With election campaign gathering steam, crystal ball gazing is all the rage. The opinion polls are coming thick and fast — itself an indicator of how seriously the exercise is being taken.
Even though those at the losing end of the arithmetic still play down the import — the usual grouse is sample size — for public consumption, there is now grudging acceptance of what these portend even if behind closed doors.
Pakistan Muslim League of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif (PML-N), the main opposition party, is riding a crest of wave both in terms of popularity and electability.
Its sweep is evident in the swarm of candidates from other parties who have converged at the House of Raiwind — the palatial abode of the Sharifs — in the hope of winning the meal ticket.
The profound shift is reflected in the latest findings of IRI-Gallup Pakistan, which interviewed 9,660 men and women over the age of 18 in both rural and urban setting across Pakistan. The margin of error was estimated at -/+2.5 per cent at 95 per cent confidence level.
The IRI survey conducted in November 2012 put the PML-N's likely voter inclination at 32 per cent; it has since shot to 41 per cent in February 2013 in the Gallup poll with the mean score rounding to 37 per cent.
The party, which is confined to the country's most populous province, has relaxed its policy of shunning turncoats and completely nixed the idea of going solo to reinforce its electoral prospects.
In the last year or so, it has had the nearest thing to a windfall as Imran Khan's Pakistan's Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) gradually lost momentum.
In fact, so lopsided has the one-way ticket ride in the direction of the PML-N been the last few months that it has shaken the Centre-ruling Pakistan People's Party out of its stupor.
For a long time, President Asif Zardari, who is the PPP's co-chairman, was sitting smug on the fence hoping that the PTI would divide the PML-N vote bank redounding to the PPP's advantage.
It can now happen only if a second wind propels the PTI back into the frame — not unlikely given how Khan's party cadres fresh from intra-party polls are rearing to have a go — but it is a tall order in purely electability terms.
For the uninitiated, there is often a wide gap between popularity and electability in the rough and tumble of Pakistan's electoral science. The field is still determined by hard-nosed electoral peculiarities such as clan politics as well as financial and administrative muscle.
This means the voters will be inclined to go for candidates more likely to deliver on the tried and tested formula rather than ring in the new merely on the back of promised change. This explains the dichotomy of Khan's mass appeal and the proverbial daylight in terms of translation.
The IRI-Gallup survey also makes this obvious in the case of the PPP, whose graph has actually risen against the run of play. If popularity alone was the barometer, the ruling party would stand little chance, thanks in no small part to the spectacular lack of governance over a full term.
However, President Zardari's ability to keep the varied flock in his Centre and provincial coalitions satiated means he may still pull a rabbit out of the hat and a likely resurgence in PTI's ranks may, after all, still matter just about enough to break the shackles in the decisive Punjab province for the PPP, which is only assured of a chunk in the southern belt.
It merits attention that the PPP will still have their man in the Presidency when the elections are held and after he invites a claimant to form the government until September this year as well as full control of Senate — the upper house of Pakistan's bicameral legislature without which no law can be passed.
Significantly, as the only party with a nationally representative presence, it is likely to sustain its appeal for the stakeholders.
Both the PPP and the PTI are placed second with a national mean score of 16 per cent in the latest findings — with the former gaining 3 percentage points and the latter losing 4 percentage points. This is only as far as popularity goes; electability is an entirely different ball game, of course.
Once again this chasm is reflected in how even the now-apparently, redundant PML-Q whose candidates have flocked to the PML-N in droves — some of them en route PTI — has still managed to gain 2 percentage points over the initial dampener in November last year.
This is down to either individual electability or the viability of seat adjustment. However, it is one party that is rapidly crumbling into insignificance.
The writer is freelance journalist based in Islamabad. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.