Category Archives: Pakistan

Pakistan 2013

General elections were held in Pakistan on May 11, 2013. 272 of the 342 seats in Pakistan’s National Assembly (ایوان زیریں پاکستان) were up for reelection. These 272 members are elected in single-member constituencies by FPTP in Pakistan’s four provinces, the Islamabad Capital Territory and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan in Kashmir and northern Pakistan are basically ruled as Pakistani colonies and don’t get to vote – besides, large parts of it are occupied/ruled by India.

Only Muslim voters are allowed to vote, but non-Muslim voters (including Ahmedi Muslims) have 10 non-Muslim members allocated between the parties in proportion to the seats they already won. After the official results are declared, 60 seats reserved for women are allocated between the parties in proportion to the seats they already won. Candidates are allowed to stand in more than one constituency, but if they’re elected to more than one seat they must choose which seat they will represent within 60 days. Candidates who win their seats as independents have three days after results are announced to join a political party or remain as independents – oftentimes, ‘independents’ will end up joining whichever party won the election.

Pakistan, theoretically, is a federal parliamentary democracy. It has a bicameral legislature made up of the directly-elected National Assembly and the indirectly-elected Senate (سینیٹ‎). The Senate, with 104 seats, is made up of twenty-three members elected by each the four provincial assemblies (including 4 seats reserved for women in each province, 4 for technocrats and Ulama and one seat for religious minorities), eight seats chosen by the National Assembly for the FATA and four seats chosen by the National Assembly for the federal capital. Although both houses must agree on a bill for it to pass (except for money bills, which is controlled only by the lower house), if they disagree, both houses may sit together – meaning that, effectively, the National Assembly wins over the Senate.

The President is elected to serve a five-year term (renewable once) by an electoral college composed of all MNAs, senators and provincial legislators.

The powers of the President have shifted depending on the nature of the regime in place at the time. Theoretically, as mentioned above, Pakistan is a federal parliamentary democracy. In practice, Pakistani democracy – since the country’s creation – has been tested (to say the least) several times. In Malaysia, which is also defined as a federal parliamentary democracy, the system was subverted by a governing alliance in power since independence which has structured the system to its wants and needs. In Pakistan, the system has been subverted by military intervention into politics, in the form of several coups which overthrew democratically-elected governments. Therefore, Pakistani democracy came in four periods broken by military rule. The military ruled the country between 1958 and 1971, 1977 and 1988 and most recently between 1999 and 2008. Democracy – imperfect, unstable and often illiberal democracy – has prevailed in between those periods.

During periods of military rule, Pakistan effectively became a presidential regime in which the President (the military dictator) held strong powers. Similarly, Pakistani federalism – always of a fairly centralized variant – was undermined by military regimes. This was the case under the last military regime, led by General Pervez Musharraf. He amended the 1973 constitution (which created a parliamentary republic) in the form of the seventeenth amendment, which gave him reserve powers enabling him to dissolve the National Assembly at his discretion.

After the end of the Musharraf era and the restoration of democracy, the new government passed the eighteenth amendment which revoked these special powers. The President has returned to a more symbolic position, with the real powers being held by the Prime Minister, who is elected by the National Assembly rather than nominated by the President. The 18th amendment also devolved more powers to the provinces and revised the rules on the National Finance Commission Awards (fiscal transfers to the provinces, including equalization).

Pakistan’s four provinces also elected their provincial assemblies on May 11. Each province’s legislature, like the federal National Assembly, has directly-elected ‘general’ seats and seats set aside for women and non-Muslims. The sizes of these legislature range from a total of 371 seats (297 general seats) in the Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province (containing over half of the country’s population to itself) to only 65 seats (51 general seats) in Balochistan. Each province has a Chief Minister, elected by the provincial legislature.

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas, an exceptionally dangerous isolated mountainous region bordering Afghanistan, are ruled by the colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulation. The area self-governs under traditional arrangements but there are a collection of agents from the Pakistani central government who oversee arrangements. The FATA elect MNAs and senators, which is rather silly because the Parliament cannot legislate for the FATA (unless the President consents). This arrangement has created a huge number of problems, notably in terms of human rights and security. Local elites – most significantly the Taliban – effectively make the rules on their own and govern their territories, with the only interference coming from the Pakistani (and American) military

Contending forces

Pakistan is one of those countries which everyone thinks they know a whole lot about, but in reality they don’t know much besides the stereotypes incessantly parroted by the media. I certainly don’t claim to know much about Pakistan, in fact much of this post is based on Who rules where‘s brilliant piece on these elections.

A particularly annoying tendency in the Western media is the necessity to assign an easily identifiable and coherent “Western ideology” to political parties, when a lot of those parties don’t actually have coherent ideologies and even when they do, their ideologies tend to be complex so that they can’t fit into our molds of “left-wing”, “liberal”, “conservative” or whatever. In Pakistan, the guiding ideology for most major parties tends to be corruption rather than any conventional ideology.

As described by Who rules where, Pakistani politics in rural areas is dominated by “big men” power brokers who control large vote banks which they basically sell to the highest bidder; parties get their votes in return public goods or money. They control these large vote banks through bribery, intimidation, violence or providing access to patronage. Traditional parties (PPP, PML-N and others) have found it hard, however, to operate with the same tactics in Pakistan’s growing urban areas. Again, as described by Who rules where, religious groups and ethnic parties (MQM, ANP) are the masters of operating in the urban context, because they know how to form networks, mobilize opinion and use the media. In good part, the traditional parties respect this – because the groups which master urban politics can’t win a national election. Therefore, the traditional parties reach informal local agreements with the ideological or religious groups. Religious parties tend to lend the mainstream parties informal support during elections, and in return they access patronage and the governments turns a blind eye to their illegal actions. Arguably, this explains the disproportionate influence religious parties have over policy and politics in Pakistan.

The governing party is the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), an ostensibly centre-left secular and social democratic party founded in 1967. The party’s founder was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, one of the few Pakistani political leaders who actually had a coherent ideology. Bhutto led Pakistan between 1971 and 1977, first as President and later (after 1973) as Prime Minister under Pakistan’s current (but oft-amended) constitution. In office, Bhutto nationalized a large number of industries and all banks, enacted an agrarian reform, weakened the military leadership and initiated the country’s nuclear weapons program. But this agenda caused unrest and economic stagnation, and he was deposed by General Zia-ul-Haq in a military coup in 1977 and later executed by the new regime. Since then, the PPP has become the Bhutto’s family party. Ali Bhutto’s daughter Benazir Bhutto took control of the party and the PPP won the first elections after Zia’s death in 1988 and Benazir became Prime Minister (until the President removed her from office in 1990). She returned three years later, winning the 1993 election and governing the country until 1997. Under Benazir Bhutto, the PPP largely quit being a centre-left party and became – like most parties – a corrupt nepotistic party, whose policies have usually been far removed from their founders’ policies. Although the PPP is more favourable to state intervention in the economy than its main rival (the PML-N), Benazir Bhutto’s governments started privatization programs. Benazir Bhutto fled into exile in 1998 as her political star faded (under Nawaz Sharif) and remained in exile until the end of Pervez Musharraf’s military regime.

As Musharraf made moves towards re-democratization of sorts in 2007, with the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) which amnestied politicians accused of corruption (read: all of them, except those like Nawaz Sharif which Musharraf still didn’t like), Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan to lead the PPP into the 2008 elections. She was assassinated in December 2007. With her death, the PPP’s leadership passed to her son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, but since he was only 20 at the time, the real leader became Bhutto’s widow, Asif Ali Zardari, who has the reputation of being extremely corrupt (he’s also very unpopular). The PPP easily won the 2008 election, and Youssouf Raza Gilani became Prime Minister. Asif Ali Zardari was elected President in September 2008 after Musharraf’s resignation.

By most evaluations, the PPP’s government since 2008 has been a failure. Of course, it must be one of the world’s worst jobs to be in charge of Pakistan, which often appears to be almost impossible to govern, in no small part because the civilian government certainly isn’t the only source of power in the country. Politicians and parties often contribute to the mess by being corrupt and, at times, being the cause of the political violence which has undermined Pakistan for decades (this is the case for the PPP’s two governing partners, the MQM and the ANP).

Since 2008, the security situation in Pakistan has probably worsened (certainly it hasn’t improved), and it remains one of the world’s top powderkegs and the Pakistani state often appears in the top spots for ‘failed state’ rankings (even if ‘failed state’ rankings are pretty dumb). The government has had bad relations with the influential and powerful military, currently led by Ashfaq Kiyani; and often difficult relations with the United States (given the American presence in Afghanistan and the war on terror crossover in the FATA and NW Pakistan, the American military is often considered as a major player in Pakistani internal politics). In November 2011, relations with the military hit a low with “Memogate”. After the American raid which killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011, in an operation unbeknownst by the Pakistani military (though Zardari apparently knew), the Pakistani military was not in a good mood and thought to be mulling a coup. In a memo by the Pakistani embassy in Washington to the US government, Islamabad requested American support to prevent a military coup. Ambassador Husain Haqqani was recalled and replaced by somebody on better terms with the military, but in December 2011, Gilani gave a speech unusually critical of the military. Relations with the United States deteriorated after Osama bin Laden’s death and reached a low in November 2011 when NATO helicopters accidentally killed 24 Pakistani troops. Pakistan demanded an apology and blocked the Khyber Pass (a NATO supply route), while the US blocked $1.1 billion in aid to the Pakistani military. Relations only improved in July 2012. Washington still harbours suspicions that Pakistan is, as America has always believed, playing a two-faced game and covertly backing certain terrorist groups – in September 2011, the then-Chairman of the Joints Chiefs Mike Mullen claimed that the ISI (Pakistan’s CIA) was supporting the Haqqani network, a terrorist organization.

The Pakistani government has supported the expansion of military actions against the Pakistani Taliban in northwestern Pakistan, but it has resisted American pressures to launch an offensive into North Waziristan.

Terrorist attacks across the country, notably in large cities like Karachi, have continued unabated since 2008. This election campaign was one of the most violent election campaigns on record, with a number of Taliban attacks targeting anti-Taliban secular parties.

The economy has fared no better. After strong economic growth (up to 8%) between 2004 and 2008, growth has slowed to only 3% since the global economic crisis. Additionally, with high inflation (11% in 2012), the country has entered another spiral of inflation. The government’s policies – an eclectic mix of privatizations and nationalizations with a preference towards state intervention – have failed to redress the situation. Agriculture is still dominated by feudalism, the industry suffers from mismanagement and incompetence from an inefficient and corrupt bureaucracy.

Pakistan also faces an energy crisis, which has resulted in load shedding and severe blackouts. The state-owned electricity companies have been unable to cope with rising demand and are saddled with debt, given that a lot of their customers – notably the governments – don’t pay their bills.

The government was also widely criticized for its response – or perhaps lack thereof – to the huge floods in July 2010 which affected almost every region of the country, on the banks of the Indus River. The government underestimated the scale of the disaster and fumbled its response accordingly. President Zardari’s refusal to cut short a trip to Europe in August angered many Pakistanis. Observers feared that the Islamists would organize rescue efforts in the government’s stead (notably in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province), boosting their legitimacy and popular support.

It doesn’t help matters that corruption drains away huge sums of money every year.

The last military government was brought down in large part because of the lawyers’ movement, a part-popular, part-judicial movement which rose up against Musharraf in December 2007 after Musharraf sacked Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who had already been removed from office by Musharraf for a few months in March 2007, had suspended Musharraf’s NRO in October 2007. The anti-Musharraf parties (including the PPP) supported, opportunistically, the lawyers’ movement. Once in office, however, the PPP and Zardari were in no great rush to reinstate the sacked justices, given that Zardari and other corrupt politicians were benefiting from the NRO’s blanket amnesty. The opposition PML-N continued supporting the lawyers’ movement.

In March 2009, Gilani apparently convinced Zardari to reinstate the Chief Justice and the other sacked justices. In December 2009, the Supreme Court cancelled the NRO and directed Gilani to write a letter to the Swiss authorities asking them to reopen a case against Zardari. The Swiss case, which has been closed since 2008, concerns some illegal dealings Zardari would have had with a Swiss company in 1994. They tried various tactics to get Gilani to write the letter, but Gilani refused, arguing that the President benefited from immunity. The Swiss kept pointing out that the whole thing was fairly trite given that they had closed the case, but nobody ever really cared about the Swiss and the issue became about principle and politics.

In February 2012, the Supreme Court indicted Gilani of being in contempt of the court, and he was found guilty in April. He was sentenced to a symbolic 30 seconds in detention, in the court while the judges read his sentence. In June 2012, the Supreme Court disqualified Gilani from holding office and removed him from office.

The PPP replaced him with Raja Pervez Ashraf, the former water and energy minister. Their original candidate for the post turned up to be a drug dealer, but Raja Pervez Ashraf was hardly better – he is accused of having received bribes in the awarding of contracts when he was water and energy minister (and by all indications, he was probably a miserable failure in that job given Pakistan’s energy situation). The Supreme Court told Raja Pervez Ashraf to send a letter to the Swiss (again), and he refused (again). In January 2013, the government-courts conflict was aggravated when the Supreme Court ordered the Prime Minister’s arrest in the corruption case related to his time as energy minister. But the anti-corruption organism, the National Accountability Bureau, which is controlled by the PPP and used for the government’s political vendettas against rivals, was never very interested in the case. The Supreme Court kept insisting, in vain, that the Prime Minister be arrested. But he was never troubled and was able to finish his term in mid-March, the legal conclusion of the Parliament’s five-year term. At the same time as the Supreme Court was ordering the Prime Minister’s arrest, a large popular movement organized by religious cleric Tahir ul-Qadri rallied thousands of protesters who demanded the government’s resignation and snap elections.

The government has maintained that the Supreme Court’s actions are politically motivated, encouraged by the opposition PML-N. It has also said that the whole crisis boils down to the legitimacy of an elected government versus an unelected activist judiciary. The Court has said that it is doing its job as the guarantor of the rule of law, without any political motivations.

Despite a pretty terrible record, this government did manage the impossible: actually completing its constitutional term, without being overthrown or forced to resign. This is the first time that one directly elected government will be succeeded by another directly elected government. That’s basically where we are today.

The PPP’s official leader is now Bilawal Bhutto, the 24-year old son of Benazir and Zardari. But at only 24, he is too young to be Prime Minister of Pakistan (you have to be 25) and besides that he seems fairly uninterested by the whole politics thing. Fearing for his safety or just uninterested by the elections, the PPP’s “leader” spent most of the campaign in Dubai. The real top brass of the PPP in this campaign was formed by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and former Prime Minister Youssouf Raza Gilani, who really headed the PPP’s campaign despite his son having been kidnapped.

As explored above, there’s little left of the PPP’s erstwhile socialist secularism. They are probably a bit more interventionist and secular than the other major parties, but what differentiates them from the PML-N (their main rival) and the other parties is their support base. The PPP is a predominantly Sindhi party, with strong support in rural Sindh and strong links to the Sindhi landed elite. The Bhutto/Zardari family are part of Sindi Rajput (elite) clan. By being more Sindhi, and thus less Punjabi, the PPP tends to be more pro-decentralization and popular with non-Punjabi Pakistanis who decry the Punjabi domination of the country. This is the case for the Saraiki in southern Punjab, who speak a slightly different form of Punjabi. The PPP is proposing that Punjab be split in two and a Saraiki province established. The PPP also get votes from the country’s Shia minority, which means that the PPP tends be a bit more secular and not as big on political Islam.

The PPP’s traditional rival is the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz Group (PML-N), a more right-leaning party founded in 1988 and controlled by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The PML-N is one of several continuing factions of the Muslim League, a movement which finds its roots in Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s movement in favour of an independent Muslim state and the partition of British India in 1947. After independence and Jinnah’s death in 1948, the Muslim League became an unruly party which suffered from internal disagreements, the lack of a coherent program and a poor performance in government.

Nawaz Sharif is a self-made businessman from Lahore (Punjab, although his family is from Kashmir). Although he is one of the few politicians not to come from an historically influential family, his father and uncle became industrialists with Ittefaq Foundries, a large steel conglomerate. His family’s business was nationalized by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972 as part of the PPP government’s nationalization program. Seeking his ‘revenge’ on the Bhutto family, Nawaz Sharif – as well as other members of his family like his brother Shahbaz – entered politics. After Bhutto was overthrown by Zia-ul-Haq, Sharif became a supporter of Zia’s regime. Near the end of the Zia regime, the governing Muslim League (reincarnated) split between an opposition (anti-Zia) faction led by Zia’s former Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo and a pro-Zia faction organized by Sharif.

The PML-N lost the 1988 and 1993 elections to the PPP, but it won the 1990 and 1997 elections. Nawaz Sharif served as Prime Minister between 1990 and 1993 and again between 1997 and 1999. In office, Nawaz Sharif’s governments privatized a large number of state-owned companies, effectively taking his ‘revenge’ on the Bhutto family for the nationalization of his family’s steel business. In 1998, he gave the go-ahead for six test nuclear explosions. He also built the country’s first highway, and he continues to make a big deal out of that.

During his second term in office, Nawaz Sharif confronted the judiciary and, most importantly, the military. Shortly after the Kargil conflict in the Kashmir with India, Nawaz Sharif was overthrown in a military coup led by Pervez Musharraf, who had ironically been appointed as chief of staff by Nawaz Sharif in 1998.

Escaping jail time in Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif was able to negotiate a long exile in Saudi Arabia instead. He finally returned to Pakistan in November 2007 to participate in the 2008 election. The PML-N originally allied with the PPP as part of a broad anti-Musharraf and pro-democracy front, and the PML-N entered government as a strong junior partner after the 2008 elections. But as the Musharraf regime faded out of sight, Pakistani politics reset to normal and the old rivalry between PPP and PML-N returned to the forefront. The PML-N quit the government in August 2008.

In opposition, Nawaz Sharif allied himself with the lawyers’ movement in 2009, launching a ‘long march’ to reinstate the sacked judges.

A lot of the old PPP/PML-N feud boils down to regionalism (Punjab vs Sindh) or family reasons (the Bhutto vs the Sharif clans), rather than deep-seated ideological differences. The PML-N tends to be more favourable to privatization, ‘free enterprise’, foreign investment and economic liberalization in general. It is also slightly more Islamist, but only very mildly so. The PML-N’s platform this year included economic reforms to boost economic growth, proposing measures including fiscal reform, reducing the debt/deficit, investing in infrastructures through public-private partnerships and reducing inflation. For all these niceties, Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N bigwigs are no less corrupt than the PPP – both parties compete in a race to determine who can steal the most money.

The PML-N is the party of Punjab, the powerhouse province of the country home to over half of the Pakistani population. More precisely, it tends to be the party of industrialized and extensively urbanized northern Punjab, drawing votes from industrialists, urban dwellers or the Punjabi feudal aristocracy and their voter banks. Nawaz’s brother Shahbaz has been Chief Minister of the Punjab since 2008.

To make a long and complicated story (which I don’t know every part of), the other provinces of Pakistan resent the perceived Punjabi domination of the country. The PML-N’s support is, partly as a result of regional animosity towards Punjab, traditionally quasi-exclusively concentrated in Punjab. The PML-N appears practically non-existent in Sindh, and not particularly vibrant in either Balochistan or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (the old Northwest Frontier Province, NFWP).

Pakistani parties campaign using flags and, more amusingly, ballot paper symbols (so that illiterate voters can identify the parties). The PPP’s symbol is a fairly boring arrow, but the PML-N’s symbol – the tiger – has caused endless amounts of fun. PML-N supporters dress up in plush tigerskins, cover their cars with tigerstripes or stick a tiger (or an ugly object which doesn’t necessarily look like a tiger) on top of their cars.

The only thing which interested most foreign observers in this election was Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Pakistan Movement for Justice, PTI), a party led by former cricketer Imran Khan. Imran Khan was a very good cricketer, leading his country to victory at the 1992 Cricket World Cup. But his cricket career is long over (he retired in 1992) – he has been a political and philanthropist since at least 1996. After his cricket career, he became a bit of a playboy – moving to London and marrying a British woman (they divorced in 2004). In Pakistan, he opened the country’s only cancer hospital and set up some very good charity organizations.

At the same time, he’s been active in politics since 1996, when he founded the PTI. But prior to 2012-2013, Khan never had any semblance of popular support. In the 1997 and 2002 elections, the PTI won all of 0.8% of the vote and he was the party’s only candidate to win a seat in 2002. He boycotted the 2008 election, but nobody cared.

His ‘tsunami’ of popular support began with a rally in Lahore in October 2011, attended by more than 100,000 people. A bunch of polls also showed that the PTI was riding a wave of popular support, but polling in Pakistan is of dubious value. Given how his past political career was a joke, a lot of people were rather skeptical about the media’s fascination with Imran Khan. However, Imran Khan’s support turned out to be real. The media coverage of the PTI created a bandwagon and turned him into a media phenomenon picked up around the world.

Imran Khan and the PTI have been turned into what everybody would want them to be. According to various media reports and the like, they are secular and (moderately) Islamist, liberal and conservative, nationalist (anti-American) but also still acceptable to the West (probably because their anti-Americanism doesn’t involve blowing up Americans; kind of like Zia-ul-Haq in that sense). The word ‘communitarianism’ has come up to describe the PTI, though that word – like almost everything about the PTI – is so vague that it can mean anything.

Imran Khan rails against corruption, deeply ingrained in both the PPP and PML-N, and promises some kind of populistic citizens’ revolution to rid the country of the corrupt elites. His rather novel populist, anti-corruption, anti-establishment and mildly Islamist/nationalist rhetoric has attracted large crowds, particularly younger voters – especially in urban areas – who don’t have much in the way of family/patronage ties to the other parties. A lot of those voters have no great love for either the PPP or the PML-N (or the millions of other parties), which they view as corrupt and incompetent political dinosaurs.

Khan’s fairly nationalistic and anti-American message also struck a chord. In October 2012, he led a ‘caravan’ from Islamabad to Waziristan to protest against American drone strikes in Pakistan. Unsurprisingly, American drone strikes are very, very unpopular in Pakistan. It’s not because Pakistanis love the Taliban – as some crass tabloids or rags in the West insist – but rather because a lot of those drone strikes end up killing a lot of civilians. A few days ago, a court in Peshawar ruled that drone strikes constituted an unacceptable violation of Pakistani sovereignty (akin to international war crimes) and that no Pakistani government may authorize such attacks. Imran Khan has taken a strong stance against drones (going as far as saying that he’d shoot them down apparently) and military actions in NW Pakistan and has instead promised that he would sit down for negotiations with the Taliban.

Nevertheless, Imran Khan has still received tons of fairly positive and flattering reviews in the Western media. Mohammed Hanif (from BBC Urdu) in The Guardian encapsulated the whole media attention on him pretty well: “visiting foreign journalists have profiled Imran Khan more than they have profiled any living thing in this part of the world. If all the world’s magazine editors were allowed to vote for Imran Khan he would be the prime minister of half the English-speaking world.”

It hasn’t hurt that Khan has received the support from various technocrats (including the former PPP foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi), dissidents from other parties and local landlords. He is also suspected of having (or having had) the tacit backing of the army.

Late in the campaign, Imran Khan had his own Jennifer Lawrence moment, falling off a stage – although mockery aside, his fall was far more serious than Jennifer Lawrence’s tumble – he fell 5 metres from a forklift and ended up in hospital for a few days with two broken vertebrae.

The other parties at this point are less relevant. The Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid (PML-Q) was basically founded by the military in 2002 to act as a pro-government and pro-Musharraf party in 2002. It won the most votes and seats in the 2002 election, but already by 2008 it placed only third with 54 seats. Like the PML-N, it is a conservative and predominantly Punjabi-based party; like the PML-N it is led by two industrialist brothers, the Chaudhry family of Gujrat. However, the PML-Q hates the PML-N, so it has allied with the PPP since 2008. As a party of power for somebody who has since lost power and who is politically irrelevant (Musharraf tried to return from exile with his own new party to run this year, but the courts banned him from politics), the PML-Q is basically dead at this point.

There are a ton of parties with PPP or PML in their name, born from various splits in the larger ‘mother’ parties. Generally, the PPPs tend to hate the PPP, the PMLs tend to hate the PML-N. The PML-F (the F stands for ‘functional’) is one of the most significant of these parties. The PML-F was founded in 1985 and it is associated with Pir Pagara, the leader of a Sufi Muslim community (the Hurs) – and former cricketer – who died in 2012.

The religious parties have been mentioned above in the passage about the nature of Pakistani party politics and religious competition. They do run candidates in elections, but they generally don’t win all that many seats – the 2002 election, in which the religious alliance (MMA) won 59 seats and formed government in the NFWP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) was an aberration rather than the norm. The MMA split ahead of the 2008 election and the component parties contest the elections on their own (or boycott them, for a few of them). The Islamist parties which ran in 2008 did really poorly, and collapsed entirely in the NFWP. In government, the MMA had turned out to be corrupt and incompetent.

The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) is the oldest Islamist party, having been founded in 1941, and they have also tended to be the strongest of all parties – although this was not the case this year.

The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) or JUI (F) is a part of the Deobandi movement, a traditionalist and very conservative Sunni (Hanafi school) revivalist movement. The JUI seems to include a bunch of parties, the largest of which is the JUI (F), led by prominent cleric Fazal-ur-Rehman. Fazal-ur-Rehman was a close ally of Benazir Bhutto in the 1990s, and has remained on good terms with the PPP. After all, Benazir Bhutto’s government in the 1990s played a large role in installing and recognizing the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan.

The Awami National Party (ANP) are an ostensibly left-wing secular party, in practice they are a Pashtun/Pathan ethnic (ethnocentric?) party. The party is strongest in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where they currently are the governing party in provincial government. The ANP also has a significant base in Karachi, which has a huge Pashtun population as a result of years of immigration to Pakistan’s largest cities. The party is viscerally anti-Taliban, and it has been the target of a large number suicide attacks by the Taliban and other terrorist groups. Nevertheless, the ANP accepted some concessions to the Taliban in 2009 – it supported the deal signed between the government and the Taliban in 2009, which would have instituted Sharia law in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) is a ‘liberal’ and ‘secular’ party, but in reality there’s nothing liberal about them although they’re secular (if only by virtue of being hated by the Taliban). The MQM is a Karachi-based ethnic party representing the Muhajirs – the Urdu-speaking Muslim refugees who came from India after partition in 1947, with most of them settling in Karachi were they gained prominence in business and white-collar jobs. The party sees itself as an inclusive, centre-left, secular party – like the ANP – but in practice, the word ‘fascist’ or ‘traitors’ gets thrown around a lot when people talk about them, and there’s some justification for those terms. The MQM is the dominant party in Karachi, where the Muhajirs are the majority (along with Pashtun/Pathan immigrants); the pro-PPP Sindhis who inhabit the countryside are only a minority in Karachi, so the PPP is basically dead in the water in Karachi. The MQM, PPP and the ANP are engaged in a literal battle for control of the city, which has made Karachi the most violent city in Pakistan – more people die in Karachi than in American drone strikes. Politicians and their supporters are often killed in bloody street fights or gun battles with members of their rival political parties.

The MQM’s leader, who leads the party from self-imposed exile in London, is Altaf Hussain – a mafia kingpin. In practice, all parties active in Karachi, especially the MQM, are more mafias and paramilitary thuggish gangs than actual political parties. For example, the PPP’s only stronghold – Lyari town – is controlled by the Baloch brothers and their mafia.

In 2000-2005, the military regime created some nonpartisan local government structure which allowed the MQM to gain control of the Karachi local government (in 2005) and rule the city until 2010, when the new civilian government (which hated the military’s local government structure) effectively abolished local government for the time being. The MQM was up in arms at getting “its” city government taken away from them, which further worsened its relations with the PPP.

Although the MQM, PPP and ANP are engaged in a bloody battle for control of the city (which has turned to the MQM’s advantage), the MQM governed with the PPP at the federal level and provincially in Sindh until 2011. The MQM is basically willing to work with any party nationally.

Besides all of these parties, you have a bunch of other tiny parties which have a tiny local stronghold guaranteeing them a seat or two; or, in Balochistan, a whole slew of vaguely nationalistic Baloch parties.

Results and aftermath

Turnout is estimated at around 60%, up significantly since 2008 when turnout was only 44%.

The Election Commission has declared the results for 261 of the 272 general seats. There will be a re-poll in six constituencies, two results were withheld, two were ‘terminated’ and one election has been ‘postponed’. The 70 reserved seats have, as a result, not been allocated yet. The results are:

PML-N 124 seats
PPP 31 seats
PTI 27 seats
MQM 18 seats
JUI (F) 10 seats
PML-F 5 seats
PMAP 3 seats
JI 3 seats
Others 12 seats (incl. ANP, 1 seat)
Independents 28 seats

Nawaz Sharif swept back to power for a third term in office, 14 years after having been ousted from office by Musharraf’s military coup. Third time’s the charm? 

With about 124 seats so far, the PML-N will have no trouble winning an absolute majority in the National Assembly all by itself. We can expect that a lot of the 30 or so independent members will quickly defect to the PML-N, who will also be able to count on the support of some of the smaller parties. Therefore, for the third time, Nawaz Sharif will return to office as Prime Minister of Pakistan.

What is to be expected from Nawaz Sharif in the next five years? He has already been in office (twice), although that was nearly 15 years ago and before a long stint in Saudi exile. His terms were perhaps not absolutely disastrous, but he didn’t prove to be particularly competent and certainly didn’t turn out to be any less corrupt than other Pakistani politicians. The PML-N (with Sharif’s brother) have ruled Punjab for the past five years, and the PML-N’s provincial government’s record is generally well regarded.

Nawaz Sharif wants to focus on the economy and economic growth, with vague promises of reforms or more investments in infrastructure projects. It remains to be seen how much it will be able to accomplish on that front, given that the PML-N’s campaign promised the moon on that front: building a high-speed bullet train from Peshawar to Karachi, expanding the highways or building airports. As Mohammed Hanif put it in the aforementioned article from The Guardian: “he has promised motorway connections and airports to towns so small that they still don’t have a proper bus station. Poor people, who couldn’t afford a bicycle at the time of the elections, like to be promised an airport. You never know when you might need it.” A lot of Punjabi voters like Nawaz Sharif because they see him as a competent businessman who knows how to get things done, and they keep hoping that his purported ‘business-style’ or entrepreneurial spirit will translate into growth and affluence.

The Pakistani economy has performed poorly under five years of PPP governance, with relatively low economic growth, inflation (stagflation) and a whole slew of other issues including an energy crisis resulting in load shedding and blackouts. The incoming government will have to live up to high expectations in that regard. It will probably have to strike a deal with the IMF for a new loan, which will entail reforms including more efficient tax collection.

Certainly one of the keys to more robust economic growth is the security situation in the country. Inefficient and bloated bureaucracy with archaic regulations work to discourage potential foreign investors, but the worsening security situation with a war on terror or urban violence (in Karachi) doesn’t attract tons of foreign investment.

Nawaz Sharif’s tone in the campaign was fairly nationalistic and defiant of the United States. He said that the conflict in Afghanistan, which will inevitably and invariably continue to spill over the porous Afghan-Pakistani border, is “America’s war” and doesn’t concern Pakistan. He has also opposed drone strikes. As The Guardian‘s article put it, “in his five years’ rule in Punjab, Sharif’s party has had one policy about the Pakistani Taliban who have been wreaking havoc in parts of Pakistan: please go and do your business elsewhere.” In large part, they have obliged and the Taliban undoubtedly prefer Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N to the defeated PPP-led government. For starters, the Taliban didn’t invite themselves into the PML-N’s campaign this year (read: they didn’t attack them).

Nawaz Sharif wants to negotiate with the Taliban, and there is a chance that those talks will be more fruitful than the previous round of negotiations with the PPP government back in 2009. But working through American-Pakistani relations, the war on terror, Pakistan’s role in the conflict and so forth is an extremely delicate issue. For all his words, it is very probable that realpolitik will prevail over Nawaz Sharif, compelling him to drop the anti-American rhetoric and build a working relationship with the Americans. After all, the last thing any Pakistani government wants is forfeiting the millions and millions in American aid to the military and the country. Like in the 1980s with Zia, Nawaz Sharif’s dream is probably to be Islamist at home while still getting paid by the Americans.

But the civilian government has only so much power over foreign policy. In reality, most of the power over foreign policy lies with the military, who are generally given a free hand over foreign relations and military matters by the civilian government of the day. Nawaz Sharif, back in the 1990s, tried to do things a bit differently, and that was a contributing factor in Musharraf’s 1999 coup. One of Nawaz Sharif’s challenges (among the million others) will be maneuvering with the military. General Ashfaq Kayani’s term at the head of the Pakistani military will end later this year, and Nawaz Sharif will need to appoint his successor. To smoothen things out and prevent a repeat of the 1998-1999 situation, he has already said that he will simply appoint the highest-ranking military official to the post rather than handpicking his own favourite (as he had done, ironically enough, when he picked Musharraf in 1998).

Nawaz Sharif will probably try to improve relations with India. He has invited Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to his inauguration, and he has given definite indications that he wants to improve relations and increase trade with Pakistan’s traditional rival/enemy.

The PML-N’s emphatic victory is not a nationwide landslide or mandate for Nawaz Sharif. His emphatic victory was an emphatic victory in Punjab, the PML-N’s stronghold and the country’s most populous province. The PML-N thoroughly swept the Punjab. The PPP, which had done well in the Saraiki-speaking areas of southern Punjab in 2008, were trounced throughout the region. They won only 2 NA seats in the province. The PML-Q was murdered, taking only two seats in the whole country – not a big surprise as the party died with Musharraf’s regime fading off into history. Nawaz Sharif’s party won 116 of its 124 seats in the Punjab. It won about half of the popular vote in the province. Regionalism remains very salient in Pakistani politics.

Imran Khan’s party, the PTI, actually did pretty well. It didn’t win the election and 30 or so seats is perhaps not all that much, but this is a party which had never won more than one seat in the past and had little existing partisan structure to build upon. They were not expected to win (despite what one might assume from the media’s infatuation with him), so it is a very good result. The PTI will be forming the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), which really seems to love whichever party is up-and-coming at the time (MMA, ANP and now PTI). It won 17 out of 35 NA seats in KPK, accounting for about three-fifths of its seats in the whole country. The party’s very strong performance in KPK and all the Pashtun populated areas was surprising, given that they had been expected to break through in urban Punjab (and take PML-N seats in the process) rather than in KPK. However, the PTI’s Punjabi breakthrough failed to materialize – it won only 8 National Assembly seats in the Punjab and didn’t really do all that well in Punjabi cities such as Lahore (Imran Khan, standing in multiple constituencies, was apparently defeated in Lahore). Its big wave of momentum instead came from Pashtun areas. Imran Khan himself is of Pashtun descent, which helps explain his success with those voters.

The PTI nevertheless established itself as the second party in Punjab, which definitely provides it with a base for growth in the future. However, the PTI is a new party with a charismatic leader but few political roots in the country and little infrastructure. It ran on vaguely populist promises, most of which would have been quite hard to fulfill if the PTI had won. Will the party be able to survive for the next five years? It is uncertain whether the PTI or the PPP will form the official opposition, but regardless the PML-N is absolutely dominant in Islamabad and Punjab and it has little need or use for the other parties. Will the PTI manage to hold together despite these challenges? 

The incumbent PPP was trounced. That wasn’t surprising, since everybody (including the PPP) was expecting it. The governing party has been worn down and depleted by five years of power. Almost everybody agreed that they had done a really poor job in government, and their record (or lack thereof) left them very unpopular with many voters. It also didn’t help that because of Taliban attacks on them, the PPP wasn’t really in a position to carry out a real campaign (unlike the PML-N) and was forced to hide rather than actively campaign.

As mentioned above, regionalism remains very real in Pakistani politics. As an example, take the composition of the four provincial legislatures after the election:

  • Punjab (293/297): PML-N 214 seats, independents 42 seats, PTI 19 seats, PML-Q 7 seats, PPP 6 seats, Islamists 1 seat, others 4 seats
  • Sindh (123/130): PPP 65 seats, MQM 37 seats, PML-F 7 seats, independents 5 seats, PML-N 4 seats, PTI 1 seat, others 4 seats
  • KPK (97/99): PTI 35 seats, independents 13 seats, JUI (F) 13 seats, PML-N 12 seats, JI 7 seats, ANP 4 seats, PPP 2 seats, others 11 seats
  • Balochistan (50/51): PMAP 10 seats, PML-N 9 seats, Baloch nationalists 9 seats, independents 8 seats, JUI (F) 6 seats, PML-Q 5 seats, others 3 seats

The PML-N won a massive majority in the Punjab’s provincial legislature. In 2008, it had won 171 seats to the PPP’s 107 seats and the PML-Q’s 83 seats. Now it almost holds a three-fourths majority (and, if a few independents join the PML-N, it will have one). The PML-N has total and absolute domination of Punjab.

The PPP resisted fairly well in Sindh, where relatively little changed. The PPP swept rural Sindh besides the Pir’s strongholds which went to PML-F, while the MQM remains in control of Karachi. The PML-N did win seats (unlike in 2008), but it remains a non-entity. Similarly, the PTI failed to make a mark. Therefore, while the PPP was murdered everywhere outside of Sindh, it still managed a respectable performance in its Sindhi strongholds.

KPK saw the most change. The ANP, which had won 48 seats in 2008 and formed the provincial government since then, was wiped out – it won only 4 seats provincially and held on to a single constituency federally. The ANP suffered the brunt of the Taliban’s violence, and its record in office was probably relatively unpopular as well – unsurprising, given that governing KPK seems like a suicidal thing to do. It has been replaced by Imran Khan’s PTI, which won 35 seats in the provincial assembly and will be forming the next provincial government. The Islamist parties had their best results in the province, but they remain very weak compared to 2002. The PML-N has a bit of a foothold in the province, which it retained; the PPP, however, was wiped out.

Balochistan, for a change, was a hot mess. The PMAP (Pukhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party), another Pashtun nationalist party, won the most seats but there’s basically a three-way tie for control of the provincial assembly. Turnout was very low in Baloch-populated areas, but much higher in the Pashtun-populated areas. There is an ongoing separatist conflict in Balochistan, which the media and the world generally keeps silent about or doesn’t really know much about. Many Baloch nationalists have been tortured, abducted or simply “disappeared” by the military.’

As The Guardian put it: “Who needs a federation when you can have so much more fun doing things your own way.”

So, to sum it up, Pakistan held an election and a former Prime Minister returned to power – but only because he managed to clean up in Punjab while remaining quite marginal (or nonexistent) in other parts of the country. The other provinces of the country traditionally resent Punjabi dominance of politics in Pakistan, and with the Punjabi industrialist and political elite back in power at the federal level, there is a chance that if his policies are too partial in favour of Punjab, regional resentment will increase. Furthermore, his rivals – PPP and PTI – have either held or conquered their own provincial strongholds, which they can use to defy the federal government. With the 18th amendment, Pakistan’s provincial governments are more powerful than they were in the past.

Can Pakistan change for the better in the next five years? Optimism is nice, but I can’t help but be quite cynical (and pessimistic) about the whole thing. I prefer to be pleasantly surprised. Nawaz Sharif isn’t some new politician who has fired up crowds with an ambitious or novel agenda. He’s an old-timer (whose two previous governments were aborted) and who is certainly quite corrupt. Even with the best intentions, Pakistan is a tough place to govern – the country is a powder keg  Besides the thousands of problems facing any problem, the executive isn’t the only source of power in the country – it faces the military, an activist judiciary, empowered provincial governments, terrorist or religious fundamentalist groups, and many quasi-mafias running around freely in places in Karachi.

Next: BC (Canada) and the Philippines. Stay tuned – apologies for delays in publishing these posts!