Sunday 18 November 2018, 12:33 AM
Upcoming General Elections 2018 in Pakistan: An Indian Perspective
By Prof. Uma Singh | Bharat Defence Kavach | Publish Date: 6/19/2018 12:18:11 PM
Upcoming General Elections 2018 in Pakistan: An Indian Perspective
Pakistan National Assembly

The five year term of the National Assembly (“NA”) of Pakistan is coming to an end on June 1, 2018. The last three National Assemblies 2002-2007, 2005-2013, 2013-208 have completed their constitutionally designated life span. A critical analysis of the five years of the current NA indicates that it has muddled through one crisis after another, facing complex political challenges. Pakistan’s democratic experiment shows a wide divergence between the democratic theory and the lack of democratic culture. The challenges the political system faced were the escalating political polarization and the compelling political interest to manipulate institutions and political processes to obtain positive results at all costs. This greatly undermined the democratic processes in Pakistan. Ever since the country was founded in 1947, Pakistan’s wobbly democratic processes have endured repeated cycles of military intervention in civilian governance. 

The election are planned to be held on 25th July this year. The transition that started in 2008 is getting derailed and the whole democratic process is now at stake. In the Senate elections held in March this year, Pakistan’s “real rulers” in the military and civilian bureaucracy had gained control over the electoral process, used pressure and deals to get an inexperienced, malleable individuals to head the Senate. The winner of this brawl was former President Asif Ali Zardari, the current co-chair of the Pakistan Peoples Party. He made a deal with his Party’s arch rival, Imran Khan, to form an alliance against Nawaz Sharif in the senate elections. Even though Sharif’ party won a majority of seats, the Zardari-Imran Khan pact created enough opposition votes to choose the new chair. 

The Pakistan Muslim League (N) (“PML-N”) faces the most difficult situation because of the growing pressures on it from opposition as well as the court cases against Nawaz Sharif and his family. Imran Khan, the ‘charismatic ‘ cricket star turned politician, is brimming with new found confidence. With general elections expected in July (there is speculation in Pakistan that elections might be delayed), Imran Khan made a spirited claim to lead the next government when he addressed thousands of his supporters who had gathered in the politically important city of Lahore in April. The rally kicked off the election season and other political parties have also begun campaigning around the country. Khan a populist whose nationalist appeal rests in part on an anti-American platform is the main challenge to the political party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif who was ousted last year by the Supreme Court after a corruption inquiry. Sharif has been barred from holding public office. Khan claims his time has arrived. He presents himself as an alternative to what he claims a corrupt political elite and says he will work to improve education, health and the environment. 

His prospects have brightened in light of his warming ties with the military which controls the main levers of power in Pakistan and dominated foreign and security policies for decades. Sharif’s effort to assert civilian control over the military during his last term failed, turning him into an intensely hated figure among the military establishment. Pakistan’s politically churning dynamics in the run upto its general elections throws no surprises in the continuance of Pakistan’s army obsessive fixation to prevent the return of Nawaz Sharif and an equally determined PML-N is in a confrontation mode with the Pakistan army to return to power.

It can be asserted that despite the multiple challenges faced by Nawaz Sharif the elections in July can be seen as a battle between the Pakistan army desperately clinging on to its traditional hold on Pakistan politics and desperate efforts by Pakistan’s largest party the PML-N against the entrenched Establishment subverting constitutional democracy taking roots in Pakistan. Pakistan army has succeeded so far in preventing Nawaz Sharif from completing his full five year term in early two tenures and then in July 2017 in his third term by a “judicial coup” in which the Pakistan army enlisted the support of the Supreme Court for getting Sharif out. There was speculation that Nawaz Sharif might opt for the calling of early elections and play the “victim card” in Pakistan’s majority province – Pakistan Punjab. We should now examine the results of Pakistan’s General Election 2013 to see the relative political strength of Pakistan’s political parties. 

Pakistan’s General Elections 2013:

Party

Contested

Won

PML-N

214

129

PPP

229

37

PTI

232

27

Independents

268

27

MQM

204

19

No indications are available to suggest that in the period 2013-2018 major political successes have been achieved by the PPP or PTI which could severely change their relative strengths. At best PTI with Pakistan’s army patronage may be able to narrow the lead somehow. Pakistan’s Punjab is Pakistan’s heartland and the core of Pakistan Punjab’s voting for the PML-N will enable it to win 80% of the seats of Punjab relative to the other two contenders. 

In recent months the army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa has asserted his clout while dissenting voices in the country have come under greater pressure and restrictions on the media have increased. On the other hand, Sharif has accused the army and judiciary of working together to have him removed from office, depriving his party of a level playing in the general elections. In the coming elections, the PML-N will be up against forces that cannot be seen Sharif said in a veiled reference to the military’s intelligence agencies. Hasan Askari Rizvi, an analyst based in Lahore comments – Khan’s political stock has risen as his relationship with the military has gotten closer. Imran has realised that “if you want to run Pakistan, you have to work with the military because of internal and external challenges.” He further argues “by fighting with the military you cannot run the state”.

His relationship with the military has improved despite Khan’s long opposition to the military’s operations against Taliban insurgents in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan and its cooperation with the United States. While praising General Bajwa, Khan said “It is the first time that I am seeing an army chief saying time and again that I will ensure free and fair elections.” He blames what he calls the corrupt and inept civilians leadership of the past for the imbalance in civil-military relations. He is also critical of India and Afghanistan maintaining that their hostility towards Pakistan forces the military to play an outsized role in the country. With adversarial neighbours “clearly the military will have a bigger say in the security policy” he said. “I think we should take Imran Khan much more seriously this time” said Zaigham Khan, a Pakistani political analyst and newspaper columnist. 

To what extent do the major political parties in Pakistan view the 2018 general elections as fair, free and a genuine opportunity for people to elect their representatives? The quality of the elections will be determined by the equality of opportunity to all competing political parties to access the voters, the role of the state machinery and state bureaucracy, the nature of the election campaign and security arrangements. 

There are also civil society groups that favour completion of investigations and legal action to hold the politicians accountable for corruption and misuse of state resources before the elections are held. Pakistan has a long history of successful military transition interspersed with frequent military takeovers. Pakistan’s democratic journey has been anything, but steady. With this backdrop, a successful democratic transition of government in 2018 will assuredly be a milestone. The completion of the tenure of a civilian regime will mark a new beginning – a big step towards democratic transition. Pakistan’s political leaders excel in undercutting each other.

In 2013 elections, they were even refusing to fully acknowledge each other’s electoral success. As the trend persists they become vulnerable to manipulations of state institutions. Islamic parties performed poorly because they were not viewed as being capable of governance and civil services. While keeping Islamic parties at bay, the voters favoured the catch-all political parties with political right and Islamic orientations that maintain varying degrees of sympathy for Islamic military and Pakistani Taliban. The option of negotiations with the Taliban is hazardous keeping in view the proliferation of militant groups, the refusal of the Taliban to accept Pakistan’s constitution as the framework of political settlement and the bitter experience of the talks with the SWAT militants in 2009 before the security operations was launched there. 

The 342 members of the National Assembly are elected by 3 methods. 272 are elected in a single member constituencies by first past the post voting. 60 are reserved for females and 10 for ethnic and religious minority groups; both sets of reserved seats use proportional representation with a 5% electoral threshold. The proportions number however is based on the number of seats won rather than votes cast. Almost five years after adopting a flawed and controversial method of using magnetic ink to counter bogus votes, the Election Commission of Pakistan(“ECP”) is mulling to adopt an alternative option to prevent fake voting in the upcoming general elections. The option which is being considered by ECP is using a voter’s identity card numbers to stop fake votes. In this regard, National Database and Registration Authority (“NADRA”) has sent a proposal to the ECP suggesting it not to publish last three numbers of 13 digit identity card in the final electoral rolls. In June 2017 the Economic Coordination Committee approved the procurement of new printing machine with a bridge loan of 864 million rupees. The government has also developed new software for the ECP and NADRA to ensure a “free, fair, impartial, transparent and peaceful general election”. The former federal law minister Zahid Hamid elaborated that youth reaching the age of 18 will automatically be registered as voters when they apply for a CNIC from NADRA. 

The opinion polls carried on in various parts of Pakistan indicate the following results: 

Leader

Shahbaz Sharif

Bilawal Bhutto

Imran Khan

Party

PML-N

PPP

PTI

Leader Since

March 6, 2018

December 30, 2017

April 25, 1996

Leader’s Seat

Lahore

Larkana

Rawalpindi

Last Election

166 (32.77%)

42 (15.23%)

35 (16.92%)

Seats Needed

6

130

137

The Milli Muslim League (“MMI”), the political face of Mumbai’s attack master mind HafeezSayeed’sJuD has accused the Election Commission of using delaying tactics to register the group as a political party and committing contempt of court. Sayeed has already started campaigning for the MMI with an eye on the upcoming elections. The US has designated the MMI as a foreign terrorist organisation saying the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba (“LeT”) members make up MMI’s leadership and the party openly displays Sayeed’s picture in its election banners and literature. The MMI has not been yet registered by the Election Commission of Pakistan. He is planning to file a contempt of court petition in the Islamabad High Court against the ECP. 

The challenges and ordeal for Nawaz Sharif are far from over. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is increasingly turning to social media to get his message out after his speeches were censored on Pakistan’s news channels over the past few weeks, ostensibly due to pressure from the judiciary. The censorship started in mid-April when the channels turned the sound off during their coverage of a speech delivered by Sharif on the back of an order issued by the Lahore High Court. The court had called on the broadcast media regulatory authority to censor any statements by Sharif or his daughter Maryam Sharif that were critical of the judiciary. International observers have said that in recent weeks, Sharif and his daughter have accused the all-powerful military of clandestine interference in the civilian government. Sharif has repeated that the ruling PML-N party’s real contest is not with the PakistanTehreek-e-Insaf and Pakistan People’s Party but with “aliens” – a reference to the deep state of Pakistan. 

(The author is an expert of international affairs and former professor in Jawahar Lal Nehru University, Delhi.)

Prof. Uma Singh

 

 

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Upcoming,General,Elections,Pakistan:,Indian,Perspective

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