Pakistan Elections 2013: Movers, Shakers and Losers

04 Apr, 2013    ·   3869

D. Suba Chandran speculates on the likely results by analysing major trends of the various stakeholders

11 May 2013: another decisive date in the arduous democratic journey of Pakistan, especially after completing the government without any major interference, despite the judicial coup. More than the success of the previous regime in completing its term, despite the forced change in the Prime Minister, free and fair elections in May 2013 will ensure that the democratic process is on track.

The previous government led by the PPP has completed its term; despite a long and painful process, it has also ensured that there is a caretaker government at the federal and provincial levels. The date has been announced and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), despite criticisms, does not suffer from any major credibility issues.

Clearly, the process towards the next elections has been smooth so far. But the crucial question will be – what after the elections? Will the polity in Pakistan be able to elect a government for the federal and provincial legislatures? Will a government be formed smoothly, immediately after elections?

There are two more questions: Will the Taliban allow the elections to be conducted? Will the military and its much hated Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) allow a free and fair election? For the purpose of this analysis these two questions will be kept away, perhaps to be discussed separately. The primary focus now is on what is likely to be the elections results.

There are two major political parties at the national level – PPP and PML-N, besides the religious parties including the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and two factions of the JUI. Of the regional parties, who will make a substantial contribution to the final tally of the National Assembly – MQM from Sindh and the ANP from Khybe Pakhtunkhwa will be substantial. There have been huge expectations on Imran Khan’s PTI and Musharraf’s All Pakistan Muslim League, though they have not tested their electoral strength. Besides the above, there is also PML-Q, which was originally supported by Musharraf.

The contest clearly is likely to be between the above political parties. Of the above, PPP and PML-N are cadre based political parties with substantial presence at the grass roots level. Despite the criticisms of favouritism and being run like a feudal organisation by the top leadership, both these parties have substantial presence at the ground level.

Of these two, the PPP’s primary strength comes from Sindh, especially its vast rural districts. In the recent months, ever since the debate on dividing Punjab into two – North and South, there is a belief, though untested, that the PPP has gained some foothold in the districts of Southern Punjab, especially Multan and Bahawalpur regions; the fact that the former Prime Minister of Pakistan from PPP - Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani also came from this region gives credence to this belief that the PPP may do better in Southern Punjab.

However, there are many critics who question that the PPP will do better even in rural Sindh; this criticism comes from the fact that the PPP could not do anything substantially for Sindhis during its tenure. If one has to forecast how rural Sindh will vote – much will depend on any credible alternatives for the people, even if they are dis-enchanted with the PPP. Neither the MQM has a base in rural Sindh, nor any other party or individuals have a substantial hold. By default, the rural Sindh is likely to vote for the PPP.

PML-N, the other major political party, is likely to do better in Punjab. The Sharif brothers have been politically very calculative during the last five years and ensured that they overtly and covertly supported the multiple movements and protests against the PPP government. As a result, Punjab, especially the Northern parts are likely to vote for the PML-N. Though the PPP and even PML-Q expects to do better in the southern districts of Punjab, it will not be an easy win for them. PML-N will remain a strong force in South Punjab as well.

In Sindh, especially in Karachi, the MQM is likely to remain the strong party. Despite the problems and numerous political somersaults by the MQM leadership, Karachi is likely to vote for the MQM; thanks to the undivided Mohajir vote bank. In the recent years, the ANP has made substantial inroads in Karachi, thanks to the sizeable pashtun population in this mega city. Karachi is believed to be the largest Pashtun city in the world, surpassing even Peshawar and Kandhahar!

However, ANP’s support amongst the Pashtuns in Karachi will make a larger impact in Sindh Provincial Legislature, rather than helping the party in winning a seat from the National Assembly from Sindh. The primary base for the ANP remains the settled districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. While the MQM remains an undisputed leader of the Mohajirs, the same cannot be said about the ANP for the pashtuns. Even within Karachi, ANP’s influence is waning in the recent months, thanks to the growing TTP influence. Pakistani Taliban will remain a crucial factor in affecting the chances of the ANP, by threatening those who are likely to vote for the party. Besides, Imran Khan is also likely to divert the Pashtun vote bank of the ANP.

Will Imran Khan be able to make a substantial impact in 2013 elections? Though he has not made an impact in the previous elections – either at the national or at provincial levels, his popularity has grown substantially since the last elections. However there are two primary problems for Imran Khan; first, his party, unlike the PPP or PML-N, do not have strong base at the grass roots level. Most of his leaders have defected from other parties, or former bureaucrats. The youths, who vociferously support him in the social media – many of they have not voted in their lives and a substantial section of this group is not even in the electoral rolls.

The religious political parties have a strong street presence; this street power never materialised into seats in the National Assembly, essentially if the elections are free and fair. Despite coming together earlier under the banner of the MMA, the religious parties are no more united. Neither the TTP is likely to support these religious political parties.

Finally, the much expected return of Musharraf has not elicited any strong response from the people so far. Like Imran Khan, his party also has a serious problem at the grass roots level. In fact, Imran seems be better mobilized for the elections than Musharraf.

The above analysis is based on an assumption, that the elections will be free and fair, and have no interferences either from the Taliban or from the all powerful intelligence agencies. Much will depend on how the electoral process heats up in the next few weeks. As on today, the election situation stands polarised with no single party have an absolute lead in Pakistan.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir

To follow the rest of the debate, click:
PR Chari, IPCS Commentary #3890
Rana Banerji, IPCS Commentary #3851
D. Suba Chandran, IPCS Commentary, #3869
Zainab Akhter, IPCS Commentary, #3898
Sushant Sareen, IPCS Audio Commentary
Rana Banerji, IPCS Audion Commentary