Nawaz Sharif (left) and Imran Khan (right), opponents now, share a platform in 2007. File Photo: AFP / Arif Ali

The opposition Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) are considering an alliance that might give them the numbers to defeat Nawaz and form the country’s next government.

Backroom negotiations have picked up as former prime minister Nawaz Sharif prepares to return to Pakistan on Friday to serve a 10-year prison sentence following an accountability court’s ruling against him last week for corruption over undeclared property in London.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) insiders have confirmed that Sharif will appeal the verdict from jail and hopes to get protective bail, which would allow him to remain an influential figure in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) campaign during the July 25 election. But he might have to outdo the two big opposition parties.

An alliance between PTI and PPP appears the most likely outcome in the wake of pre-election surveys that indicate the poll will probably result in a hung parliament, and hence a union between any two of the three major parties would be sufficient to form a government.

Sources within the opposition parties have confirmed that both would be open to joining forces after the election, especially if that were the only way for either of them to take power.

PPP probably holds the key to any coalitions, as the PTI and PML-N were at loggerheads during the latter’s five-year tenure, which is now ending. PTI chief Imran Khan welcomed Sharif’s dismissal as premier and subsequent corruption conviction as a personal triumph.

While an alliance between the PPP and PML-N remains a distinct possibility, feedback from the PPP suggests that it would prefer to hook up with the PTI. “If a post-election situation requires it, we will strike an alliance with Imran Khan,” PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari said. Senior party leader Khursheed Shah added that such an alliance “cannot be ruled out”.

PPP probably holds the key to any coalitions, as the PTI and PML-N were at loggerheads during the latter’s five-year tenure

Former PPP Punjab chairman Manzoor Wattoo concurs. “The party leaders have also discussed a potential alliance with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, but uniting with Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf will be more natural given the situation that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz finds itself in,” he told Asia Times, referring to Nawaz Sharif’s election narrative against the military establishment and the judiciary.

However, Wattoo, who will be an independent candidate in the poll, reiterated that a lot will depend on the final count. “Independent candidates are going to be crucial as well. If a party can form a government with them, they mightn’t need to align themselves with anyone. But I definitely expect a coalition government,” he said.

While the PPP leadership has openly acknowledged the possibility of uniting with PTI, Imran Khan’s party leadership have been clearly instructed not to even hint at this possibility in the media.

“It would alienate sections of our voters who acknowledge the fact that it is the party’s anti-corruption fight that has seen Nawaz Sharif ousted and now jailed, with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz politically struggling,” a PTI leader told Asia Times.

The PPP and Pakistan PTI have joined hands for common political gain numerous times in recent months. In March they united to elect Sadiq Sanjrani as the Senate chairman, in a move seen as military- backed, prompting accusations that the PPP had joined the PTI in taking its orders from army leaders in a bid to sideline the PML-N.

According to PML-N insiders, that is precisely the narrative that Nawaz Sharif will take up after his expected release on bail from jail, when he will likely orchestrate countrywide rallies.

“For us, the army, the judiciary, the Pakistan People’s Party, the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf, they are all in it together against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz,” a party leader said. “And that is what Mian sahib [Nawaz Sharif] will be telling the masses when he addresses them in the lead-up to the elections.”

Meanwhile, the PTI, at least publicly, remains confident that it wouldn’t have to rely on any other parties. “We’ve only ever allied with the Pakistan People’s Party over common principled positions, not for any political gains,” spokesperson Fawad Chaudhry said. “In any case, we expect to come out as the single largest party after the elections, in which case we won’t have to form a coalition with anyone.”

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