More than a hundred parties are taking part in elections 2018 but Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) are the leading parties that are expected to form the next government.

Other parties including the Karachi-based Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), originally formed by Urdu-speaking migrants from India known as Mohajirs; leading religious parties including Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-F (JUIF), and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI); secular parties Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP); Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), Balochistan National party BNP and Pakistan Muslim League-Q, are also among key to any coalition government.

There’s also Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) an alliance of religious political parties such as JUIF, JI, Jamiat Ahle-e-Hadith, Islami Tehreek and others but it is hardly to affect the traditional vote bank.

Key Players of Pakistani Politics in Elections 2018

Imran Khan
Imran Khan, a cricket hero-turned politician, emerged in politics of Pakistan following 2013 elections. He is active in politics since 1996 but failed to make any significant gains until recently. Imran Khan won his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) party’s only seat in 2002 but boycotted the 2008 elections being disappointed with the electoral system. In 2013 elections, his party emerged as the second-largest political force in Pakistan, as his party PTI came to power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province which borders Afghanistan.

Khan became popular when he campaigned against US operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly drone attacks. He launched movement against what he called ‘corruption’ and ‘rigging’ which drew massive public support during 2014-16 and finally claiming the credit for dismissal of three-time premier Nawaz Sharif by Supreme Court on corruption charges in 2017.

The personal life of Khan is often scandalised in media and his recent two marriages have been the subject of criticism in society.

PTI is primarily seen as a Centrist party with an objective to create a welfare state with equal opportunities for education, health and employment. Khan is now seen by his supporters as the next possible prime minister of Pakistan after 2018 elections primarily banking on young voters but his opponents see little chance as two major heavyweights PML-N and PPP are gaining supports from Punjab and Sindh.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is one of the youngest Pakistani politicians who has been serving as the Chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) with his father Asif Ali Zardari as co-chairman of the party.

Bilawal, the son of assassinated ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and former President Asif Ali Zardari, was barely 19 when he was named chairman of Pakistan’s oldest dynastic party after his mother was killed in 2007. He is also seen by some as the rightful heir to the seat being the grandson of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s popular leader who founded PPP and served as its chairman until his execution in 1979.

Bilawal Bhutto has spent his early years in Dubai and London during his family’s self-exile and graduated in History and Politics from Christ Church, a constituent college of the University of Oxford.

It was only after 2009 that Bilawal began taking interest in Pakistani politics with emotionally-charged political speeches and attending public gatherings. His father changed Bilawal Zardari’s name publicly to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to inject new life into the party.

Bilawal Bhutto is now popular in his family home province Sindh but is also popular among Sindhi-Balochi towns.

Although he has often faced jibes for his young age by political opponents but Bilawal, who is now 29, wants to play a greater role to revive the glory of his party which suffered major setback in 2013 elections.

Shehbaz Sharif
Shehbaz Sharif who is the younger brother of three-time former prime Nawaz Sharif is now seen as the second most popular leaders of the PML-N and hoping to become next prime minister especially after the disqualification of his brother.

PML-N has elected Shehbaz Sharif as the new party leader and in case of a victory in forthcoming elections; he may be elected as the leaders of the house even if for a brief period.

Shehbaz Sharif 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.

PML-N which used to be a dominant party in Punjab has lost its support from religious voters following accusation that party was behind a reported reform in the application of the blasphemy laws.

Although Shehbaz Sharif is popular among local voters of PML-N but political observers claim that Nawaz Sharif’s main adviser remains his daughter Maryam Safdar (although she prefers to be named as Maryam Nawaz) who differs with Shehbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Sharif on important issues.

Pervez Musharraf
Former President General ® Pervez Musharraf also submitted his nomination papers from three places, Chitral, Layyah (Punjab) and Karachi. All the three papers were filed by his representatives on his behalf on the last day of submission just before the expiration of the given time.

His papers were submitted after Chief Justice of Pakistan directed to unblock the CNIC and passport of former military ruler and ordered not to arrest before his appearance in the court. Musharraf is currently facing trials in a series of court cases, including one in which he has been accused of treason.

Pakistan’s former military leader, Pervez Musharraf, staged a coup d’état in 1999 after the then-premier Nawaz Sharif unsuccessfully attempted to remove Musharraf from the army’s leadership. He then served as one of Pakistan’s longest-serving rulers as president from 2001 to 2008. Although popular for his approach of moderate Islam and social liberalism, certain controversies such as Lal Masjid incident, suspension of chief justice and Musharraf’s reputation as US ally undermined his political career.

In 2013, he returned to Pakistan to take part in elections, ending four years of self-imposed exile but his All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) performed badly.

Musharraf who is the president of the APML party is expected to return after Eid to join the political process and to face the charges.