Islamabad, July 25: Pakistan goes to polls today and the key players are the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI).
The key players in the elections this year are Shehbaz Sharif, Imran Khan and Bilawal Bhutto. The poll this year has also witnessed several extremist elements who are contesting on a Hafiz Saeed backed party called Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek. The other extremist groups in the fray are the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat and the Tehreek-e Labbaik-e-Rasool Allah.
Under the watch of the Army:
A survey conducted in Pakistan shows that Imran Khan of the PTI is slightly ahead of the rest. However the survey also notes that it is the undecided voters in the Punjab province which is the stronghold of the PML-N which will decide the final outcome.
When it comes to Imran Khan there is both apprehension and happiness. Seeing the flamboyant cricketer turned politician as the next prime minister would be a dream for many. However his proximity to the army is a matter of concern for some, as they feel he would end up being a puppet. He has also earned the nick-name Taliban Imran Khan after he voiced his support for religious extremist groups.
The big question is will the people give the tried and tested PML-N or PPP another chance or will they back an untried PTI. When it comes to the PML-N or PPP, the people have a major concern and that is corruption.
For the PML-N, the big concern is that their leader Nawaz Sharif is in jail on corruption charges. This has led to his image taking a beating, but his brother Shehbaz who retains a hold over the voter could make the difference. While analysts point out that Shehbaz's chance of becoming the PM may be slim, he could still pull through in case of a hung parliament. He would then become the ideal choice for other parties.
In the case of Bilawal Bhutto, many do not see him as a serious player. His party is in disarray and he has not been able to provide that x-factor during the election process.
The PPP has been reduced from a national party to one that has a stronghold only in the Sindh province. Surveys and analysts have written off Bhutto and his party for this election.
The big concern is the control the army has over this election. It has been called as the Generals's election and not a general election. Many have accused the army of rigging the elections. The army wants to put in a dummy candidate as PM and proposes to snatch away his decision making powers when it comes to strategic affairs and foreign policy.
The military has denied accusations of stage managing the general elections, calling on the Supreme Court to "initiate the appropriate process to ascertain the veracity of the allegations".
When Sharif was barred from contesting the elections and sent off to jail, Pakistan was under the caretaker government of Nasir Mulk. During this period the army and ISI took control of almost everything and even ensured media space was not given to both the PML-N and PPP.
It is clear from the way the army is controlling events, that they want Imran Khan to come out tops in the poll battle. Analysts in India say that all efforts would be made to ensure that Khan comes close to the majority mark in the 342 member National Assembly of Pakistan. They also point out that in Khan they have a dummy and even if were to take the hot seat, he would have hardly any role in strategic affairs and foreign policy.