Pakistani motorists drive along a road with posters of candidates taking part in the forthcoming general elections, in the garrison city of Rawalpindi. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Election campaign across Pakistan is touching its peak for the July 25 general poll.

More than a hundred parties are taking part in 2018 elections, but real contest is amongst the three main political parties: Pakistan Muslim League -  Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Either of these three main stream parties is expected to form the next government.

Some other smaller but significantly strong parties, which play key role in every elections and can enter into an alliance to help the bigger parties in forming the government include the Karachi-based Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM); Pakistan Muslim League-Q ; Grand Democratic Alliance (JDA); grand alliance of religious parties called Mutahida Majlis Amal (MMA), secular group  Awami National Party (ANP); Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP); Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) and Balochistan National Party ( BNP)

Following is the Gulf News choice of key players in the Pakistan election 2018 

Imran Khan

Chairman, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)

Pakistan’s cricket hero-turned politicians Imran Khan has finally emerged as a stronger political leader after 22-year of struggle against corruption in the country.  He formed his political party in 1996, but failed to make any impact on political helms until 2013.  He made steady progress over the years as he did not win any seat in his first election in 1997. He won only one seat (his own) in 2002, boycotted the 2008 elections and he got reasonably good response in 2013 elections when he won 32 national assembly seats and also got majority to form the government in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. His party got the second largest party in terms of number of votes.

Khan wants to make Pakistan a ‘welfare state’ and his main slogan is to root out corruption and eliminate corruption and create equal opportunities for jobs, healthcare and education. He claimed the credit of early dismissal of Nawaz Sharif from the post of prime minister and lifetime ban on his politics. Khan enjoys support of die-hard party supporters from around the world, especially the women and youth.

He also sought to capitalise on anger against US war in Afghanistan, drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas. He also succeeded in winning the support of some ‘electable’ politicians who defected from other parties.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari

Chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)

Election 2018 is a big test for Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to revive Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) – once the most popular political party in Pakistan founded by his maternal grandfather and former prime minister of Pakistan the late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who was executed in 1979 by the military dictator General Ziaul Haq.

Bilawal is the youngest political head of any party and is son of assassinated first female Prime Minister of Pakistan the late Benazir Bhutto and former president Asif Ali Zardari.  He was barely 19 when he was named chairman of the PPP after his mother was killed in 2007.

Bilawal has already kick started his campaign trail from Sindh and getting massive support in terms of rallies. Bilawal spent his early years of schooling in Dubai during his family’s self-exile, graduated in History and Politics from the University of Oxford.

Bilawal who initially face jibs from his political rivals, has grown into a fine politicians at the age of just 29. He is also set to play a greater role in a bid to revive the glory of the country’s best known political dynasties.

Shahbaz Sharif

President of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)

Shahbaz Sharif, former Chief Minister of Punjab, the largest province of Pakistan, is the younger brother of three-time former prime Nawaz Sharif. He now heads PML-N after his brother Nawaz Sharif was disqualified by the court and barred from contesting elections and holding any political position.

Shahbaz is leading the PML-N campaign and holds very solid grounds in the Punjab province. Shahbaz is known as very strong administrator and played major role in development of the province in terms of infrastructure and public transport. Law and order situation also improved a lot during his tenure but he failed to overcome the most important issue of energy crisis as people continued to face power-cuts.

PML-N is still key runner under his leadership because the party is also expecting to get ‘sympathy votes’ after his brother Nawaz and his niece Maryam was sentenced by the court in ‘corruption’ charges. His campaign will gain momentum once Nawaz  -- the most popular leaders of the PML-N – comes back to Pakistan from London.

Shahbaz has a good record of progress and developments in Punjab where he has been ruling as chief minister for almost over a decade and has claimed the credit for mega projects worth billions of rupees such as Lahore, Multan, Islamabad and Rawalpindi Metro Bus, Orange Line Train, and various infrastructure projects to uplift cities of Punjab.

Maulana Fazalur Rehman

President of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (grand alliance of religious groups) and Chairman of Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI-F)

Maulana Fazalur Rehman, who is known to be part of every government in Pakistan, always plays a crucial role in making political alliances before elections and forming coalitions to help bigger parties get into power. He is known as a great negotiator and never fails to get a key position in the government.

Once again, just before the elections, he has managed to form a grand political alliance called ‘Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal’ (MMA). This is an election alliance of five key religious groups including Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F), Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan (JUP), Tehreek-i-Islami Pakistan (TIP) and Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadith (MJAH).

Maulana says that all the five parties would contest upcoming general elections from the MMA platform.

He said the alliance would utilise all its energy to enforce the Islamic system in the country to resolve national issues and protect rights of religious minorities, oppressed and the deprived sections of society.

Maulana began his political career in 1980 at the age of 27 after the death of his father and a well-known Islamic scholar Mufti Mahmud who was the leader of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam. He enjoys great support amongst Islamic religious fraternity. He is expected to give tough time to Imran Khan’s PTI in Khyber Pakktunkhawa province.

Asfandyar Wali Khan

President of Awami National Party (ANP)

Asfandyar Wali Khan is the grandson of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, commonly known as Baccha Khan – a famous Pashtun nationalist leader. He is president of the Awami National Party (ANP) in Pakistan is known as Pashtun nationalist democratic party which is against terrorism and extremists groups. Many of his party supporters and leaders lost their lives in the hands of Taliban extremists groups.

His father, Khan Wali Khan, was the party’s first President. He has served as Member of Provincial Assembly, Member of National Assembly and presently Senator in Pakistan's Parliament. He is known as an outspoken and bold politician.

His party formed the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkwa province after defeating religious groups in 2008 elections and also support Asif Ali Zardari to help PPP take reins at the national level. His party badly lost to PTI in 2013 elections. He is also determined to give tough competition to PTI. He can play a key role political coalition if no party gets clear majority in the elections.