Today, the people of Pakistan are going to take an important political decision for its leadership for the next five years. Today’s elections seem to be the most interesting one in the recent history of Pakistan in particular after two long tenures of the army rule (Gen. Zia-ul-Haq- 1977 to 1988 and Gen. Pervez Musharaf- 1999 to 2008). The elections are for the 14th national and provincial assemblies of Pakistan. The people of Pakistan vote for 372 seats of the lower house of the national assembly and 728 seat of the 4 provincial assemblies. In these elections the unpredictability is the most important factor which further makes the political scenario more interesting. In the previous elections, it was easy to assess the results in advance since traditionally there were always clear contests between the liberals (PPP, MQM, ANP) and pro-establishment and orthodox politico-religious parties (PML, JUI, JI etc.).
But these elections has become more attractive by the entrance of a third party “Pakistan Tehrek-e Insaf or PTI” (movement for justice) led by cricketer turned politician, Imran Khan. Seventeen years back in 1996 when he established his party no one believed that one day he will be one of the serious contestant for the premiership of Pakistan.
Although, this elections is still full of ambiguities but the probable post election scenario might not be optimistic for an ordinary Pakistani citizen for a change that could play a determined role in the restoration of political and economic stability.
Pakistan People’s Party- Since its inception in 1967, PPP in Pakistan’s recent history remained the only political party, having grass root level representation having liberal democratic norms. The charisma of its founding leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto based its manifesto on secularism and social equality, and ruled over the hearts and minds of the millions of Pakistanis for decades. It gained power for four times and still it is supposed to have its core support intact particularly in the second largest province of Sindh. The last rule of the party, it indeed has been tainted by the allegations of corruption and the involvement of its ministers in sectarian activities and vandalism in Balochistan and Sindh. The quality of its representatives is said to have declined since the assassination of its world fame chairperson Benazir Bhutto. Vague reports also indicated that Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of slain Benazir have had differed with the views of his father, co-chairman Asif Zardari, over the allocation of tickets to infamous party representatives but later reconciled with the situation to resolve it in times ahead.
While, precisely the ruling PPP could not deliver the way people expected but ruling over Pakistan in such a critical period was not an easy task. Growing terrorism, energy crisis, economic decline, corruption and ill-governance were the main causes of the seriously drawdown of the Party graph.
After the assassination of Benazir Buttho in a suicide attack on December 27, 2008, the party faced an un-compensable loss but her husband Asif Ali Zardari, the PPP’s co-chairman and the incumbent president of the country to some extend managed to keep party united and gained the power under a huge public sentiments voted for PPP as a sign of dedication to Benazir Bhutto. In spite of shortage of number for a simple majority, PPP successfully completed its constitutional tenure with the help of its coalition partners. In the last countrywide general elections in 2008 PPP scored 125 seats including the reserved seats of women, minorities and 7 independent winners. The party still enjoys mass support all over Pakistan with its stronghold Sindh province where still no other party could replace it. However, growing support for MQM’s middle class leadership may create dents in the in PPP influence areas in interior urban Sindh. The Sindh province has 75 seats in the lower house of national assembly.
Pakistan Muslim League (N) - Although, the party claims to be the extension of the All India Muslim League under the leadership of Mohammad Ali Jinnah that led the Muslims of sub-continent India to establish Pakistan, a separate country for the Indian Muslim but due to almost a dozen parties under the same name it is a bit difficult to confirm the claim.
In fact the party was founded by Fida Mohammad Khan, a veteran activist for the freedom of Pakistan and served as the Governor of the then North West Frontier (Now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) Province for three years under the military regime of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq ( 1985- 1988). After his retirement from politics Nawaz Sharif who was serving as the Secretary General of the party became the president of the party.
Nawaz Sharif was always considered as the pro-establishment politician till 1997. In the general elections held on February 1997 his party scored a landslide victory by two third majorities, a record in the history of Pakistan. After that historic win, Nawaz Sharif detached himself from military establishment and tried to emerge as a real national politician. To gain that status he paid a big prize of the dismissal of his government and imprisonment by Gen. Pervez Musharaf as well as accepted exile after a deal with Gen. Musharaf and left for Saudi Arabia where he spent almost a decade.
There are reports of Nawaz Sharif to have developed intimacy with Osama bin Laden in mid-80’s and for short period served as a courier between Osama and CIA. Late JI head, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, in one of his interviews also confirmed that Nawaz Sharif had received monetary support from Bin Laden in his effort to gain overwhelming majority support in 1997 election. During his last rule in Punjab, his brother Shahbaz Sharif managed to release at least more than 190 Al Qaeda affiliated Lashkar e-Jhangvi terrorists, including Malik Ishaq. Malik Ishaq then reported have arranged and supported the biggest sectarian attacks in Balochistan and Sindh. In the recent ongoing election campaign, the Taliban and other sectarian terrorist out fits opposed to the sys democratic franchise did not differentiate between liberal and orthodox religious political parties leaving only PML (N) which they exempted from their attacks. In Balochistan attacks on PML (N) were from secessionist groups and not from Taliban.
PML-N gained 92 seats in the 2008 elections as well a clear majority in Punjab assembly where it ruled over the last constitutional tenure. The stronghold of this party is Punjab with the total seats of 183, in which PML-N feels threatened to be denied by PTI. Vague reports have suggested that the fire which broke out in the Municipal Plaza in Punjab capital of Lahore on Thursday May 10, 2013, two day prior to general elections, claiming 23 lives so far, contained the files of Major PML (N) projects including Metro Bus Service. If true, it confirms the fears of Sharif brothers against the growing support of PTI in Punjab ahead of investigation of cases expected in future in case PTI gains majority in Punjab the most populated province of Pakistan.
Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf (PTI) - This party has gained considerable momentum over the last two years. Imran khan, once the hero of the Pakistan cricket who brought the 1992 champion trophy of the Cricket World Cup—established PTI in February 1996.
This party was never considered as a power broker in the Pakistani politics since last couple of years but now turned as one of the strongest party challenging the aforementioned two main parties. The huge mass rallies of PTI over the last two years hiked the graph of Imran Khan as one of the emerging national leaders. Pre-pole postal voting in Pakistan Army and other civilian government officials serving in areas other than their constituencies have also indicated a trend of mass drift of opinion in the favor of PTI i.e. 85 percent of total votes received so far.
Many believe that Imran Khan led PTI is the new venture of the Pakistan military establishment. This analysis is based on two reasons first the defection the pro establishment politician from the other main stream national parties, who ultimately joined PTI later on and secondly military establishment now doesn’t feel comfortable with both the other main parties mentioned earlier. But two Questions remain unheard; if PTI doesn’t gain a clear majority, how will it perform in opposition under its arch rival PML (N)? Secondly, if it succeeds in elections with a clear majority; how will it cope with Zardari as president already powerful in the Senate?
This party has absorbed significant number of Pakistani youth with its anti corruption slogan and new power structured based on a philosophy of a moderate Islamic welfare society.
Others- Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) which is based mainly in the urban areas of Sind province has been playing an important role in the national politics. It represents mostly the middle class of the main cities of Karachi, the main economic hub of Pakistan and Haiderabad. MQM with its charismatic leader Altaf Hussain, now a British citizen based in London has been considered as the most organized party of Pakistan. It has been enjoying the clear mandate of Karachi and Haiderabad partially.
This is a secular party famous with its anti-Taliban stance and trying to invite the attention of Pakistani people toward the Talibanization of urban areas in particular Karachi. MQM was one of the coalition partners during the governments run under the supervision of Gen. Musharaf as well as enjoyed power in a close collaboration with PPP in Sindh and Islamabad. It is also trying to expand itself in other parts of Pakistan but most of the analysts still think that MQM may remain to its traditional power base.
Awami National Party (ANP) is the continuation of historical movement of Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God) led by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan also famous as Bacha Khan or Sarhadi Gandhi. The party enjoys the support of secular nationalist class of Pashtuns in Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa and to some extend in Balochistan provinces. Although, it has some roots in metropolitan city of Karachi too but it has never been considered as an effective party in the power politics there.
ANP has seen many ups and downs in its history and after a long period again emerged as the biggest party of the Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa province and ruled over there in coalition with PPP since last five years.
Jamiate Ulemaye Islam (F) has been the strongest among the religious parties of Pakistan with its roots in Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa and Balochistan provinces. Moulana Fazlu Rehman is an experienced politician, succeeded party from his father Moulana Mufti Mehmoud. JUI (F) is has been a pro Taliban party and Moulana himself was considered as the spiritual father of Taliban, ruled over Afghanistan.
Jamate Islami (JI) is another ultra religious party with extra ordinary organized student wing all over Pakistan but it is the misfortune of this party that could not covert its huge student base support into a reliable vote bank.
In addition to above mentioned parties there many more small parties which are playing roles in their localities in particular Balochistan province but on the level of national politics their part is more symbolic in nature.
The terrorism factor- there is no shadow of any doubt that Pakistani security agencies seem to be helpless in facing the menace of terrorism. The resonance of North Wazistan, the main hub for the Pak-Afghan Taliban and banned fanatic religious organizations as well many other international terrorist outfits has seriously under shadowed every walks of life in Pakistan. How the Pakistani concerned authorities will deal with this challenge is another question but it has now involved in the move to divert the mandate of the people by targeting the moderate parties. Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has announced openly that they will not allow the moderate parties to campaign for the General Elections.
Three main moderate secular parties PPP, ANP and MQM have been the prime targets of TTP. None of the parties could run their election campaign properly. These parties blame TTP for bargaining with right wing parties to facilitate their campaign by preventing the moderate parties from going among the voters.
The present scenario and the pre-poll assessments don’t show a positive picture of the next parliament of Pakistan. The current picture shows a badly fragmented parliament after the results of today’s elections.
It seems that the ruling Pakistan People’s Party may lose its previous mandate but will remain as one of the main parties with around 50-55 seats in the lower house as well as still a majority party in the senate. It will retain its mandate in Sindh with minor injuries but may continue with the provincial government.
Although, in the failure of PPP government many visible and invisible factors may have role but still many believe in the political guts of President Zardari who successfully make the other parties dance as per his music in the past. It is said that Zardari may also get the advantage of the scattered mandate and think of a broader coalition with only prime minister from his party and the rest of the cabinet from other parties provided invisible forces not stop him from doing so.
Pre-poll assessment in Pakistan and the abroad consider PML-N as the strongest of all and judge it as the biggest party in the next parliament of Pakistan since it enjoys the big support in Punjab province, the main chessboard of the Pakistan politics. But no one believes that it will score even simple majority and it will be difficult to gain more than 80 seats with all its strength. As well no one doubts that it will not lose the next provincial government of Punjab.
There is no doubt that PTI will be another major force in the next Pakistani parliament but still it may remain a distant dream for Imran Khan to sweep the elections. If it gained up to 40-45 seats it could be new change in the Pakistani politics as an emerging third force. Analysts also think that if the turnout grew from traditionally 45% to 55-60% PTI may be the sole benefiter of the situation and may perform remarkably. Many anticipate that PTI will not only break the main vote bank of PML-N but also knock equally to PPP votes in upper Punjab. However, in southern Punjab PPP and PML-N will remain as the main contenders.
MQM still seems to maintain its mandate in Sindh particularly Karachi City and its status in the parliament may not be changed. In the previous parliament it was the 4th major block. PTI will likely emerge as third political force in Pakistan replacing PML-Q after the elections.
ANP-PPP coalition may lose considerably in Khyber Pakhtukhuwa since PTI, JUI and PML-N may seriously cut their vote bank. But both JUI and ANP may not be able score more than 15 seats.
The effect of Pakistan Elections over Afghanistan
If the right wing parties manage to form the next government of Pakistan it might not be a good message for Afghanistan. If Nawaz Sharif is elected as the next premier of Pakistan the wave of terrorism may calm down in Pakistan but it will likely divert to Afghanistan since some portions of Taliban seem to be now out of control and determine their own policies. PML-N has been one of the parties which enjoyed a full election campaign without any minor incident and an undeclared sympathy of Taliban was observed throughout its campaign. The main targets of Taliban were all those political parties in opposition with PML-N.
If by chance the power remains in the hands of the present coalition, again Afghanistan may not be able to enjoy the dream of decline in violence. In that case other factors may play deteriorating role.
The way the current leadership of Afghanistan leading the country there could be many reasons domestically and internationally for the mishap, the Afghans will continue to face.
Dr. Hussain Yasa is the Editor in Chief of the Daily outlook Afghanistan