That general elections were held despite all odds is itself a great achievement. Things appeared too uncertain until General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani made it absolutely clear in his address at the GHQ on the occasion of the Martyrs’ Day on April 30 that “Allah willing, General Elections would be held in the country on 11th of May. We must not harbour any suspicions or misgivings about it. This indeed is a golden opportunity, which can usher in an era of true democratic values in the country. In my opinion, it is not merely retribution, but awareness and participation of the masses that can truly end this game of hide and seek between democracy and dictatorship.”
Notwithstanding media reports about alleged rigging at different polling stations and reservations expressed by almost all political parties concerning the transparency and fairness of the general elections, they are fast becoming a past event, a fait accompli, and one expects that the dust would settle down in due course; although it may take some time to sort out issues in a few constituencies. Ecp2013
One thing that became evident during the conduct of general elections is that the installation of caretaker set-ups and making the election commission independent do make positive difference but these steps are not a sufficient guarantee of transparency and fairness of the exercise in a culture of violence, intimidation and manipulation. Much more is required in the age of electronic gadgets, free media and communication network – where facts are exposed to the public – to fully satisfy the contestants, the voters and enhance transparency.
In the run-up to the general elections, the PPP, the MQM and the ANP did not have a level field in reaching to the masses because of the Taliban threats. On the polling day, to varying degrees, almost all stakeholders, individuals as well as parties, resorted to unscrupulous tactics and manipulations to secure favourable results.
However, the approach and attitude of the PTI supporters on the polling day was decent and exemplary as compared to others. On the other extreme was MQM, which went berserk and in the process blatantly exposed its undemocratic, intolerant and intimidatory character.
A large turn-out at the polling stations was largely a result of the PTI’s appeal to the youth and the role of the media in creating the election hype.
Now that the results of almost all the directly elected seats of the National Assembly and the provincial assemblies are out, the party-positions have become quite clear. The recourse to recounting/re-polling in some constituencies and decisions of the election tribunals are not likely to bring about any substantial change in this scenario.
The addition of indirectly elected women and minority members on reserved seats of different assemblies is inconsequential for party-positions in relative terms.
The next step is the formation of governments at the federal level and in the provinces, and the parties have already moved in that direction.
At federal level, the position of PML (N) is pretty comfortable. Already with 126 directly elected seats out of 272 in hands, it has emerged as the largest party in the National Assembly, far ahead of the PPP and the PTI who have secured 31 and 27 seats respectively. Once the independents decide their future course, the PML (N) may acquire an absolute majority in the House.
The PML (N) has a free hand in the formation of government at the centre and the assumption of the office of prime minister by Nawaz Sharif is a foregone conclusion. However, in order to further strengthen and broaden the federal government, the PML (N) has already decided to take JUI (F) as a coalition partner. Hopefully the PML (F) will also be on board. The leader of the opposition is likely to be from the PPP.
In Punjab, the PML (N) has already secured 224 out of 297 directly elected seats of the provincial assembly. This number would further soar once the independents take their decisions. Shahbaz Sharif is likely to be the chief minister due to his performance and popularity in Punjab. Hence two brothers will occupy the two most powerful offices. The PTI with 20 seats is to lead a very lean opposition.
In Sindh, the PPP has already acquired an absolute majority, i.e., 69, of 130 directly elected seats, followed by MQM with 37. The ten-party alliance led by PML (F) has failed to make any considerable impact. In fact, the PPP has won more seats than it did in 2008 when there was a sympathy wave for the party due to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto which cast doubts on fairness of the polls.
Although the PPP is in a position to form government on its own, it cannot ignore the rural-urban divide which is a characteristic of politics in Sindh. Given the importance of Karachi, the provincial capital, and Hyderabad, the PPP has decided to take the MQM on board. It is not clear who is to be the chief minister but Mr Owais Muzaffar alias Tappi is being tipped for the post. The PML (F) with 6 seats is to nominate the opposition leader.
Something near to real ‘change’ has occurred in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa where results of 97 out of 99 direct seats are out, and the PTI is leading with 35 seats. PTI’s Pervaiz Khattak is to become the chief minister. JI and QWP, with 7 seats each, have arrived at an understanding with the PTI to form a coalition government in the province. A group of independents would strengthen the coalition.
The credit goes to the PML (N) leadership that it decided to give the deserved option to the PTI for formation of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government, although the JUI (F) had established contact with both the PML (N) and the QWP seeking their support for the same. Now JUI (F) and PML (N) with 13 and 12 seats respectively are to sit on the opposition benches. It is surprising (or not) that the ANP has almost been wiped out from the province, despite its loss of lives in combating militants and in militant attacks on its leadership and cadre.
A very sad situation has developed in Balochistan where in some Baloch majority areas voting was below 2%. BNP (M) has been reduced to near insignificance in electoral terms. PPMAP, essentially a representative of the Pakhtuns, has emerged as the largest party with 10 directly elected seats out of 51. It is followed by PML (N) with 9, NP with 7 and JUI (F) with 6 of the directly elected seats. As usual, most of the candidates, normally Sardars wearing different party tags, have won due to their personal clout. Sardar Sanaullah Zehri of the PML (N) is trying to cobble a coalition. Whosoever leads the coalition, most of the MPAs are likely to jump into the band-wagon. Any opposition worth the name may not be there.
Since Pakistan’s election system is not based on proportional representation, the distribution of seats in the assemblies does not represent the political parties’ actual standing among the people.
The PML (N) with 32.6% of votes has performed spectacularly at the polls, whereas the PPP with 14.8% and the PTI with 16.7% of votes are lagging far behind with 31 and 27 seats in the National Assembly.
Again in terms of popular votes the PTI is ahead of the PPP, although it has lesser number of seats. Due to concentration of votes in their strongholds, the MQM with 5.4% and 18 seats and JUI (F) with 3.1% and 10 seats in the National Assembly have fared far better in terms of getting representation.
Once the governments are sworn in, they will have to set their priorities. The first hundred days, as traditions go, are crucial and the people would judge in what direction things are moving.
The real test is for the PML (N), due to its predominant position at the centre and in Punjab, and for the PTI, because for the first time it will assume the responsibility of governance and its success or failure in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa will have crucial impact on its future.
Although the federal and provincial governments have their specific areas of functions, they cannot fulfil their respective responsibilities without mutual cooperation and coordination. The performance of the incumbent governments will be judged on the basis of what they do to:
- Combat terrorism, militancy, extremism and sectarianism of various kinds and nature; improve law and order situation in general and particularly in Karachi.
- Recover from economic slowdown and promote economic development; control inflation, create genuine employment opportunities, eradicate poverty and work for more equitable distribution of wealth; introduce taxation reforms, create conducive conditions for local and foreign investment; minimize losses in state-owned corporations and enterprises.
- Overcome energy crisis; minimize electricity and gas load-shedding and outages.
- Resolve the Balochistan crisis and bring the Baloch nationalists in the political mainstream.
- Improve overall governance; address the menace of corruption, favouritism and nepotism; increase the efficiency of bureaucracy.
- Provide better health, education, transport and other services that have direct impact on the lives of the people.
- Revisit and review foreign policy with focus on post-American Afghanistan, the future of Balochistan as trade and energy corridor to and from Afghanistan and Central Asia and the composite dialogue with India, particularly on the Kashmir dispute.
To address this long list of problems is a gigantic task.
It is further understood that on assumption of office, the political leadership at federal and provincial levels would make postings and transfers in the respective bureaucracies to ensure compliance of orders and effective execution of party policies. Let’s hope the principle of seniority and competence is followed and the bureaucracy is depoliticised.
With formation of the federal government under the PML (N), President Asif Ali Zardari would become a symbolic Head of State. After the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, he was able to influence the PPP Prime Minister more as the co-chairman of the party. In any case, presidential election is due in September and the PML (N) will nominate its candidate.
It is also interesting to note that the Supreme Court’s chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, and the army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, are both due to leave office this year—changes that would impact Mr Sharif’s ability to manoeuvre as he solidifies power.
Much of the hopeful talk surrounding his landslide victory is focused on how Mr Sharif seems different — mellower, less authoritarian — than during his two previous stints as PM in the 1990s. And he returns to power with a mandate from Pakistani voters who have apparently given his party a near outright majority in Parliament.
Mr Sharif has adopted a more conciliatory tone. Now he glosses over any differences, telling reporters that his problem had been with General Musharraf’s coup, not with the military as a whole.
“I think the rest of the army resented Mr Musharraf’s decision,” he said. “So I don’t hold the rest of the army responsible for that.” “Against that backdrop, the success — and perhaps length — of Sharif’s tenure will be determined by how he negotiates the relationship with Pakistan’s unelected power players.
“They include the United States, an ally with whom he has a long and sometimes unhappy history and that has worried about his vigour in fighting Islamist militants. On a different front, the country’s newly assertive Supreme Court also presents Mr Sharif with a challenge, and perhaps some opportunity.”
Nawaz Sharif will appoint new governors in the province. President is bound to act upon the advice of the prime minister in this regard. In this regard he will have to take extra-precaution in the case of Sindh where there is a convention since early 1970s that the chief minister is ethnic Sindhi whereas the governor is non-ethnic Sindhi.
Although the PML (N) has emerged as the largest party in the National Assembly, in Senate it is a minority with only 14 seats. Its likely coalition partner, JUI (F) has 7 whereas the PPP 41, the ANP 12, the MQM 7 and the PML (Q) 5 Senators in the House of 104.
It is expected of the elected governments that the local bodies’ elections will be held without unnecessary delay. The PML (N) and the PPP have pledged in the Charter of Democracy to empower people at the grass-roots level. The local bodies are an important tier of government that benefit the people directly and give them a sense of participation in the democratic process. In the past, only military rulers have held local bodies’ elections, let there be exception to rule.
Next 100 days will set the course of action and things to come. On the campaign trail, Mr Sharif played to populist sentiment by condemning drone strikes in the tribal belt and suggesting, in vague terms, that he would seek to avoid bowing to American dictates. But the perilous state of Pakistan’s economy means that he may require American support for a bailout by the IMF — one that economists believe will be necessary in the coming months.
Behind the scene and now overtly the American diplomats and other diplomats are likely to pressure him for stronger action against militants. His friend Mr John Kerry is wants meet him as soon as possible.
Sharif was measured in the campaign in his criticism of the Taliban, which notably did not attack his party’s election events as they did those of more secular parties. Sharif may now come under pressure — from the army as well as the United States — to clamp down on militant havens in his home province of Punjab, parts of which have become hotbeds of sectarian violence led by Sunni extremist groups.
However, in foreign policy Mr Sharif has another source of support, his close relationship with Saudi Arabia, where he whiled away his exile. King Abdullah helped broker Mr Sharif’s return to Pakistan in 2007, and Sharif maintains close ties with Riyadh. That relationship, although discreet, could provide an alternative source of economic aid, as well as a powerful ally.
To what extent the new-set-ups are able to fulfill the promises made in different parties’ election manifestos and public speeches only the time will show.