Dear Diary, the elections are less than a month away and there’s still so much to do. Candidates need manicures, pedicures, hair treatments, facials, we want them looking their best for the big day, salons have been booked all across the country and I have my own appointment today for smoothing out these wrinkles.
I have the Chief Justice of Pakistan on speed dial, we text frequently, in the evenings we call each other and talk about our days, I love his ring tone, that old Kishore number Mein Hun Don.
He thinks the election commission is doing a fantastic job, I’m not sure what we’re doing yet but all the files that come through are very neat and tidy, with hardly any ink or dust on them. At this age, I can’t take dust very well. My eyes get watery and I have difficulty breathing when my lungs fall out from all the coughing.
Trying to eliminate duplicitous voting. In the last elections, a single man cast 2,546 votes across seven different constituencies, a man who’d been dead 15 years and was buried somewhere in England. This was unacceptable, if you’re not allowed to vote from overseas, you’re definitely not allowed to vote from the afterlife.
The Returning Officers (RO) have been directed to take the pulse of all election candidates too and ask questions to determine the extent of their religious knowledge, mainly if they can recite verses from the Quran. Since the ROs don’t know the Quran themselves, the official directive states that if it sounds vaguely like Arabic, it’s dandy.
Two candidates were disqualified today for wearing pants instead of a Thawb, another one for not owning enough camels. There was also an industrialist who’s never been on Hajj, an agriculturist who can’t count to 100 in Arabic, and a PhD in economics who doesn’t know which hand to wash first in ablution. Hopeless!
The wife came in to my office later and was adamant that I approve the nomination papers of her cousin’s daughter’s husband’s father-in-law’s wife, which turned out to be the cousin herself, which made things awkward as she was standing right next to my wife when I said no. I can’t just approve any nominations — besides, I’ve run out of official stamps.
These politicians sure paid a lot of taxes this year; I think we should have elections every year.
Somewhere in the Punjab the leader of a banned militant outfit had his nomination papers approved. I was asked to investigate the travesty. I’ve talked to some people, the mistake will soon be rectified and the ban lifted.
Sometimes, when my children put their false teeth in before dinner, it hits me that I am in fact much older than this country. It gives me a strange feeling. I immediately take two tablets and lay down until it goes away.
The ROs are getting anxious, one of the candidates put their own questions back to them; it took five hours of Googling for them to say, “We’re not obligated to answer you”.
There are not enough good-natured and honest people in this country to fill up the candidatures. I think we might have to import some from other countries. I have discussed the possibility with my driver, which was a fairly pointless thing to do since he has no say in the matter.
Some of the ROs had the candidates do their kids’ homework. Most of them managed well, but the algebra questions really put them off.
Still in pursuit of the perfect candidate. We had a full staff meeting today about introducing requirements about height and weight. How can anyone be a political representative if they can’t even reach the mike in the assembly?
The Chief Justice asked how things were going regarding articles 62/63. I told him not to worry, we already had two Sadiqs working as stenos in the office, and we were looking into hiring Amins.
The May 11 election appears too close to call, with two main contenders enjoying almost the same voter approval ratings and the third one being not very far behind, the results of an exclusive public opinion poll conducted by the Herald magazine show.A very high 95.1 per cent of the 1285 poll respondents say they are registered to vote and 25.68 per cent of these registered respondents say they intend to vote for Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN), 24.98 per cent of them say their vote will go to Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) and another 17.74 per cent want to vote for Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).In Punjab, where more than half of all National Assembly contests will take place, PMLN seems to be the party of choice, with 38.66 per cent of the respondents indicating support for it, followed by PTI at 30.46 per cent. The outgoing ruling party in Islamabad, PPP, is trailing way behind at 14.33 per cent. In Sindh, PPP still enjoys the biggest share of support with 35.21 per cent respondents indicating it as their party of preference, followed by Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) with 19.37 per cent support, PTI with 8.45 per cent support and PML-N with 8.1 per cent among the survey respondents.This is despite the fact that 50 per cent of the respondents in the province have rated the federal government’s performance as poor or very poor. In Khyber Pakthunkhwa, PTI is leading with 35.41 per cent support among the respondents while PML-N (with 12.92 per cent support) and Awami National Party (with 12.44 per cent support) are two distant runners-up. Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) has the highest backing among the poll respondents in Balochistan, at 19.18 per cent, with PPP a distant second at 8.22 per cent. The two parties leading nationally, PML-N and PTI, only have 2.74 per cent and 5.48 per cent support respectively among the respondents in Balochistan.
The poll, conducted by the Herald in March 2013 in 42 districts and two tribal agencies across Pakistan and being published in the magazine’s special pre-election issue scheduled to hit newsstands today (Wednesday), also shows high level of distrust among the respondents about the polling process. As many as 65.6 per cent of them feel that elections in Pakistan are neither free, nor fair nor transparent. Only 29 per cent respondents believe that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has the capacity to ensure free, fair and transparent elections; the number of those who are unsure about it (responding in “Maybe”) is much higher at 49 per cent. Those who say that it does not have that capacity are 22 per cent of the poll respondents.While the respondents show an eagerness to vote (over 66 per cent of them say they will vote no matter whether the polls are free, fair and impartial or not), a significant portion of them (40 per cent) says the biggest disincentive to vote comes from the feeling that the government policies will not change. Another 24.48 per cent identify political apathy as the biggest hindrance to casting the ballot and 19.14 per cent find corruption as the discouraging factor.
Expert survey indicates otherwise
Meanwhile, the results of an exclusive Herald survey, conducted among ten distinguished experts on Pakistan’s electoral politics, indicates that the May 11 election will result in a National Assembly in which none of the three leading parties will win a simple majority of the seats.The survey conducted in March and April 2013, and involving experts from academia, think-tanks and civil society organisations, shows PML-N getting the highest percentage of seats – at 34.89 percent, PPP getting the second highest percentage – at 24.89 percent, and PTI getting the third highest percentage of seats in the National Assembly – at 12.11 percent.
In seven experts’ opinion, PML-N will get 30 per cent or above seats – with one of them giving it as high as 44 per cent of seats. Only two experts predict that the party will get less than 30 per cent of seats and none give it below 25 per cent of the seats in the National Assembly.The highest percentage of seats that PPP may get, according to the experts on the panel, is 35 per cent and the lowest is 18 per cent. Two experts believe that PPP will get less than 20 per cent of the seats and three believe that it will get above 30 percent seats; the rest expect it to win anywhere between 22 per cent and 28 per cent of the seats.In PTI’s case, the highest percentage of seats it may win, according to two surveyed experts, is 16 per cent. The party’s lowest expected presence in the National Assembly could well be just seven per cent seats, according to one expert. Other experts believe that PTI will win anywhere from 9 per cent to 15 per cent of the seats in the National Assembly.
The results of the survey, being published in the magazine’s special pre-election issue scheduled to hit the newsstands today, also indicate that PML-N will get the highest percentage of votes from among the Hindko-speakers – at 49 per cent, followed by 48 per cent from among Punjabi-speaking voters. Similarly, PPP is likely to get the most percentage of votes from among Sindhi-speakers – at 52 per cent – and from among Seraiki speakers – at 46 per cent.A rather high percentage of Seraiki-speakers – at 43 per cent – may vote for PML-N, according to the experts.Among Pashto-speakers, ANP is likely to get the biggest share of votes at 38 per cent, followed by PTI at 35 per cent. For a large number of Baloch voters, the preferred party seems to be BNP-M, with 45 per cent of them likely to vote for that party, the panel predicted. The second highest vote-getter among the Baloch voters could be PML-N, at 32 per cent.PTI, which is either leading or is seen as being a runner-up in most public opinion surveys, is likely to get the highest percentage of votes only from among the speakers of ‘other’ languages, including the speakers of Kashmiri, Gojiri, and Pothohari languages. Among the Urdu speaking community, however, MQM may take a clear lead by polling 71 per cent of their votes, the survey says.
Interestingly, issues related to India and Kashmir are completely absent from political parties campaigning for the 2013 election. This could be perceived in both, a positive and negative manner. Positive because we appear, finally, to be out of that antagonists mindset, where India has to be rivalled at every cost and in every situation. And negative because we seem to be missing out on important developments in our neighbouring country and these developments are going to affect us in the long run.
Ironically, we do witness some glimpses of the nuclear energy issue in the campaigns, but even in this respect, the assertions of our political leaders do not appear aligned with latest developments. The developments have bypassed our political class and therefore have reinforced the perception that our political elite are ignorant and do not contribute to the strategic debate. In fact, watching these political leaders prattle uselessly on nuclear issue compels one to be believe that we don’t have informed debate on the nuclear energy issue in our society and in the process they have left the leave the field open for an obscure and limited group of military officials to make the decisions regarding nuclear energy — and this has fateful consequences for us as a nation.
The glimpses of nuclear issues presented by Rehman Malik, the former interior minister, who, while, addressing a press conference in Lahore (reported by Urdu newspapers) said that it was the military which conducted the nuclear tests in May 1998 and when Nawaz Sharif, the then Prime Minister, was informed he felt very scared. Apparently, Malik’s statement was meant to blunt the affects of Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz’s (PMLN) elections campaign, which prominently features Sharif as the statesman’ who conducted the nuclear tests and ensured Pakistan’s entry into nuclear club.
The fact that Malik made this statement after presiding over a meeting of party-ticket holders in Lahore, clearly indicate that Pakistan Peoples Party doesn’t want to let Sharif take credit for five nuclear explosions which were carried out by Pakistan on May 28, 1998. Sharif, on the other hand, has made it a point to include the visuals of nuclear explosions at Chagai in each of his campaign advertisements that are being show on television.
All this clearly reflects one thing: that Pakistan’s political class is still bogged down by the mindset that nuclear explosions are a capability of great jingoistic value. Malik’s statement assumes that carrying out nuclear explosions is a great act of valour which only Pakistan’s military is capable of. At the same time PMLN’s campaign advertisements want to pin this badge of bravery on the shoulder of their leader. It’s true that this is what the Pakistani public – especially the people in the urban areas of Central Punjab – would like to hear from their leaders before they decide who to vote for on May 11. But the character and style of politicians should be different from people from the performing arts (no offense), whose primary purpose is to attract an audience.
A general overview of nuclear developments in the region and in the country will show how out of touch with reality all this prattling is. When Pakistan carried out the nuclear explosions the mantra coming out of corridors of Pakistani security establishment was about how the nation has now attained a weapon which has made its defence “impregnable”. This has now changed. Now many a times will you hear the refrain that Pakistani nation and armed forces are ready to sacrifice their lives for defending their country’s “strategic weapons”. General (retd) Pervez Musharraf was the first Pakistani leader who started to “treat the nuclear arsenal as the vital interest to protect rather than the means to protect the Pakistani people.” This was the natural consequence of a situation where Pakistani nuclear weapons were facing twin threats from extremists from within the country and from ‘friendly’ US military forces stationed in Afghanistan, which (as reported by the American media) have carried out mock exercises to snatch weapons from Pakistani strategic forces. If the situation is so grim can the Pakistani political class afford to remain bogged down in the jingoistic mindset of 1990s?
The second and more depressing prospect with regard to our nuclear capability is related to our relations with India. Brigadier (retd) Feroz Hassan Khan, a former eminent member of country’s nuclear establishment, writes in Eating Grass, his latest book, that after coming under military pressure from India in the last 10 years, Pakistani armed forces have started integrating nuclear weapons into conventional war plans. “By the time the second peak of the crisis occurs in May 2002, the Pakistan military had finalised plans for integrating its conventional and nuclear forces … the crisis accelerated the pace of force planning and integration,” writes Khan in his book.
Now both the regional and international security experts are saying that Pakistani and Indian militaries are flirting with very dangerous military concepts and doctrines. Repeated flight testing of short-range tactical missiles, which can be used in the battlefield, by Pakistan clearly indicate its intentions to respond to India’s conventional attack with tactical nuclear weapons. Indian military planners, on the other hand, are flirting with a more dangerous Cold Start doctrine, under which they harbour the belief that they can punish Pakistan with their conventional military superiority and yet stop short of invoking Pakistan’s nuclear response. Indian military, in fact, tried to implement part of this concept in their military exercises close to Pakistan’s border in 2011. On the other hand, it was precisely at this time that our military conducted flight tests of its short range tactical missiles.
Now the question is that if the situation is potentially so unstable then can we afford to remain bogged down in our jingoistic mindset? Can we afford to feed Pakistani public on the same jingoistic jargon that could be so destabilising? Can we afford to leave this issue in the hands of obscure military officials, who rarely share their thoughts with the public? The answers to all these questions are in the negative. Instead, we should be engaging in an informed debate — a debate which can open avenues for making Pakistan more secure and less jingoistic.
And it is because of this reason that I argue that the complete absence of India from our election campaign is not a positive development. In fact I remember the 1997 election campaign when both PMLN and PPP used ‘bettering relations with India’ as the central issue of their election campaign. And it was because of this that the then prime minister gained enough confidence to initiate the normalisation process with India, which brought Atal Behari Vajpayee, the Indian prime minister, to Lahore and Islamabad. Ironically, in the wake of the Lahore Summit, Pakistani and Indian experts were expected to meet regularly to exchange nuclear doctrines and concepts to avoid nuclear brinkmanship.
Unfortunately this process was disrupted as a result of military takeover in Pakistan.
As the nation gears up to vote, it’s worth remembering the legacy of this half-decade of democracy. Born of the mistakes and excesses of a dictator who wore out his welcome, birthed with the tragic loss of a feisty matriarch of the only truly people’s party and endured during the alarming loss of state writ to religious nihilists, in retrospect it is hard to know what this government stood for.
Sure, there was the 18th Amendment, the National Finance Commission Award and a few token half measures. But what it truly did well, ironically, is reducing the language of sacrifice to elaborate kitsch.
When the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) started out this term in 2008 it had a mandate from the public but despite that remit it operated with a trust deficit — or more tellingly, Asif Ali Zardari did. To obviate his own lack of currency, he quickly mastered the trait of rhetoric culled from the archives of the PPP playbook which had a trove of tragedy in the service of democracy, including that of his own with the loss of Benazir Bhutto.
The party, long a source of adding to the national lexicon of political phrases and terms (such as ‘long marches’, ‘roti’, ‘kapra’ and ‘makaan’) coined a new phrase, marshalled out as its operating philosophy, “Democracy is the best revenge.”
A good start – as far as defining what PPP 2.0 stood for – but the promise was soon to be sunk by the government’s unmoored performance in governance. Democracy became directionless accommodation, and cripplingly so. With an absence of tangibles in the service of the electorate, the past was bandied as citizens looked to the government to deliver in the present tense.
Having been told that the PPP’s promises were not inviolable, it moved self-preservation above delivery, permanently. After losing an ineffectual prime minister to the overreach of the courts, it chose one of the few men with less credibility to replace him. Gaffe prone ministers can be a national treasure, like Lalu Prasad or Boris Johnson, but to have one in charge of our collective safety is egregious at best.
Listening to the PPP, especially in the past two years, it’s obvious that what it can be remembered for is cheapening its formidable legacy. Their ministers operated in a surreal world of verbal impunity, using mighty language and the history of sacrifice to be devalued into a baroque camp.
Roti, kapra aur makaan was once the powerful elixir against whatever opiate the masses were taken in by. Today “sasta tandoor” and “sasti roti”, however awkwardly named, have more pulling power. The ‘long march’ has been appropriated by the Sharifs, the very party it was originated against. (Even Canadians own it with greater legitimacy.) So much so, that a word for a force of nature that only brings devastation in its midst, the ‘tsunami’, sounds like a word of hope — even after our successive floods.
Ever vigilant to an opportunity for grandstanding, in the final days of this government Rehman Malik announced that the government, with his able stewardship, had defeated the terrorists and restored law and order. Had he been truthful and instead said awe and disorder, one would have believed he was actually eating a banana.
Revenge they took without doubt. But what remains to be seen is if there will be Schadenfreude on election day. If not, a Darwin Award is in order.
All major political parties have publicised their manifestos for the election 2013. These manifestos express and articulate their respective ideologies, programmes and policies and they differ from one another both in focus and detail.
The Herald invited three experts to discuss the need and impact of party manifestos. The panel included Amit Baruah who has reported for the respected Indian daily The Hindu from Islamabad and headed BBC Hindi Service. The second panelist was Ayaz Amir, a leading Pakistani journalist and columnist and a member of the outgoing National Assembly. The third member of the panel was columnist, analyst and poet Harris Khalique who has also contributed to the latest manifesto of a major political party.
Herald: Is there a difference between campaign slogans and party manifestos?
Amit Baruah: Yes, there is a difference. Parties tend to be more formal in their manifestos and catchier in their slogans.
Harris Khalique: Slogans are [created] to catch people’s attention. A manifesto is a road map; it is more of a policy document. Sloganeering takes place [both] in highly literate societies as well as in countries with poor literacy rate where slogans become even more important: “Roti, kapra aur makaan; maang raha hai har insaan (Everyone is asking for a square meal, clothes and a house)” — this has remained the same for the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Benazir Bhutto [but other slogans have changed]. When General Ziaul Haq deleted the PPP’s election symbol – the sword – from the election symbol list, the arrow became the election symbol for Benazir Bhutto and the PPP. In Sindh, a new slogan was coined — “Nah meer ke nah peer ke; vote Benazir ke; vote saare teer ke (neither for the mirs nor for the pirs; our votes are for Benazir; our votes are all for the teer (arrow).”
Baruah. Indira Gandhi’s slogan when she returned to power in 1980 was “Nah jaat par, nah paat par; Indira ki baat par; muhr lagegi haath par (neither on the basis of caste nor for breed; our votes are for Indira’s word; we shall put the stamp on [vote for] the hand [the Congress’ election symbol]”. It was quite effective! I wonder whether in the internet age, slogans will have to be different.
Khalique. Language and rhyming continue to catch the imagination, even in the internet age. The internet is just another medium in that respect.
Herald. Do you think slogans won’t change at all for social media campaigns?
Khalique. Well, they may but they haven’t yet. Look, for instance, at the Insha Allah Naya Pakistan song sung by Salman Ahmad and Junaid Jamshed for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
Baruah. I think that the link between social media and the real world – on-the-ground – campaigning still needs to be established. In societies where literacy and internet penetration is low, real slogans of the kind mentioned above will still be important. We can see in India, for instance, that some politicians are using social media, but given the literacy levels, getting people out for a political rally can’t be done through Twitter and Facebook. I also wonder if there will be extensive use of social media for the May 11 election in Pakistan.
Khalique. Yes, there will be, because both our countries have huge populations. Even the middle class sections of society using social media include millions. Those in the diaspora also get equally involved in Pakistani politics, and many of them use social media.
Baruah. I totally agree. As we can see in Bangladesh currently, social media in urban spaces will be actively used and politicians and parties will have to become social media savvy.
Herald. Political parties have the tendency to overcommit themselves in their manifestos and campaign slogans. Isn’t it counterproductive for politicians and political parties to overcommit when it widens the gap between what they promise and their eventual performance, thereby endangering their future electoral prospects?
Baruah. Well, this is an issue endemic to the whole of South Asia: there are actually yawning gaps between what parties promise and what they deliver. The real issues facing people most often take a back seat. In South Asia, there is a definite tendency to promise the moon to the electorate — this is the nature of our political parties.
Khalique. Slogans are always exaggerated. The problem is when a serious commitment made in a manifesto is not realised. We, however, must consider that parties make their manifestos as singular outfits. But when they come to power in large, complicated countries, they work in coalitions. For a third-world country, things change quickly. Parties, therefore, argue that they could only fully implement their manifestos if they sweep the polls.
Herald. Do manifestos even matter when politics is completely dominated by personalities in South Asia in general and Pakistan in particular?
Baruah. Well, even personalities have to come out with a manifesto — a minimum programme of sorts, if you like. And the party in power should have something to show to have a chance of re-election. One thing that we must also consider in the South Asian context is the role of families – or dynasties – in our elections where the family is the manifesto.
Khalique. Manifestos matter. Personalities symbolise a certain thinking, sensitivity, slant and world view. People see them as icons. One will choose a personality to follow if one has a similar if not the same understanding of how things should be and how political, economic and social decisions are made. Have you ever heard of a political party contesting polls without a manifesto? A leader becomes popular because of a shared world view — be it clear or confused. Besides, you could hold a party responsible against its manifesto if it has been in power.
Herald. What makes certain political dynasties click with voters better than others? Is it what they stand for? Or do they receive votes because of who they are?
Baruah. We have many political dynasties in South Asia — the Bandaranaikes in Sri Lanka, the Nehru-Gandhis in India, the Bhuttos in Pakistan. Dynasties also have to be clever. They must be able to measure the pulse of the people and know what the electorate wants.
Khalique. The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is more of a strip tied around the wild bouquet of the Congress party now. In Pakistan, no Bhutto [family member] is actually ruling at the moment, if you follow the patriarchal definition of the family. But they or those closely related to them will still have influence in Pakistan. However, just think about it — if Bilawal Bhutto Zardari begins to raise conservative, right-wing slogans, will those who follow the Bhuttos continue to follow him?
Herald. Who reads manifestos? Do voters read them? Voters are always in millions and no party can print millions of copies of their manifesto…
Khalique. Of course, not everybody reads manifestos. But slogans derived out of the manifestos are heard by all. Many would read the gist in newspapers or listen to the key points through the electronic media. The summaries of both the PPP and PMLN manifestos appeared on the front pages of all Urdu, English and Sindhi newspapers.
Baruah. Even in India, no one reads the fine print of manifestos; only journalists and other politicians do.
Herald. Mr Amir, from your experience of canvassing for an election, do you think voters are attracted to manifestos? Or are they attracted to something else, such as the personality of the leader or candidate?
Ayaz Amir. In all the elections I have contested, no one has ever asked me ‘what is your manifesto’? Manifestos are read only if dramatically written; otherwise, they go into the trash can. Voters are definitely not attracted to manifestos; other things matter now. The last time anyone was interested in a manifesto was in 1967-1968 — the PPP manifesto which still resonates [in the political sphere].
Herald. So you think that manifestos are simply a legacy of the past?
Amir. No, they can still matter and turn people’s head if written like, say, The Communist Manifesto. Now that was some writing.
Khalique. What will you hold the party accountable for if there is no manifesto? Nobody in Mr Ayaz’s constituency may have asked about his personal manifesto but he did run for a party and the party had one.
Amir. There is a perception about parties and that matters. Parties in Pakistan stopped being literate a long time ago.
Baruah. Manifestos are also important to differentiate one party from another. n
— To join future live discussions, log on to herald.dawn.com
Are party manifestos addressed to voters?
On March 7 the Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz launched its manifesto in which the focus lay on putting the economy back on track. A week later the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) launched their 75-page document which was based on the Bhutto legacy and the PPP’s image as the sole national party. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf is set to unveil its manifesto on March 23. But who are these manifestos addressed to?
On March 21, 2013, at 7 pm, the Herald has invited three experts to discuss whether party manifestos are aimed at attracting voters or if they are just designed for consumption by the civil society and the media?
Amit Baruah is the author of Dateline Islamabad. He has previously served as the head of BBC Hindi and has been the Pakistan correspondent The Hindu, an Indian newspaper.
Ayaz Amir is a leading Pakistani journalist, columnist and politician. He was a member of National Assembly of Pakistan from 2008-2013.
Harris Khalique is an independent columnist and intellectual who has a keen interest in social democratic politics. He is based in Islamabad.
There is a significant difference between forming a government and winning an election. What it entails to achieve these two objectives respectively ought not be confused. The goal behind forming the government is to achieve a two-thirds majority of seats in the National Assembly to have ease in passing legislation and, therefore, it involves finding like-minded political parties to form a coalition. To win in an election, political parties need to field strong candidates, who are likely to win, in as many constituencies as possible. If there is a dearth of strong candidates, political parties consider forming electoral alliances. Of course, politicians are mindful that a successful electoral alliance has the potential to form the basis of the governing coalition. But depending on electoral results, being part of a pre-election alliance may also mean becoming part of the opposition.
In both circumstances, political parties form linkages with their competitors based on the political advantages that are likely to be had from such linkages. Yet, electoral alliances and coalition-formation yield separate outcomes and the strategic incentives and calculations that structure the actions of political parties are different in each case. This article focuses on electoral alliances and provides historical background to help understand alliances taking shape before the 2013 general election.
Two types of electoral alliances have been observed in Pakistan’s electoral past. The first is a broad-based alliance in which the participating parties do not contest the election under separate party identities, but under one party symbol, name and manifesto. The most obvious example of such an alliance is the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), a nine-party alliance of right-wing parties formed with monetary aid from the Inter-Services Intelligence in 1988 to put up a comprehensive opposition to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). These parties included the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), Jamiat-e-Mashaikh, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Darkhwasti Group), Jamiat Ahle Hadith, an independent group led by Fakhr Imam, Nizam-e-Mustafa and Hizb-e-Jihad. These political parties were not ideologically aligned and were united only by their opposition to the PPP and the aim to drive that party out of power at all costs. An untenable fault line was IJI’s decision to forge an inter-constituency alliance with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in 1990 that threatened JI’s political strength in Karachi. In response to the grand IJI alliance, the PPP decided to contest the 1990 election under the Pakistan Democratic Alliance with Tehreek-e-Istiqlaal, Tehreek Nifaaz Fiqah-e-Jafria and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan. The PPP did not enter this alliance for significant electoral gain in the form of seats but to prevent itself from appearing isolated and without any political allies. More recently, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, an alliance of six religious political parties representing the great diversity of Islamic ideologies, was successful in realigning party vote shares so as to win 59 seats in the National Assembly, an unprecedented number for religious parties, especially the two dominant parties, JUI and JI.
In the second type of electoral alliances, each political party enters the polls on its own but makes seat adjustments (on a regional basis) with other parties. Within this type, parties can choose to form inter-constituency or intra-constituency alliances. In an inter-constituency alliance, political parties promise not to undercut the vote bank of another party in the alliance by fielding a weak candidate or no candidate in a particular constituency. For example, in 1993, the PPP formed an alliance with the Pakistan Muslim League–Junejo and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam–Fazl (JUIF). PPP conceded 25 National Assembly constituencies to PMLJ and JUIF and did not field any candidates in those constituencies. The rationale was that these were seats that the PPP would have lost anyway but by not fielding its candidates it wanted to strengthen its allies to give a tough time to the Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PMLN). During the same election, the PMLN countered the PPP’s moves by forming an alliance with the Awami National Party (ANP) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The ANP joining hands with PMLN also lent more credence to Nawaz Sharif being the strongest PML leader in the country and gave the ANP an edge over PPP candidates in many constituencies. Similarly in Sindh, the PMLN formed an alliance with like-minded Pakistan Muslim League–Functional (PMLF) and with disgruntled Sindhi nationalists to capture some of PPP’s vote share in interior Sindh.
In 1997, the PPP knew that as an incumbent it was bound to lose some part of its vote bank regardless of the strength of its candidates. It, therefore, formed quiet alliances with JUIF, PMLJ and the Pakistan Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awam Party (PkMAP). It chose to field fewer candidates to maintain a flexible hold on the constituencies it could actually win. In-fighting in both the ANP and the PMLN gave the PPP a chance to strengthen its vote bank in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and support its allies. The chance, however, could not materialise.
In 2002, the PPP formed an electoral alliance with the ANP in Peshawar, Mardan and Swat, the idea being to win the maximum number of seats from these areas to form a coalition government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. However, a PPP faction led by Aftab Ahmed Sherpao broke away and formed a counter-alliance with the MMA which hurt the PPP’s electoral fortunes.
In Punjab, the PPP resorted to independent seat adjustments at the provincial level to consolidate its position. On the other hand, Nawaz Sharif’s exile from Pakistan and Pervez Musharraf’s manipulation of the party system led to a faction of PMLN breaking away to form the Pakistan Muslim League–Quaid-e-Azam (PMLQ) which became the veritable ‘king’s party’. Due to shifting political loyalties and seat adjustments, the PMLN was reduced both in size and stature in those elections.
An intra-constituency seat-adjustment usually occurs between two parties. Party A agrees to field a weak provincial assembly candidate in return for party B filing a weak National Assembly candidate. These deals are brokered at an individual level between candidates themselves often without the sanction of the party leadership. For example, in the 2008 election, in NA-125 Lahore VIII, PPP’s Qasim Zia struck a deal with PMLQ’s Humayun Akhtar Khan whereby the latter agreed to field a weak provincial assembly candidate against Zia in exchange for a weak PPP candidate in the contest for the National Assembly seat.
This quick backgrounder on the nature of pre-election alliances over the past six elections in Pakistan elicits a number of observations:
First, incentives behind forming an electoral alliance vary depending on the size of the political party. Large political parties that claim national representation seek electoral alliances with smaller regional parties to improve chances of winning those seats where party identification is low. This was the impetus behind the PPP’s alliance with the PMLJ in Punjab, or the PMLN’s alliance with the ANP in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa during the 1990s. On the other hand, smaller political parties enter into electoral alliances to establish a more significant national profile and to benefit from a policy platform that goes beyond regional interests. Part of the calculation is that if the electoral alliance is in a position to form a government after the election, a smaller party with few returned candidates in the National Assembly will have access to state resources in the same way as bigger parties in the alliance.
Second, political parties which have a strong regional vote and are confident of returning a number of candidates large enough to have coalition potential are unlikely to enter into an electoral alliance. For example, the MQM, which is sure to win 15-20 seats from constituencies in Karachi and Hyderabad, is likely to use these seats as leverage in forming a governing coalition instead of limiting itself to forming an alliance at the pre-electoral stage. The ANP, in comparison to MQM, has never been able to leverage its dominance in the Pukhtun belt because of the unstable multiparty system in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and, therefore, almost always becomes part of some pre-election alliance or seat adjustment formula.
Third, factions that splinter from a main party under the leadership of political heavyweights are confident of winning seats not due to high levels of party identification but due to individual clout and local influence of the candidates themselves. These factions enter into alliances not to secure seats but also to eventually negotiate leverage in the governing coalition. These factional groups also act as spoilers for their parent party. For example, the alliance between the Pakistan Peoples Party Sherpao (PPP–Sherpao) and the MMA in 2002, hurt the PPP in the province although it did not result in the PPP–Sherpao becoming a part of the MMA’s provincial government.
To sum up, the main reason to form an electoral alliance is to maximise the number of seats won by a political party in an election. For large parties, such as the PPP and the PMLN, the ultimate objective is to form the government with a legislative majority. For a smaller, regional party it is to secure enough seats to establish ‘coalition potential’ (that is, the party must be needed to form a coalition government) and/or ‘blackmailing potential’ (that is, the party’s existence affects the tactics of competition among parties which do have coalition potential).
How does the preceding analysis help to explain the current pre-electoral scenario? The trends observed in Pakistan point to the formation of inter-constituency seat adjustments among political parties. It appears as though the era of broad-based alliances of political parties contesting under one electoral symbol is over. The only exception is the recently announced Muttahid Deeni Mahaz, a six-party alliance of religious parties including Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam-Samiul Haq, Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan Noorani, Pakistan Rah-e-Haq Party, Jamiat Ahle Hadith, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat and Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan. The other apparent departure is the merger of Pakistan Muslim League–Likeminded with PMLN but it is essentially a case of two factions of the same parent party merging.
In the light of the discussion above, it is interesting to tie the national strategies of the PPP, the PMLN and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to their politicking in each of the four provinces.
The PPP’s performance in Punjab has been on the decline since the 1970s and was its main weakness in the 2008 election. To ameliorate this situation, the ruling party has reached out to its coalition partner PMLQ to form an electoral alliance. This alliance suits the PMLQ since it is an underdog in Punjab, having lost a number of heavyweight candidates to the PMLN. The major problem with this alliance foreseen by analysts is the allocation of tickets among PPP and PMLQ candidates. The formula decided for now is that seats won by the PMLQ in the previous election will be contested by PMLQ candidates. That begs the question: what will happen to those seats which PMLQ won but then its returned candidates either joined its forward bloc to become a part of the Punjab government or later joined the PML–Likeminded or the PMLN? Furthermore, how will the leadership of the two parties decide seat allocation when in constituencies – such as NA-105 Gujrat – the members of both the PMLQ, in this case deputy prime minister Pervaiz Elahi, and the PPP, in this case water and power minister Ahmed Mukhtar, want to contest polls? Nonetheless, the two parties may find that the objective of this alliance, which is to curb the PMLN’s increasing popularity in Punjab, may be well worth all the ideological and political compromises.
The alliance between PML–Likeminded and the PMLN, formed last year, was a huge blow to the PMLQ. The significance of this merger was immense in that long-term rivals Hamid Nasir Chattha and Nawaz Sharif decided to bury the hatchet for the sake of ousting the PPP from power and regaining a stronger foothold in Punjab. This alliance is also likely to struggle with ticket distributions much like the alliance between the PMLQ and the PPP. But at this stage, given that the PMLN’s vote bank will be adversely impacted by the participation of PTI and JI in the election, the alliance with the Likeminded group is absolutely critical for the PMLN.
PTI would not like to appear isolated and is keen to seek out alliances in Punjab in spite of statements issued by its leaders that the party will go the distance alone. PTI no longer has an alliance with JI that was ironed out last year. JI has in fact clearly stated in the media that the “time for forming alliances is over” and that the party will contest the election independently although it is open to seat adjustments on a case to case basis. PTI views the PMLN as its main opponent and thus would like to adopt the strategy of depleting PMLN’s vote bank by allying with other right-wing parties. Most recently, PTI seemed to have been courting the Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) led by Dr Tahirul Qadri, and Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen, a conglomeration of Shia groups. At least with the former, PTI has found common cause over the reconstitution of the Election Commission of Pakistan.
In Sindh, the MQM intends to contest the elections independently even though the party has demonstrated that it can work smoothly with the PPP. This was also expected because the MQM is not likely to enter into an alliance with the PMLN, based on the history of troubled relations between the two. There are, however, moves to form a ‘grand alliance’ of 10 parties, led by PMLF, to dent PPP’s seat share in interior Sindh. This proposed grand alliance consists of PMLF, PMLN, JI, JUIF, National Peoples Party (NPP), Sunni Tehreek, Sindh United Party, Sindh Taraqqi Pasand Party, Awami Tehreek and JUP–Noorani. Within this alliance, the PMLN’s discussions with the Sunni Tehrik, a Barelvi party with a vote bank in rural Punjab, are most interesting. This is a significant effort by the PMLN to counter a potential PTI-PAT alliance through an ally of its own within the Barelvi sect.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the ANP is not considered a strong party by most analysts. Yet it is choosing to contest the election independently. PPP–Sherpao has renamed itself as the Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) and has reoriented itself as a Pakhtun nationalist outfit. Peshawar,Charsadda and Swabi will be sites of fierce competition between the ANP and QWP in the 2013 election. Furthermore, the province has experienced significant party-switching which means that political parties are heavily reliant on having strong candidates. In light of this, it will be interesting to see how the electoral strategies of the PPP, PMLN and PTI unfold in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The most intriguing development of the recent past was JUIF’s hurried exit from the PPP-led governing coalition in 2011. As the election approaches, JUIF may move closer to the PMLN in Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. If and when such a shift materialises, it will have the potential for realigning the vote in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
Finally, in Balochistan, the Balochistan National Party–Mengal and the National Party will find adequate justification for an alliance to contest the election. PMLN has made overtures to both these parties, indicating that if they require additional support, the PMLN would be game. The Balochistan National Party–Awami is likely to continue its relationship with PMLQ and PkMAP is likely to see benefit in allying with the ANP in the Pakhtun belt of Balochistan though no advances in this direction have been made as yet.
It is clear from the preceding overview that pre-electoral alliances in Pakistan are motivated purely by the need to undercut opponents and build on existing strengths to increase the likelihood of winning an election. Political parties seem to overlook ideological affinities when choosing allies which clearly indicate that election alliances are politically expedient arrangements, made with only short-term and parochial interests in mind. These conclusions strengthen the idea that political parties see themselves as aggregates of winning candidates, instead of proponents of well-defined policy agendas.
Dr Mariam Mufti teaches at the University of Oklahoma. A comparative political scientist by training, she works on regime change and political participation in hybrid regimes.