Lahore - Despite consistent rumours in circulation for the past several months that something would happen at the last moment and the entire schedule would be disturbed, the general elections will be held under tight security arrangements across the country on Saturday (today), springing many surprises. These will be the second polls being organised on the completion of the five-year mandated term of the elected assemblies.

The legislatures elected as a result of the 2002 elections had also completed their term, although political parties, including the ones which had contested them, don’t refer to them only because they were held in the presence of President Gen Pervez Musharraf.

More than 100 people were killed in election-related militant attacks just in April this year. The casualties caused during the month of May are not included in these figures.

Most surveys say that a hung parliament will come into being. However, many analysts say that coalitions to be led by the PML-N or the PTI or the PPP should be expected.

Some observers say that since the PTI has no representation in the Senate and the PML-N has only a few seats in the upper house of parliament, neither will be in a position to make laws unless they join hands with other parties, no matter how many seats of the NA they capture.

A total of 4,671 candidates, including a large number of independents, are in the race. Election symbols were issued to as many as 148 parties, but less than a dozen are prominent among them. They are the PML-N, the PPP, the PTI, the PML-Q, the ANP, the MQM, the JUI-F, the Jamaat-i-Islami and the PML-Functional.

The Pakistan Awami Tehrik of Dr Tahirul Qadri, the All Pakistan Muslim League of Gen Musharraf and the Jamaat Ahmediya are boycotting the exercise for varying reasons.

The PAT will hold sit-ins in various cities to register its protest against the system under which the new ‘representatives’ will be chosen.

The elections are being held for 272 (total 342, including 272 general+10 reserved for non-Muslims and 60 for women) seats of the National Assembly, of which 148 fall in Punjab, 61 in Sindh, 35 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 14 in Balochistan.

Also up for grab are 297 general seats of the Punjab Assembly (66 for women, 8 for non-Muslims), 130 general seats of Sindh (29 for women, 9 for non-Muslims), 99 general seats of KP (22 for women, 3 for non-Muslims) and 51 general seats of Balochistan (11 for women, 3 for non-Muslims).

A total of 70,000 troops will be performing security duties on the Election Day (E-Day), although no soldier will enter any polling station, except sensitive stations. Rangers and police will also be there to take care of the situation.

Voting will start at 8am and come to an end at 5pm. However, voters present on the premises of the polling stations at the closing time will be allowed to cast votes. A number of steps have been taken to ensure that no bogus vote is cast.

According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, a total of 86,189,802 voters are eligible to cast their votes. Most of them are young voters, who will be exercising their right for the first time.

Of the total votes, 49,259,334 are from Punjab, 18,963,375 from Sindh, 12,266,157 from KPK, 3,336,659 from Balochistan, 1,738,313 from Fata and 625,964 from Federal Areas.

There are a total of 69,875 polling stations across the country. For the convenience of the voters, no polling station is more than a couple of kilometres away from their residences.

Political parties are not allowed to transport their supporters to the polling stations. The government will also provide no such facility, as a result of which the voters will have to make their own arrangements for the purpose.

Of all polling stations, 40,078 are in Punjab, 15,000 in Sindh, 9,300 in KPK, 1269 in FATA and 550 in Federal Capital.

In view of the growing terrorism, 15,681 polling stations have been declared sensitive across the country. Of them, 8,439 are most sensitive in Punjab, 3,064 in Sindh, 243 in Fata, 2140 in KPK, 1,783 in Balochistan and 18 in federal capital.

On these stations CCTV cameras have been installed to keep an eye on the miscreants.

PML-N President Nawaz Sharif is contesting the election after some 17 years. He had last contested the 1997 elections, but his government was overthrown in October 1999. Thereafter, he was banished to Saudi Arabia. Although he had returned to Pakistan at the time of the 2008 polls, he did not contest as he was disqualified for the process. His party had participated in the electoral process, and his brother Shahbaz Sharif remained the Punjab chief minister for five years.

The Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf, the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Pakhtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party, all components of the All Pakistan Democratic Movement, had opposed Mr Sharif’s decision to take part in the elections. They boycotted the process on the plea that they cannot expect free and fair polls under a military man. The differences among the APDM components led to the disintegration of the alliance cobbled together after a PML-N-sponsored all-party conference in London in 2007.

The PML-N is promising the electorate an ‘economic explosion’, which will make Pakistan a prosperous state. The PTI is committed to making the country self-reliant, offering tremendous opportunities to the youth, who are expected to play a decisive role in the success or defeat of a party.

The PPP, instead of highlighting its future programme, focused more on the failures of the PML-N or contradictions in its promises.

The PTI Chairman, in his campaign, tried his best to prove the PPP and the PML-N one and the same thing. However, the PML-N tried to establish that Imran Khan was speaking the language of President Zardari.

Imran Khan branded JUI-F Amir Maulana Fazlur Rehman as a hypocrite, while the Maulana called him an agent of the Jews.

Teams of foreign observers are there to monitor the transparency and fairness of the electoral process.

Except for a 10-party coalition set up in Sindh to counter the PPP, no other alliance has been formed anywhere in the country.

Interestingly, the PPP, the ANP, the PML-Q and the MQM though remained coalition partners till the previous assembly served out its term in March, will contest together, are fighting the Saturday polls from their own platforms. The PML-Q and the PPP made some adjustments, but the formula they had evolved for the seats allocation, was not adhered to. It is because of the failure of the pre-poll understanding that PML-Q leader Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and PPP stalwart Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar are pitted against each other from a Gujrat seat.

Religious parties stand divided, as expected. They were together at the time of the 2002 polls, but differences ripped them apart after the 2008 elections. Their efforts to revive the MMA also failed.

In these elections, no religious party is seen with any other party of the same category.

Rumours that that the May 11 polls would be cancelled on one pretext or the other continued to the last. Some said that military would intervene because of the absolute failure of the PPP-led coalition. Others were of the view that a ‘Bangladesh Model’ would be introduced for about three years, during which period a ruthless and indiscriminate accountability would be carried out with the background support of the army.

Even a senior official said a few months ago that a takeover was imminent and lists had been prepared by the army of all those to be subjected to accountability.

However, many say repeated statements by the Chief Justice of Pakistan that the judiciary would not tolerate any extra-constitutional step, served as a deterrent. At times, the CJP said that no judge would validate the military intervention.

Major parties taking part in the elections are making competing claims about their performance.

The PML-N, for example, expects more than 100 NA seats from Punjab alone. It believes that it will be in a position to form government at the Centre and in Punjab.

The PTI says it will get a clear majority, meaning thereby that it will have at least 172 NA seats needed for a government in Islamabad. It is also pretty sure that the next KPK government will also be formed by the PTI.

The PPP also claims that it will form a government after the Saturday polls, although many say that the party has completed its natural life under the able leadership of President Zardari and stands no chance of returning to power.

But some media reports say that not because of its performance but because of the division of the rightist vote, it is still better placed to head the next government at the centre. There is almost consensus that Sindh, as usual, will go to the PPP and the MQM.