Updated: July 24, 2018 6:40:55 pm
As the curtain came down on campaigning in Pakistan, two days ahead of the voting Wednesday, a public opinion survey put Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) slightly ahead of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) led by Nawaz Sharif’s brother and former Pakistan Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. But the survey finds that 14 per cent of the respondents in Punjab province, the PMLN’s stronghold, remain undecided. It is this group of voters that is expected to determine the final outcome of the 2018 elections.
The survey by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), one of Pakistan’s respected think tanks, and the Herald magazine, the Dawn newspaper group’s magazine, was carried out in 55 districts across Pakistan between June 25 and July 12, with 6,004 randomly chosen respondents — 2,848 from Punjab, 1,117 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 1,055 from Sindh and 984 from Balochistan.
The results of the survey are in line with polls conducted by Gallup and Pulse Consultants in May 2018 that had also shown that the undecided voters in Pakistan Punjab hold the key. Punjab accounts for 141 of the 272 seats in the National Assembly, Pakistan’s parliament, for which voting will take place Wednesday. Counting will begin immediately, and the broad trends will be known by Wednesday night, although official results will be announced later.
“What is missing in the current debate on elections in Punjab is that the final result will depend on how the undecided voters finally choose to cast their ballot and also how many voters turn out to vote on the polling day,” Ali Cheema and Asad Liaqat wrote in the Herald magazine, which published the survey results Sunday.
Cheema is Associate Professor at Lahore University of Management Sciences and Senior Fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives. Asad Liaqat is a PhD Candidate in Public Policy at Harvard University.
According to the nationwide survey, PTI is leading with 29 per cent, followed by PMLN at 25 per cent and Pakistan Peoples Party led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari at 20 per cent. Pakistan also follows the first-past-the-post system.
Fahd Husain, executive editor at The Express Tribune, one of Dawn’s rival publication, described the survey as “excellent and comprehensive”.
“Yes the same Central Punjab that has been recognised as the real battleground by the … survey … this Central Punjab … is the Panipat of Pakistani politics — the battleground that may essentially decide the shape of this election,” Husain, also Executive Director (News) at Express News TV channel, wrote in his column.
In Punjab, the survey shows that PMLN has a lead of 7 percentage points over PTI which is outside the survey’s provincial margin of error of + 1.9 percentage points.
But what is of concern for PMLN, and gives hope to PTI, is that outside central Punjab, the former’s 5 percentage points lead lies within the survey’s margin of error of + 2.6 percentage points in this region. This, combined with the fact that this region accounts for 55 per cent of the province’s National Assembly seats, makes the contest between the two parties a real cliffhanger.
To win a majority in the province, therefore, the PTI has to swing a substantial portion of the undecided voters to its side. The PMLN, too, will need to ensure that a large part of these voters ultimately vote for it.
“Approximately 70 per cent of the supporters of both parties have reported a ‘strong’ or ‘very strong’ intent to vote. But a smaller portion of the undecided voters in Punjab (52 per cent) reports a ‘strong’ or ‘very strong’ intent to vote. Being able to get these voters out on the polling day will be the real organisational test for the two parties,” Cheema and Liaqat wrote in the Herald.
The big question for the party is what impact Nawaz Sharif being in jail — along with his daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif — will have on the undecided voters in Punjab. Unfortunately, the timing of the survey precludes the possibility of assessing this effect, the Herald said.
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