The race for the next Prime Minister of Pakistan is between Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief and former cricketer Imran Khan, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) leader Nawaz and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari of the Pakistan People's Party as the country votes in the National Assembly elections 2018. Pakistan's politics has been dominated by the Bhutto and Sharif families, and Imran Khan is being seen as the best bet to break their hegemony.
The Pakistan National Assembly elections, if completed successfully, will be only the second time that the country will see a civilian government transferring power to another since the country was carved out of India in 1947.
The National Assembly has 332 seats out of which 272 are general while 69 are reserved for women. Any party of coalition securing 166 seats is eligible to form the government.
Imran, whose full name is Imran Ahmad Khan Niazi, and his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) are seen as the frontrunner in the Pakistan Election 2018. Imran Khan, who led Pakistan to its only cricket One Day International World Cup victory in 1992, plunged into politics after retiring from cricket.
The University of Oxford graduate founded the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf in 1996. During the current election, his rivals have been accusing him of being close to the all-powerful Pakistan Army, which many allege wants to see Imran as the next prime minister of the country.
PTI was the third largest party in the last elections in 2013 and had formed government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Imran also led massive country-wide protests in 2014 accusing the PML (N) government of rigging elections. PTI's rule in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa saw some governance reforms but there were also allegations against the party of being involved in corruption.
Most opinion polls predict a hung house in Pakistan with Imran's PTI emerging as the single largest party in the country. Imran received a major boost after three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) was convicted and jailed in a corruption case rendering him ineligible to contest.
A coalition government or one with a thin majority will also give the Pakistan Army to wield enormous influence and play the power broker.
Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) leader Shehbaz Sharif, the younger brother of jailed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, is a veteran politician and has been the chief minister of Pakistan's biggest province Punjab thrice. The 66-year-old became the president of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) in March 2018, three months before Nawaz Sharif's conviction in a corruption case related to buying of properties overseas.
With Nawaz's daughter and political heir, Maryam also convicted and jailed, the mantle to carry forward the Sharif family's political legacy fell on Shehbaz. He has led his party's campaign highlighting that his family was being unfairly targeted.
After former Pakistan dictator Pervez Musharraf seized power in a coup in 1999, Shehbaz fled Pakistan and came back in 2007. He received a major blow in 2009 when the Pakistan Supreme Court disqualified him from holding the post of the chief minister of Punjab. However, the verdict was later overturned by another bench.
During the campaign, Shehbaz declared several times that he would be the prime minister of Pakistan if his party formed the government.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari
The youngest contender, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is just 29 years old and has the onerous task of taking the Pakistan People’s Party to power. The son of late Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto and former president Asif Ali Zardari. Bilawal, too, was educated at Oxford like Imran Khan.
Bilawal was just 19 when he became the Pakistan People’s Party chairman in 2007 after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, he was guided by his father who wielded power in his name for several years.
Although Bilawal has campaigned extensively, pollsters are not giving his party too much importance. But in case of a split verdict. Bilawal's role could become very crucial and he can be the kingmaker if not the king himself.
Pakistan People’s Party has won four National Assembly elections - 1977, 1988, 1993 and 2008.