Pakistan Elections 2013: The Roar of PML-N and Nawaz Sharif

29 May, 2013    ·   3954

Portia B. Conrad analyses factors leading to the party’s victory and the challenges ahead of the PM-elect

Portia B. Conrad
Portia B. Conrad
Research Intern

The turnout of 60 per cent of the Pakistan electorate, as highlighted by the Pakistan Election Commission, signifies political maturity in the system. Not only was the voting percentage encouragingly high, given that only 48 per cent voted in 2008, it also signifies a shift of civilian authority in a country where the military has never allowed democracy to run its course.

The PML-N has won 128 seats in the National Assembly. In addition, there are 18 independent candidates and a fair chance of winning 32 reserved seats for women and 5 for minority, which strengthens PML-N in the 342 member house. This is Nawaz Sharif’s third term as the Prime Minister. Where did his votes come from and what do they mean? What were the influential factors that led to PML-N’s victory? What are the challenges the experienced Prime Minister is going to face?

Influential Factors
Nawaz's urban vote is not as impressive as his rural vote, especially the turnout for his party in Southern Punjab, where PML-N swept most seats. The people of Pakistan of the rural areas voted for familiar candidates and known faces. Unlike the PPP, who were slightly depending on the posh locales, the PML-N has campaigned on the smaller areas. Moreover, local issues took precedence over prevailing national crises in this election. An example of this would be the Christian voters of Punjab. After the horrific tragedy of the Badami Bagh fire, the Christian voters were convinced to vote for Sharif as they received positive community help from him. Again, the diplomacy towards India and the US also worked for Sharif. To an extent he had international support to come to power as well.

Challenges Ahead
The PML-N may have won the elections with a clear majority but in order to remain in power effectively it will have to overcome several challenges both domestic and international: On the domestic front, the nature of hurdles is not easy to overcome. First, Pakistan’s economic stability is directly linked to the law and order situation. With the threat of terrorism looming large, investors are wary of the country. 49,000 citizens have died in terror attacks since September 2011. On one hand, Nawaz Sharif rejects the idea of backing proxy war in Afghanistan in pursuit of strategic depth; and on the other hand, he seems serious about offering an olive branch to Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Second, Nawaz Sharif being back at the helm needs to address the immediate energy crisis. It seems anyone who solves this problem will secure the majority win in the next election. There is a shortage of 6000 Mega Watts or nearly 50 per cent of generated capacity in peak summer. The issue is so frustrating for the people of Pakistan that it sparked off civic riots last year.

Third, despite Nawaz Sharif’s clear victory, the electoral map of Pakistan shows a fragmented picture of regionalisation. The PML-N may have won the highest seats from Punjab alone, which also underlines the dominance of Punjab in the Pakistan’s National Assembly, but there are other parties who have regional superiority as well. The PTI has won most of its seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Pakistan’s People’s Party (PPP) in Sindh.

Fourth, the Prime Minister’s relationship with the powerful military, which sets the agenda for foreign and security policies, will largely determine the country’s future. His last term came to an abrupt and ignominious end when he was deposed in a coup led by Gen. Pervez Musharraf. However, trends show he is comfortably functioning with Gen. Kayani to live up to the promises made during the election campaign. Sharif’s relation with the military will be put to test when it comes to promoting trade and investment with India.

Fifth, Pakistan’s foreign policy challenges are issues that Nawaz Sharif needs to handle with precaution: To begin with, he has called for closer relations with India, to which India has responded with cautious optimism, but he must not forget the disputed territory of Kashmir is still unsettled and the wounds of the terrorist attack on Mumbai have not healed. Also, Pakistan is embroiled in the Afghan conflict, with militants moving across the border and settling in the lawless tribal areas amid accusations of Pakistani support. One must note Washington spends more than USD 1 billion per annum on military and development aid in Pakistan, and Sharif will be pressurised for deeper commitment. Again, the new Premier of China, a staunch trading partner, is to visit Pakistan during his first foreign tour. Playing China off against India and the US might seem clever, but could be disastrous in the long term. Lastly, Sharif’s relation with Saudi Arabia could be controversial as the wealthy Gulf state is accused of funding terrorist groups that operate from Pakistan.