Swing voter is a floating voter who has no allegiance to any political party and whose unpredictable decisions can impact the outcome of an election one way or the other. Swing voters occasionally play an important part in elections.

In Pakistan, millions of youth voters have been registered and will be first-time voters – many of them swing voters. If they decide to vote for the parties other than major political parties, they can obscure the latter’s chances of repeating their performance. In Pakistan, most political and religious parties do not have well-knit organisations; a few of them have district or city organizations, but not in rural areas.

From 1988 to 1999, the country was heading towards a two-party system when Nawaz government was overthrown by General Pervez Musharraf. Both the major parties, PPP and PML-N, have been conducting constituency-based politics, and there has been hardly any role of the swing voters.

In the 1970 elections, the military government had estimated that the elections would result into a hung parliament, but Awami League in former East Pakistan secured 160 seats, gaining a clear majority to form the government.

In West Pakistan, the PPP secured 81 seats, first due to Bhutto’s charisma; secondily, there was a wave because of PPP’s slogan of roti, kapra aur makan. And, of course, those undecided voters or swing voters that were not affiliated with any party voted for PPP.

However, there has never been consistency in the voting pattern in various elections. Of course, electables have been shifting loyalties to remain in the corridors of power. In the 1997 elections, people were tired of musical chairs of the rulers, and even members of Jamaat-e-Islami were reported to have voted for PML-N so that rightist votes were not divided.

From 1988 to 2008, six general elections were held. In 1988, the PPP secured 93 seats and with 13 seats of the MQM formed the government in the house of 207 seats. PML-N secured more seats in Punjab in 1990 and formed government with the help MQM. In 1997, however, the PML-N secured 137 seats and routed PPP in the elections. In October 1999, the Nawaz government was overthrown and Gen Musharraf held elections in 2002. PPP secured 81 seats, PML-Q 137 seats and PML-N got only 19 seats. In the 2008 elections, PPP secured 124 seats, PML-N 91 and PML-Q got 61 seats. During the last five years, the PPP-led government was in power at the federal level, and as a coalition partner with other parties in Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. In Punjab, the PML-N formed the government with the help of PPP, but, later, the coalition collapsed. However, the people of Pakistan have been disillusioned by the federal as well as provincial governments for bad governance and corruption in almost equal measure.

There were stories of corruption in the PPP-led government at the federal level, but the PML-N also did not come clean on that count. Therefore, this time around, Tehrik-e-Insaf is another important player in the election arena. The people, in general, say Imran Khan has not been tested and tried so far, so he deserves a chance. The bulging youth population seems to be on the side of PTI and May elections would, perhaps, have surprises. Voters between the ages of 18 and 30 make up around 35 percent of registered voters and PTI is likely to benefit from this significant demographic change of youth bulge and urbanisation. In Punjab, Imran Khan could make a dent in the popularity of PML-N; of course, he has tremendous following in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Women voters in urban Punjab also are inclined to vote for Imran Khan’s PTI.

The target audience for the PTI advertisement appears to be the growing number of professional, working mothers. If the youth that had thronged Khan’s rallies come out on the voting day, the PTI will be a deciding factor in the formation of the next government.

But one should not write off PPP and PML-Q completely, because both the parties have forged electoral alliance through seat adjustments; they will certainly have their share, but will secure less number of seats as compared with those in the 2008 elections. Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf does not stand much chance in rural areas because peers, jagirdars, sardars and waderas rule the roost in those areas.

The Imran factor may adversely impact PML-N, but overall in Pakistan it would be able to secure 91 seats as it has made some inroads in KP and Balochistan. It should be borne in mind that PML-N secured 91 National Assembly seats in 2008 elections as it had sympathy vote like PPP because leaderships of both the parties were in exile for years. Religious minorities, specifically Christians, that could be a key swing vote in central Punjab in favour of Imran Khan as PML-N which has run the province over the past five years has a checkered record with religious minorities.