By Aamir Latif
Things are not that conducive for the five-party religious alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) in the upcoming elections, compared to its glory days in the 2002 polls.
But local analysts believe that the alliance would still be a major stakeholder in the two provinces in July 25 elections.
Though the MMA has fielded candidates in all the four provinces, its key focus is on northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and southwestern Balochistan province, where it has a strong vote bank.
In addition, the MMA expects encouraging results from the country's commercial capital Karachi and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
The alliance, which is a conglomerate of all Sunni and Shia school of thoughts in the country, had ruled the KP from 2002 to 2007, whereas it was the second largest coalition partner in Balochistan during the same period. It had also clinched the office of opposition leader in center by defeating the then-main opposition Pakistan People's Party ( PPP).
But, the alliance comprising Jamat-e-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI) , Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadit, Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (AA) and Tehrik-e-Islami, remained dormant till early this year following differences between the two major components -- JI and JUI.
In the last election, JUI and JI contested separately.
Their combined votes in 2013 were slightly over 21 per cent compared to 20 per cent of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), led by former cricket hero Imran Khan in KP. But since the two parties had contested separately, the PTI managed to strike a coaltion with JI and ruled the province for the next five years.
The poor performance, according to analysts, have forced the two mainstream religious parties to shun their differences and reactivate the alliance.
Things not same
But many believe that things are not as smooth as they were in the 2002 elections for MMA.
"There will be a totally new scenario MMA is going to face in the upcoming elections. It won't be able to repeat the 2002 performance this time," Rahimullah Yusufzai, a political analyst from Peshawar told Anadolu Agency.
"In 2002, the country's popular leadership was in exile, anti-America sentiments were high because of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and the right wing vote had no other choice except MMA. But this is not the case this time," Yusufzai said.
He was referring to the two former prime ministers, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto who remained in exile from late 1990s to 2007 due to military rule in the country.
Another major disadvantage for MMA, he noted, was the emergence of PTI, which had swiftly encroached on the right wing votes, especially youths.
The largest contender for the right wing votes, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, is already there to further reduce space for the religious alliance, he maintained.
But, he added: "MMA would still be significant in KP and Balochistan. MMA will be the second largest party in KP and Balochistan. It has the potential to form a PTI minus coalition government in KP but definitely it will not be that easy."
Abdul Khalique Ali, a Karachi-based political analyst, sees decline in MMA's votes particularly in Punjab -- the country's largest province and political power base -- because of the emergence of two new religious parties.
Tehrik-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which represents the popular Barelvi school of thought, whereas Milli Muslim League, the political wing of Jamat-ud-Dawah (JuD), whose majority voters belong to Ahl-e-Hadit school of thought, have shown impressive performance in recent by-elections in Punjab.
"The two parties will definitely grab a significant number of Barelvi and Ahl-e-Hadith voters in Punjab," Ali said.
Also, he believed, TLP could put a dent in MMA voters in Karachi and some parts of KP.
MMA , however, would enjoy a relatively smooth sailing in northern Balochistan and various parts of southern and northern KP, he added.
"MMA is the only party that can come to terms with the PTI's challenge in KP," Ali said.