to a growing educated, middle class, a demographic that has traditionally yielded PTI’s voters.
While the Bilawal Zardari Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which barely won two seats in Punjab in the last elections, is expected to fizzle out in the state this time, the real challenge rests with PTI that is looking set to wrest the state from the Sharif family.
According to latest trends, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is leading PML-N, the party belonging to jailed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The stiff competition may be indicative of the state’s memory, (as is evident in surveys by Public Opinion Research (IPOR) which projected a 5:3 voter ratio in Punjab in favour of PML-N) which may not want to replace Sharif with a new face, despite his imprisonment and the consequent weakening of the party.