Predictions abound that the January 8 elections will throw up a hung parliament. "It will be a hung parliament," says Ghazi Salahuddin, a political analyst and commentator. Salahuddin says present indicators are that a political coalition government would take charge in 2008.
Such a coalition government will suit President Pervez Musharraf, who will have the last say in national affairs, add analysts. The question that most Pakistanis are asking, however, is who will be part of the coalition set up.
As things stand, the PML-Q headed by Chaudhry Shujaat Husain and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement led by Altaf Husain, are firm political allies of Musharraf. They will be part of any political equation that comes into office.
It's possible that Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party and Nawaz Sharif's PML-N party may also form part of the government. There is pressure on General Musharraf to engage the moderate political parties of the country and this includes both the PML-N and the PPP.
But the Americans are wary of the links between the PML-N and right-wing parties. Comments by US President George Bush that he was unaware of the credentials of Nawaz Sharif led the former Pakistan PM to come up with the statement "I too am a moderate."
The Americans are pushing for Bhutto to have a share of the government in 2008. But this is easier said than done. After talks broke down between Bhutto and Musharraf over a possible political deal earlier this year, the President went ahead and threw in his lot with the PML-Q.
The PML-Q comprises two leaders — the chief ministers of Punjab and Sindh. Bhutto has publicly accused them of being behind the October attack on her welcome convoy, which left hundreds dead. The possibility of a power sharing arrangement with them is remote.
The rightist Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) political alliance, which now has broken into two wings — one with parties contesting the elections and another with parties that are not — does not matter in this equation. Neither does Imran Khan of the Tehreek-e-Insaf party who is also boycotting the polls.
But while the political parties may get the seats, the MMA and Imran Khan have won admiration for their stand over the reinstatement of the judiciary from various quarters.
There are chances also that Bhutto and Sharif may combine to form a powerful opposition alliance. Bhutto has said that "opposition from within parliament is better than opposition from outside."
In all this, whatever united front the opposition was presenting in order to pressure President Musharraf into accepting key demands over the future political arrangements now stands shattered.
After the decision by the PPP to participate in the elections and the PML-N shortly after to also stay in the race, the demand to reinstate judges sacked following declaration of emergency in the country is now a non-issue.
Also, the possibility of allowing Bhutto or Sharif to become prime minister for a third term is remote since this requires a constitution amendment. At this stage, President Musharraf has emerged stronger than ever and looks to preside over political parties that squabble over seats and power arrangements.