After the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) announced a tentative date for the general elections in January 2024, major political parties have started focusing on building political alliances and discussing possible seat adjustment plans in different provinces.
Some expect parties part of the Pakistan Democratic Movement's (PDM) rainbow coalition to adjust seats with each other ahead of the elections as they vie to win the upcoming elections. But cracks have started developing between some parties, most notably the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
However, there remain two outliers in this, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) - which remains in tatters after the arrest of its chairman and second-tier leadership - and the emergence of the party led by disgruntled and defecting members of the PIT, the Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party (IPP).
What is seat adjustment?
Seat adjustment refers to a political move where a party sacrifices a seat where it is stronger in favour of a seat where it is weaker.
The way it works is in a constituency, where a party is weak, it seeks support from a party which enjoys strong support there. In exchange for supporting their candidate, a party may offer reciprocal support to a candidate of the cooperating party in a constituency where they may be weak.
With Punjab the most populous state, in terms of population and seats for the national assembly, most parties vieing to take hold in the centre will look to secure the most seats in Punjab.
A province-wise study of possible seat adjustment by The Friday Times showed that except for the PTI, the remaining major parties would look to work with each other on certain constituencies to gain the upper hand.
Politicians from all the provinces shared on the condition of anonymity that the main political fight will be to win Punjab.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain's Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid have all but decided to adjust seats with each other.
Sources say this was the main focus of the recent meeting between Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Asif Ali Zardari in Lahore.
لاہور: پاکستان پیپلزپارٹی پارلیمنٹرینز کے صدر آصف علی زرداری کی مسلم لیگ ق کے سربراہ چوہدری شجاعت حسین کی رہائش گاہ آمد— PPP (@MediaCellPPP) September 21, 2023
لاہور: سابق صدر مملکت آصف علی زرداری نے سابق وزیراعظم چوہدری شجاعت حسین کی صحت سے متعلق خیریت دریافت کی
لاہور: صدر آصف علی زرداری اور چوہدری شجاعت حسین کے… pic.twitter.com/6LSBT4gjd2
Hussain's party has weakened since his close relative and former Punjab chief minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi left the party with his son Moonis.
It still enjoys significant support in its stronghold of Gujrat.
However, the chances of an alliance between the PML-N and the PPP have died down following the recent exchange of barbs between the two parties.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari recently said that his demand for a level playing field was directed towards the PML-N, picked at a few raw spots.
The new factor in the upcoming polls will be the Istehqam-e-Pakistan Party (IPP). Led by Jahangir Tareen and Aleem Khan, it features several electables who had jumped ship from the PTI in the aftermath of the May 9 incident.
Tareen has managed to gather a bloc which is quite strong in South Punjab and could thus impact the distribution of votes.
In Sindh, an interesting electoral contest is expected.
While PPP is expected to largely dominate the polls, it faces competition in bargaining for seat adjustment.
While it may still hold a lot of chips, the PML-N, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) are considering joining forces.
For this purpose, the PPP has started contacts with the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), led by Pir Pagara, for seat adjustment in comparatively weak constituencies.
Before securing assurances from the GDA, the PPP was also keeping one eye on the moves being made by IPP.
Like in Punjab, the situation or planning of the PTI is still unclear here, but it is expected that it will face a vastly different landscape when polls come around in January 2024 compared to 2018.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam plan to adjust seats between them.
Similarly, the two left-of-centre parties, the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Awami National Party (ANP) are expected to decide on a seat adjustment plan in the near future.
Like the IPP in Punjab, the PTI-Parliamentarians led by Pervaiz Khattak and Mahmood Khan is a strong contender. It may decide to adjust some seats with the PML-N against its parent party, the PTI.
Unlike the past decade, the Jammat-e-Islami (JI), political sources say, plans to go solo in the upcoming general elections.
In the southwestern province of Balochistan, the former ruling party (PML-N) plans to adjust seats with the local nationalist parties, such as the Balochistan National Party (BNP) led by former chief minister Abdul Malik, in a reprise of their alliance in 2013.
Their biggest opponent will be the BNP-Mengal, led by Sardar Akhtar Mengal and other parties. The PML-N and Mengal were part of the PDM coalition. Still, the two had a major falling out at the end of the PDM government's tenure over the selection of the caretaker set up with Mengal writing a scathing letter to PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif criticising his choices.
The other major contender in the province is the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), to whom belongs Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar and Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani. The party will play a strong role in shaping political alliances in the province.
The political scenario takes next to no time to change on its head, but so far, the main political parties have planned to adjust seats in the provinces to gain the upper hand on their friendly opponents.
When asked for comment, parties said these are still early days to say something definitively.
PML-N's Murtaza Javed Abbasi and Riaz Pirzada said it was too early and that while they have some initial plans, they are subject to change later on, depending on the developing situation.
Jan Achackzai, who has worked with different parties in the past and is currently a caretaker minister in Balochistan, said politics in Balochistan works differently to the rest of Pakistan.