LAHORE - Enjoying more than a two-thirds majority in the 372-member Punjab Assembly, the PML-N has a firm control over the country’s biggest province. And in case it won the local elections, due to be held in phases over the next few months, its grip would strengthen further and the opposition parties would stand no future for many more years.

It is because of this realisation that anti-PML-N parties, and even those who have been its partners in the past, are trying to close ranks. Sunday’s meeting at the residence of the PPP Central Punjab president’s residence should be seen in this context.

Leaders of seven big and small parties agreed to make seat adjustments, mount pressure to make four Election Commission members to step down and exploit the unrest among the traders and farmers.

The parties represented at the meeting were: PPP, PTI, Jamaat-i-Islami, Pakistan Awami Tehrik, Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan, Sunni Ittehad Council and the Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen.

(According to some reports on Monday, PTI leaders have ruled out the possibility of joining hands with the PPP, a party they brand as pro-status quo).

The cooperation decision shows that now it’s the PML-N versus the rest.

Earlier in KP, the PPP, the Awami National Party and the JUI-F had joined hands against the PTI, the party in power in the province, in the local elections. The PML-N, another anti-PTI entity, also supported the forces against Imran Khan, though without formally becoming part of the arrangement.

As the PTI and the Jamaat-i-Islami are coalition partners in KP, their decision to join hands in Punjab should be taken as continuation of the same arrangement. However, the Jamaat’s willingness to share a platform with the Pakistan Awami Tehrik is rather unbelievable. Both the parties, though religious in character, have little tolerance for each other. The PTI and the PAT, however, were together in the sit-in in Islamabad last year and were named as “political cousins”.

Maybe, the PAT, being a sworn enemy of the PML-N, forgot differences with other parties to settle scores with the ruling party. The JUP, the Sunni Ittehad Council and the Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen have little importance from the election’s point of view and their presence at the Sunday meeting would make only a psychological impact. They may support the candidates of other parties, but won’t have many candidates to put up in polls.

The absence of the PML-Q from the gathering was quite significant. Although it is a strong opponent of the PML-N, their decision to stay away from the above-mentioned assembly raised many an eyebrow. This party has almost vanished because of the opportunists’ decision to join hands with the new ruling party. Whatever is left of it will make electoral adjustments at local levels.

The LB elections in Punjab will be important for other parties in general and the PML-N in particular.

The success of the PML-N will mean the party’s rule at all three tiers of government: local, provincial and federal. This is like one person being in control of the entire building.  The success of PML-N nominees will be a guarantee for system to work smoothly.

But in case the PTI and other parties share the cake, the situation will be different. And if the number of representatives coming from other parties is substantial and they decide not to cooperate with the provincial government, a state of confrontation will be seen, which will not be a good sign.

Such kind of situation was seen when the PML-N had returned to power after the 2008 elections. Nazims belonging to then king’s party were calling the shots, something intolerable for the new provincial government.  An uneasy situation prevailed till the local governments served out their terms in 2009. Since then the government has not held local elections on one pretext or the other which, prima facie, amounts to violation of the Constitution. Thus, in Punjab stakes are very high for the PML-N. It has to win the local elections at all costs.

The situation in Sindh is so far unclear.

The PPP and the MQM, with control over rural and urban areas, respectively, are daggers drawn. The Jamaat-i-Islami and the Awami National Party are considering their options. The PTI, apparently, is expected to get some room in the stronghold of its rivals. It will be a challenge for the PML-N to make its presence felt in Sindh.