YOU already know what’s going to happen next. Silly season will be upon us and the M word will be hawked around again.

Once Imran took his show on the road, others were always going to follow. Politics had been reduced to Punjab and a two-man show — Imran and Nawaz — so a little noise from the sidelines was going to happen.

Now that the noise is here courtesy a still wet-behind-the-ears Bilawal and a decrepit PPP, politics can be spun as in ferment again. Rallies everywhere, a vague sense of expectation in the air, a desultory government — the chattering will begin anew: could there be mid-term elections after all?

Ah, but you’re thinking, rallies do not an election make. And you’re right. But silly season has rules of its own. So we may as well get a jump on it.

As with everything politics, there is a good way of going about things and a bad way.
There wasn’t — and still isn’t — any reason mid-elections should be held simply because Imran has been demanding it. But neither is there any legal or constitutional bar to mid-term elections. It comes down to politics.

And as with everything politics, there is a good way of going about things and a bad way. The good, system-enhancing route to mid-term elections would be if someone, say, a super tribunal or that Supreme Court-led inquiry commission which has gone nowhere so far, were to document and reveal systematic flaws in the May 2013 polls.

The bad, system-diminishing route to mid-term elections would be if the PML-N pulled another PML-N. Essentially, if the PML-N shoots itself in the foot and democracy in the face by seeing the diminishing threat of the Imran and Qadri protests as an opportunity to land a punch or two.

Like the N-League did with Qadri a couple of days after Zarb-i-Azb was launched. Also known as the Model Town incident. You’d think the PML-N would have learned by now, but the only thing that seems certain with the PML-N is that old habits die hard.

There is a third option, the one that would neither destroy the system nor particularly enhance it: a National Assembly-only election.

Leave the provincial assemblies in place — PPP in Sindh, PTI in KP, PML-N in Punjab, nationalists in Balochistan — and fight it out at the centre. A quirky, ad hoc solution to a quirky, ad hoc problem imposed by Imran and Qadri.

National Assembly-only elections would still leave everyone a winner at the provincial level while settling the problem at the centre for the next three years, at which point the assemblies could sync again in a general election.

Not that the PML-N would ever admit it — and it would certainly resist the idea fiercely were it ever to come to that — but a mid-term election is the only obvious way for the party to recover its mandate.

The political capital reaped in May 2013 by the PML-N is over — whether it was the party’s own doing, the anti-democrats’ viciousness or Imran and Qadri’s fierceness matters little now.

What does matter is that the PML-N’s policy space has shrunk violently and the only obvious way to recover some of that space is fresh endorsement by the voting public. Else, it’s limping on and muddling through all the way to 2018.

But if the PML-N won’t bite at even a National Assembly-only election, how can Imran force Nawaz into an election?

The obvious route is via the PPP. Assured of success in Sindh, the PPP is in terminal decline in Punjab. The party has no message, the party has no appeal and the party will haemorrhage candidates in Punjab if elections happen in far-away 2018.

Wait and face near-certain extinction in Punjab — and as goes Punjab, so goes Islamabad — or scramble now and fight a rearguard action to hang on to as many battered candidates and beleaguered voters as the PPP can.

Of course, even in this fantastical realm of a joint putsch by PTI and PPP against PML-N, everything would turn on what Zardari decides. So far Asif still looks like he prefers the devil he knows — Nawaz — to the devil he doesn’t — Imran.

Still, chatter knows no logic, so further in we can wade.

A mid-term, National Assembly-only election happens. Maybe it happens because N-League did something staggeringly stupid or because a super commission paved the way for it or because PTI found a partner in the PPP to force an election.

Now what? The tables turn. Twenty-thirteen was Nawaz’s election to lose; mid-terms will be an election Imran has to win.

The unexpected can happen — no one, not even Nawaz, thought PML-N would win an outright majority in May 2013 — but so fiercely contested is Punjab now that it’s hard to imagine either PTI or PML-N sweeping a mid-term election.

Which would take us back to the pre-May 2013 spectre of a hung parliament. Three big players — PTI, PML-N and PPP — with two needed to form a government.

Zardari could do a switcheroo, forcing an election against the PML-N’s wishes and then going for a new government together. But what would that do for the country?

Or the PTI and PPP could rope in all the other bits and pieces in parliament and form a national government minus the PML-N. But what would that do for the country?

In either case, the answer would be, nothing.

Little will change without an election; little may change with an election. But silly season looks imminent. The M word will get a lot of airing. So we may as well have got a jump on it.

The writer is a member of staff.