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Return of The King

 

By strongly backing Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan has chosen certainty, stability, giving him a definite edge over Imran Khan's Naya Pakistan
SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Issue Dated: May 26, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Pakistan | Pakistan polls | National Assembly | Democracy | Nawaz Sharif | Imran Khan |
 

Standing at the front door of his house in Karachi on the eve of Pakistan's elections, Mohsin looked the typical south Asian who had just been informed that his daughter has eloped. Liberal, upwardly mobile and a scribe who champions the cause of minorities and women, Mohsin was positively shaken by the drubbing Pakistan Peoples' Party (PPP) got at the hustings. His shock is understandable. While for most Pakistanis, it was a historic chance to exercise their democratic franchise, for Mohsin it was the unravelling of five years of progressive policies. He makes light of the image of the PPP government tarnished by corruption and non-performance. “Jeene nahi dete the, magar peene to dete the,” he says about his favourite political party (they at least allowed us a drink). Although airy fairy, the remark sums up the response of those who got drubbed in the recently-concluded Pakistan elections.

 
Mohsin's cynicism notwithstanding, the general elections in Pakistan was something to remember. The fact that it was the first back-to-back elections in Pakistan that saw the completion of the term of a democratically elected government, made it a historic occasion.

But this was not all. Positive participation of youths, the escalation in voting percentages, the unprecedented security arrangements to take on unprecedented security threats, the decimation of political dynasties and the crack in the traditional “biradari (caste) system”, have all combined to make these elections memorable.

Let's look at the results first. As the story goes for print, the results of 267 National Assembly (NA) constituencies out of 272 that were up for grabs was announced. Repolling was ordered in one constituency in Karachi following complaints of massive rigging, where as elections in four constituencies were postponed due to the death of contestants and other reasons.

Of the announced results, Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) emerged as the single largest party by winning as many as 126 seats. The figure is a little short of the simple majority mark but still formidable in a country where regional aspirations often lead to hung verdicts.

According to the provisions laid out by the Constitution of Pakistan, as many as 70 seats are awarded to women and minority candidates through a complex process. This process is similar to the winner-takes-all system which prevails in some states of the US. What it means is that Nawaz's PML (N) will take close to 25 women seats from Punjab and a couple of seats from elsewhere. Minority seats too are contested. PML (N) can expect to bag a couple here too. It will move the party closer to the halfway mark. It is certain to get the support of several independents who won the elections following denial of ticket by PML (N). In short, it will easily form the government.

Although the lion's share of PML (N) seats came from its stronghold and Pakistan's most populated province, Punjab, the party did register its presence in other provinces as well. Its ally PML (F) bagged five seats in Sindh and will help boost PML (N) numbers.

The party also won four National Assembly seats from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), two from Federal Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA) and a lone seat from Islamabad region while scoring a zilch in Balochistan.

The ruling disposition, PPP, suffered one of the worst drubbings in its political history under the leadership of President Asif Ali Zardari. The party managed to hold on to its stronghold Sindh which contributes 30 out of the 31 seats it won nationally. The self claimed “only truly national party of Pakistan” managed to win just one seat in Punjab and was wiped out in Balochistan, KPK, FATA and the Islamabad region.

Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) did post a remarkable figure, hypes around it apart. It won 29 National Assembly seats and will probably reach the figure of 30 when polls in the other four constituencies take place. PTI nearly swept the province of KPK by bagging 17 out of the 35 seats that went to polls. It also won eight seats in Punjab, two in FATA and lone seats from Sindh and Islamabad region respectively. If one goes strictly by the spread of seats, PTI's emergence as a truly national party remains the biggest story of these Pakistan elections.

Of the Provincial Assembly (PA) seats, PML (N) is set to win a majority in Punjab even after being provided solid competition by PTI in the urban seats. It is also set to form a coalition government in Balochistan, where it secured nine seats, by going into a coalition with Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) and the Baloch nationalist, National Party (NP), who have a combined figure of 26 of the 51 general seats in the PA.

The PkMAP that represent the interests of Pakhtuns in Balochistan, emerged as the largest party in the PA having clinched 10 seats, whereas NP bagged eight. After the allotment of the reserved seats for women and religious minorities, the combined strength of the three parties will increase to 36 in a house of 65 and they will be able to comfortably form a government. Some other independents are also ready to join PML (N)'s victory party. Four names circulating in the provincial capital for the post of chief minister include former Senate deputy chairman Mir Mohammad Jamali, Sardar Sanaullah Zehri, Nawabzada Jangez Khan Marri of the PML-N and Nawab Ayaz Khan Jogezai of the PkMAP.

Sindh is a different ball-game altogether where PPP is placed comfortably to form a government of its own and may decide to bring in Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) to share power who, as expected, swept the city of Karachi where they bagged 18 NA and 36 PA seats amidst accusation of vote rigging.

In KPK, efforts are on by PTI who emerged as the single largest party with 35 out of 99 seats to form a coalition with Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), which won seven PA seats. There are reports that Maulana Fazlur Rehman was in contact with both JI and PML (N) leaders to form a government, following his rivalry with Imran Khan.

But JI sources told TSI that it is most likely to be part of PTI-formed government. “JI has nothing against Maulana Fazlur Rehman but it would be unfair on PTI if they are not allowed to form a government after winning majority of the seats in KPK,” said the source.

Although the verdict for PML (N) is thumping, there are some evident - and some not so evident - trends that this election has thrown up. The first is the clear mandate for stability and familiarity. Imran Khan's major election plank was “Naya Pakistan”, never mind what it meant. Their idea was to completely revolutionize the way people perceive and vote in elections in Pakistan. Imran did manage to strike a chord with the urban voter who has been at the receiving end of the ever-present and omnipresent security threats, economic stagnation, unemployment and chronic energy crisis.

The imagination of this generation-apathetic at best and apolitical at worst-was fired by Imran Khan who singularly energized them to claim their rights which they did in large numbers. And this hike in voting was evident all over Pakistan. The average voting percentage confined to their 30s and 40s in the last five elections, suddenly jumped to above 50 percent in all the provinces except Balochistan, because of obvious reasons.

Media and civil society also did their bit for democracy. Some TV channels, notably Geo, and almost all the major civil society groups ran a spirited campaign asking people to come out and vote. Street performances, TV ads, monikers, every weapon in the kitty was used to bring the voters out. But what sunk Imran Khan was the fact that not all youngsters who came out to vote, voted for him. In a democracy, it is an established fact.

Says Rasul Bakhsh Rais, political commentator with the Lahore University of Management Sciences, “There are important signs of changes that the kaptaan’s (Imran) perseverance, hard work and appeal have brought about. The foremost of them all is the mass mobilisation through grass-root politics. No leader or other party has done this since the 1970 elections. The benefit that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had was that he rode on the wave of a popular mass movement and he captured the leadership by his charisma. He was already an established national politician. Imran Khan started fresh. Neither the dynastic party leaders nor the general public took him seriously. The traditional political establishment of the country thought he would leave the scene exhausted, frustrated without a dynastic political network on his side. But Imran showed he can do better.”

The only problem is this: Imran's young supporters thought election to be only slightly different from a Cricket World Cup victory. Imran himself thought better. If one analyzes PTI's performance devoid of emotion and hoopla, it has done remarkably well. Of course, PTI supporters believed he would get the top job immediately, a reason why they are not able to appreciate their party's solid performance. Nonetheless, his biggest challenge would be to keep the youths energized and momentum going.

On the other hand, elections have dealt a body blow to dynastic rule and the worst sufferer is the PPP. Insiders say that the way in which Zardari and his sister, Faryal Talpur, ran the party, left the cadres and voters unenthusiastic–and it was evident in the results. Dubbed “peyo, putt and phuffo” (father, son and aunt) party, PPP never really posted a serious challenge this time around. The constant Taliban threats aimed against its rallies did affect its chances, but it was the lackluster performance in the last five years that proved to be detrimental.

“True, the PPP did raise the wheat support price bringing prosperity to rural areas and encouraged the growing of food crops but people in the cities did not notice this. Moreover, the urban lower middle-class did suffer from the increase in food prices so not everyone approved of this measure. The PPP did create the Benazir Income Support Programme, which is the first step towards a welfare state. Other achievements of the PPP: the best-ever NFC Award to the provinces, the relinquishing of presidential powers, the empowerment of the provinces, the pro-women legislation — these did not impact the man in the street. Asif Ali Zardari’s really good initiatives like trying to reduce the power of the agencies and offering no-nuclear-first-strike pact to India were still-born,” says noted political analyst Dr Tariq Rahman

More crucially, the stalwarts and their dynasties lost left, right and center. The Khars of Muzaffargarh who have dominated politics since 1970 were wiped out with Pakistan foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar's father Malik Noor Rabbani Khar (PPP), his brother Malik Ghulam Mustafa Khar (PML-F), Bilal Khar (PPP) and Farooq Khar (PML-N) trounced by their rivals.

The Jatois of Alipur, namely Qayyum Jatoi, Moazam Jatoi and Shahzad Jatoi, were also shown the door. Multan became the graveyards for Gilanis, who are the makhdooms (caretakers) of the local sufi shrine there and have dominated it for close to half a century now. The five Gilanis, four of them scions of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani --Abdul Qadir, Ali Musa, Haider and Qasim and his brother Ali Mujtaba --lost.

Similarly from the Kaira family of Gujrat, everyone including the dynamic former I&B minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, lost the elections. The Bharwana family of Jhang and the Wattoos of Punjab were also swept aside. Ex PM Raja Parvez Ashraf and I&B minister Firdaus Ashiq Awan were also defeated. In fact, it is because of the loss of these `electables' that PPP was trounced in its erstwhile bastion of Multan and southern Punjab.

Zardari has his task clearly cut out now. Not only will he have to energize the cadres, he will have a hard time keep the party united. The clamour against him will grow, sooner rather than later.

The complete decimation of Awami National Party (ANP) in KPK came as a nasty shock to many. A deeply secular and anti-Taliban party, ANP descended into abyss of corruption and non-performance. Its leadership mistakenly believed that opposing Taliban also meant toeing the American line of narrative. It managed to win just one National Assembly and five provincial assembly seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with its leaders Asfandyar Wali Khan and Ghulam Ahmad Bilour losing their respective seats by huge margins. Like PPP, its campaign too was affected by attacks from Taliban, but even if had not been so, the results would have been the same. In the end, they were battered both by Taliban as well as the voters.

The king of the election is indeed Nawaz and his brother Shahbaz Sharif. The PML (N) did look rattled by Imran Khan's rise in Punjab, especially after his Lahore jalsa of 2011. But it quickly recovered its bearings and took PTI head on. The remarkable construction of the Lahore Metro Bus system, the scheme of free laptop to students and other measures brought its voters back.

Says journalist and commentator Raza Rumi, “Perhaps, the biggest challenge that his administration will face concern militancy and terrorism. This is directly linked to the operations of extremist organizations within Pakistan which need to be regulated. Building state capacity and law-enforcement institutions should be the top-most priority of the incoming government. After the Eighteenth Amendment, Pakistan’s power centres have shifted from Islamabad to the provinces. However, a major area of focus is to strengthen inter-provincial coordination and address the pending tasks of the devolution process since 2011.”

The sizable mandate means that Nawaz will have a less tiring time managing the government than PPP had and can focus on rebuilding Pakistan. Nawaz is a more powerful personality than Zardari and is expected to leave his imprint on the administration. Unlike Zardari who was a political novice when he came to office five years ago, Nawaz is a seasoned player and not easy to manipulate. He has the advantage of several experienced political aides, all of whom are well versed in statecraft unlike those in the PPP coalition cabinet.

Also, given Sharif's inclination towards right wing politics and his support base which is rooted in the trading classes, he is expected to take measures that are non-populist and good for the economy. The social expenditure that was high on Zardari’s agenda will go down substantially and the money will be diverted to big infrastructure projects that are the trademark of Nawaz’s political agenda.

It is expected that country's most powerful politician will also give fresh impetus to trade and industry and will first target the energy crisis that has gripped Pakistan in the last couple of years. “Nawaz Sharif will have to curb the tendency to adopt some stratagem like claiming to be a caliph of sorts in order to curb freedom of dissent. He will also have to stop hiding terrorists in Punjab and other provinces and start taking serious note of those in the province accused of terror. And he will have to stop strengthening the Zia-ul Haq-inspired laws, which have made the lives of minorities and women hell in this country,” adds Rahman.

Moreover, Nawaz appears to have learnt from his past mistakes and is more mature now, but people close to him say he has the tendency to react immaturely. Now that he is in power, the dynamics between the civilian government and the army will change dramatically. Nawaz, unlike Zardari, is not docile. It will be enormously difficult for the armed forces now to browbeat or arm-twist the civilian disposition. But Nawaz has been bitten once; maybe he now knows better.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017