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How the electoral landscape in Pakistan is changing

Updated Jul 24, 2018 12:47pm
Illustration by Rahada Tajwer
Illustration by Rahada Tajwer

In most developed democracies, an important component of a pre-election analysis is to look at changes in victory and defeat margins for major political parties. The underlying assumption in this type of analysis is that there is stability within political parties, a certain level of consistency in their respective constituencies and a high degree of certainty in the larger political system. It also assumes that many voters maintain a fairly stable set of electoral preferences across different election cycles while many others remain undecided till the very end of an election campaign.

These undecided voters are usually swung one way or the other by the economic or social policies (taxation, investment in certain social services, job creation, etc) that different contenders for power promise to follow. In constituencies where victory (or defeat) margins between two contenders are narrow, this swing proves decisive in determining the outcome of elections.

Democracies in developing countries are generally much less stable, with many unpredictable factors playing crucial roles in determining the outcome of their elections. This is mainly due to instability in party structures, volatility in voter turnouts and a general uncertainty in economic, political and social spheres. Consider how the issues that determined voters’ behaviour before and during the 2008 elections in Pakistan (Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, suicide bombings, intensification of public anger against Pervez Musharraf, etc) changed entirely before the 2013 elections.

The issues that had a major impact on the last general poll included the almost sudden rise of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Nawaz Sharif’s return to electoral politics after 16 years, serious security threats and a large-scale resentment, particularly in Punjab, against the government of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) led by Asif Ali Zardari.

The sheer number of factors that may impact voters’ preferences and their willingness to come out to cast their votes for the 2018 elections renders the predictive power of a swing analysis uncertain. It is, therefore, important to look into some of these factors in order to carry out a meaningful analysis of victory or defeat margins and swing votes as a means to forecast the likely outcome of the upcoming elections.

First of these factors is demographic.

After the 2017 census, the Constitution required that electoral constituencies in all four provinces as well as in Islamabad and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) be revised to accommodate changes in the country’s population. Parliament, working under severe time constraints, decided to keep the total number of constituencies constant but allowed a revision in their numbers and boundaries both within and across regions and provinces.

As a result of the subsequent delimitation exercise, Pakistan’s entire electoral map changed. Karachi, for instance, gained one National Assembly seat but another district in Sindh, Kashmore, lost one; Islamabad, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa got one, two and four additional National Assembly seats respectively but Punjab’s seat count came down by seven.

Since the total number of constituencies has not increased, the number of people living in each of them has dramatically increased. The average population of a National Assembly constituency was roughly 316,000 in 2002 but it has increased to over 780,000 in 2018. This means that the money required by election candidates to reach out to their constituents will be much higher during this election than it was in the past. This increase alone has made it difficult for many less resourceful candidates and parties to be viable electoral competitors.

An even more important issue is how constituency boundaries have changed after their post-census delimitation. A rough estimate suggests that constituency areas have shifted by a minimum of 20 per cent and by a maximum of more than 50 per cent in a majority of the 272 National Assembly constituencies. Comparing constituency-level outcomes of the three elections that have taken place between 2002 and 2013 and projecting them onto the 2018 elections will, thus, be akin to comparing apples and oranges.

Alterations in constituency boundaries have also had an important effect on those contestants who have been running in the same constituencies for close to two decades now. The communities, biradaris (clans) and factions they have politically and financially invested in for long have ended up in other constituencies in many cases. As such, they now need to cultivate new groups and factions and that too on a much larger scale given the massive increase in the size of population per constituency. These changes further complicate forecasts about electoral fortunes of specific candidates or parties, especially when this has to be done with reference to what happened in previous elections.

The second factor is premised on a public perception of the prevailing political situation. Hawa – a colloquial term for the expected direction of political change – has always played a crucial role in election outcomes, particularly in Punjab and to a lesser degree in Sindh.

The cobbling together of Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam (PMLQ) in 2002 on the debris of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) or Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and Nawaz Sharif’s return from exile in 2007 or PPP’s tattered image in 2013 — all signalled to ‘electables’ as well as to the electorate as to who will form the next government in the centre and the provinces. The subsequent voting patterns, thus, became self-fulfilling prophecies.

In 2018, signals have been sent out loud and clear that PMLN will not be allowed to form the federal government and possibly also the provincial government in Punjab. This is likely to turn the tide in many a constituency in Punjab — a change that is already quite apparent in northern and southern parts of the province where a large number of ‘electables’ previously associated with PMLN have jumped ship either to join PTI’s ‘Naya’ Pakistan bandwagon or to contest as independents, using ‘jeep’ as their electoral symbol.

Whatever victory margins PMLN commanded in these areas in the last election may swing a long way to its opponents along with the candidates who have left the party and joined the opposite camp.

Whether this headwind blowing against PMLN sweeps central Punjab as well is conditional upon how successfully Nawaz Sharif can mobilise popular opinion on the slogan of vote ko izzat do (honour the democratic verdict). It is this region that will decide whether the hawa has been successfully resisted or not.

Although the political situation has become even more fluid than it already was after Nawaz Sharif’s – and his daughter Maryam Nawaz’s – conviction in a corruption reference and his subsequent defiant posture, it is obvious that victory margins and vote swings in central Punjab will be significant factors in determining the outcome of the upcoming election. It is also highly likely that electoral outcomes in this region end up deciding who will form the next federal and Punjab governments.

The third factor is statistical though it is directly linked to politics.

Any analysis of victory margins and possible swing in votes is highly contingent on how many people turn out to cast their ballots on polling day. In 2013, aggregate turnout in Pakistan crossed the 50 per cent mark for the first time since 1970. It was actually 55 per cent, a good 10 per cent higher than it was in 2008. A significant change in turnout, say of 10-20 per cent, can substantially alter margins of victory or defeat as the case may be.

PPP’s voter is said to have not turned out to vote in Punjab in 1997 so the party lost all seats in the province in that election regardless of how large – or small – the winning margin of its candidates was in the previous election. In 1993, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) boycotted the National Assembly election – national and provincial elections were held on different days back then – so the turnout in Karachi declined by a good 20 per cent.

If voter turnout increases significantly, it can similarly disturb past electoral patterns. In the upcoming elections, too, the number of people getting out to vote will have an important impact not only on election results but also on government formation later. Turnout in central districts of Punjab, in particular, will have an important bearing on the fortunes of PMLN. If the party’s resistance to the trials and tribulations of its leaders finds resonance among the electorate and the turnout hovers around 60 per cent in this area – just as it did in 2013 – this will help PMLN in countering the impact of the hawa that is working in PTI’s favour.

A 10-15 per cent reduction in turnout in central Punjab, on the other hand, will signify that the hawa has prevailed and the PMLN voter has stayed home after seeing the writing on the wall. In that case, PTI may win seats it had lost even by a wide margin.

As compared to the 2013 elections, voter turnout may change significantly in 2018 in at least three regions.

It is expected to go down in Karachi, considering that there will be no stuffing of ballot boxes that MQM would indulge in during past elections. With its ability to capture polling booths gone and its unified leadership structure fizzled out, the party is struggling to mobilise its supporters. This may also cause many of its genuine voters not to turn up to vote. Both MQM’s margins of victory and the seats it has been winning will be affected negatively.

Another region where the turnout is expected to change significantly is Fata. People in the tribal areas are expected to cast their votes in significantly larger numbers than before because of a substantial improvement in law and order and the full participation of political parties in electioneering. A higher turnout, in turn, will change the pattern of election outcomes in Fata, helping a larger number of candidates contesting on party tickets to get elected.

Another factor that will increase voter turnout in the tribal areas is the legal requirement that election in any constituency will only be valid if at least 10 per cent women voters have cast their votes in it. Earlier, women participation in voting in Fata used to be minimal. Their participation even this time round, however, may not alter results on its own because women in these area usually vote the same way men from their families do.

The fourth factor concerns ‘electables’ who are all the rage these days — as is their likely impact on elections.

The term ‘electable’ essentially refers to those individuals who exert control or have influence over a large number of biradaris, communities and political factions within their constituencies. It goes without saying that they have sufficient financial resources to fund their election campaign and, perhaps more importantly, run an efficient network for patronage distribution locally. It is, thus, money and influence and not necessarily the “science of elections” as Imran Khan would have us believe that defines the phenomenon of ‘electables’. They tend to change party affiliations almost every election cycle after assessing whether a party will come to power or not.

The influence of ‘electables’ is the most salient in Punjab where their current crop belongs to two main categories. Many of them who have abandoned the perceptibly sinking ship of PMLN are fair-weather hunters. They had earlier abandoned PMLN in 2002 to join PMLQ but after 2008 they ditched PMLQ to re-enter PMLN. Now they are nesting in PTI. Many others are erstwhile PPP bigwigs who have joined PTI simply because their former party’s political brand has collapsed in Punjab.

Within Punjab, ‘electables’ have the highest presence in southern parts of the province where their electoral impact has the potential to obliterate PMLN, at least in the upcoming election. In central Punjab, ‘electables’ will have a significant impact mostly in rural areas. In this region’s urban areas, their impact will depend on the extent to which Nawaz Sharif’s call for resistance resonates among the electorate. In either case, we should expect wild swings in electoral outcomes.

Balochistan is another region where the phenomenon of ‘electables’ changing parties in the run-up to an election is quite pervasive. A large number of them – including former ministers in the last provincial and federal governments – have recently joined a newly formed political entity, Balochistan Awami Party (BAP). In Balochistan’s chaotic and fragmented political landscape, they are expected to dominate electoral outcomes at the expense of other mainstream and federal parties.

The last important factor is the competitiveness of political parties and candidates at the provincial level. Its level can be directly gauged from margins of victory and defeat in the National Assembly constituencies in a province: higher margins mean low competitiveness and lower margins signal high competitiveness. By this measure, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan turn out to be the most competitive provinces in the country on the basis of the 2013 election results.

Victory (or defeat) margin on more than 40 per cent of the National Assembly seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was 10 per cent or less. This means that ‘electables’ did not matter on these seats as much as they do elsewhere. The competitiveness level in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is so high indeed that only a few National Assembly candidates in the province have been able to hold on to their seats for two consecutive elections since 2002.

Also, on most seats in the province, there were more than two parties – or candidates – that polled more than 10 per cent of the votes in 2013.

The vote share of different parties is also quite dispersed in the province rather than being concentrated in a single region. Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUIF) polls votes in Mardan and Charsadda just as it does in Dera Ismail Khan and Bannu. Similarly, both Awami National Party and PPP have been receiving votes in many parts of the province — Peshawar district, Malakand division and Dera Ismail Khan. Same is the case with PTI. It polled sizeable number of votes in all the regions of the province in 2013 — even in areas where it candidates lost the election.

Elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa may become even more competitive if, as is being expected, turnout increases as compared to what it was in 2013.

Higher competitiveness in Balochistan could be a result of severe curbs on free and fair participation in elections in the province since the 2006 insurgency. Voter turnout has been low for the last two elections and results have been often contrived to keep Baloch nationalist parties out of power.

The most surprising reduction in competitiveness has happened in Punjab after both victory margins and the rate of retention of seats rose dramatically in the province in 2013. This perhaps has to do with PMLN’s landslide victory in the last election and the concomitant collapse of PPP vote. One should expect competitiveness to increase this time round, particularly in northern and central Punjab.

In southern Punjab, electoral competitiveness could be lower in 2018 than it was in 2013, especially if PMLN’s support collapses in this region due to the party’s unwillingness to back local calls for a separate province and a comprehensive victory for ‘electables’ who have changed sides from PMLN to PTI. The only likely factor that can keep the competitiveness level high in southern Punjab is a revival of PPP’s historical vote share in the region.

In contrast to Punjab, Sindh became marginally more competitive between 2008 and 2013. The question is whether the province will become more, or less, competitive in 2018.

The recently cobbled together Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), comprising pro-establishment parties, powerful ‘electables’ and Sindhi nationalist groups, is expecting that electoral competitiveness continues to improve in Sindh. To ensure that, the alliance has entered into multiple seat adjustment deals with other parties and candidates — as is the case in Thar and Umerkot districts where GDA and PTI are cooperating with each other or in Ghotki and Badin districts where the candidates opposing PPP have the backing of almost all the major parties and alliances in the province. As the evidence suggests, a similar union in 2013, the Sindh Democratic Alliance, did manage to increase competition on some seats though victory margins on most others were big enough for PPP to sail through without much of a hiccup.

Given that Punjab-centric mainstream parties – PMLN and PTI – have not taken any interest in institutionalising themselves in this province, and hence giving an electoral blank cheque to PPP, not much is expected to change. Even if hidden hands wish to upset the political applecart, victory margins are generally so high in rural Sindh in PPP’s favour that any behind-the-scenes manoeuvring is unlikely to make a major difference.

Urban Sindh, however, is altogether a different country in 2018 when it is compared to 2013. With MQM having fragmented in at least two parts (MQM-Pakistan and Pak Sarzameen Party) and with continued internal differences hampering it from functioning smoothly, electoral space in Karachi and Hyderabad has opened up for the first time after 1988. Who will benefit the most from this window of opportunity is perhaps the biggest blind spot of the 2018 elections.

The problem has been compounded by some very peculiar constituency delimitations done in Karachi. Boundaries of the constituencies have been altered in such a way that some of them barely have geographical contiguity. Delimitation of certain other constituencies in the city looks like a painstaking exercise in creating ethnic homogeneity within them.

Regardless of such purported gerrymandering, keen and competitive elections in most, if not all, constituencies in urban Sindh are expected. Since Karachi and Hyderabad have around 40 per cent of the province’s National Assembly seats, an increase in competitiveness in these cities will also increase the aggregate level of competitiveness in the whole province.

Rickshaws carry flags representing Pakistan Peoples Party in Karachi | Momina Manzoor Khan
Rickshaws carry flags representing Pakistan Peoples Party in Karachi | Momina Manzoor Khan

For the purpose of this analysis, those constituencies have been considered to be competitive where the winner’s victory margin over the runner-up was 10 per cent (or less) of the total votes polled in 2013. To overcome the problems posed by recent delimitations, competitiveness data has been collated district-wise rather than constituency-wise. A district has been deemed competitive if more than 50 per cent constituencies in it have been won or lost by a margin of 10 per cent (or less). Here is how these numbers may help us explore trends for the 2018 elections:

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

In 2013, nine out of the 23 districts in this province were competitive. One of them, Charsadda, is home to the leadership of ANP and Qaumi Watan Party (QWP). It saw its traditional representatives losing ground to others in the last election: JUIF secured one local seat and came second on the other. This election will be a test for both ANP chief Asfandyar Wali and QWP head Aftab Sherpao. The question staring them in the face is whether they will be able to salvage themselves electorally in their home base in the face of stiff competition from MMA and PTI.

Mardan, similarly, was a stronghold of ANP and PPP but they were virtually drowned by a PTI tsunami in 2013. ANP’s Amir Haider Hoti, who was chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa between 2008 and 2013, could win his seat by a margin of less than two per cent of polled votes. Two other seats in the district were won by PTI. Will the older parties make a comeback in Mardan? Signs are that all – except one – contests in the district are going to be between ANP and MMA rather than between ANP and other parties.

Hangu, the most electorally competitive district in the country, has never chosen the same candidate for two consecutive National Assembly elections. PTI is hoping that it can buck the trend in the district — as well as in the whole of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It won Hangu’s lone National Assembly seat in 2013 by a narrow margin and is not quite comfortably placed to win it in the upcoming election.

Battagram and Haripur – two of the eight districts in Hazara division – also figure high on the competitiveness index. They have been PMLN (or, generally, Muslim League) strongholds but PTI and JUIF won local constituencies in 2013 though by the thinnest of margins. The incumbents look set to win again. If they do, their achievement will prove that some parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are not as keen on throwing out the incumbents as they have been in the past — something that PTI’s leaders have been claiming for quite some time now.

In the northern, mountainous regions of the province, Chitral, Buner, Shangla and Lower Dir are also competitive districts. In Buner and Lower Dir, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) won seats with very narrow margins. With JUIF vote added to that of JI under their collective MMA banner, these seats will be under close scrutiny. They will determine how much electoral life is still left in JI which, otherwise, is fading out across Pakistan.

Punjab

Since electoral and political dynamics are different in different geographical areas in Punjab, it is best to assess its competitiveness by dividing it into northern, central and southern regions. Three out of four northern Punjab districts were competitive and this is where a major political change in expected once again. Rawalpindi is the biggest district in this region and one where a number of political luminaries contest elections. In 2013, four of the seven constituencies here saw the star-studded cast of Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Imran Khan and Shaikh Rasheed Ahmad all struggling to win their seats. In this election, PTI may carry the district thanks to the hawa and local ‘electables’ who have joined the party in droves. An aggressive Pakistan Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan eating into PMLN votes in almost all the constituencies in Rawalpindi will also end up benefitting PTI.

PMLN won the districts of Chakwal and Attock by very narrow margins in 2013 — as it did in Rawalpindi. These districts are expected to go to PTI this time round — and for the same reasons that exist in Rawalpindi.

Then there is an additional reason too.

A large part of the army recruitment is traditionally done from Chakwal and Attock. It is, therefore, unlikely that Nawaz Sharif’s politics of resistance against the army-dominated establishment will find much resonance here.

PMLN’s dominance in 16 districts of central Punjab, however, was so absolute in 2013 that only four of them – Jhang, Hafizabad, Gujrat and Mandi Bahauddin – were competitive. If the party can maintain its electoral domination of the non-competitive districts, it may still be in a position to at least lay a legitimate claim to form its government in Punjab and have a shot at coming back into power at the federal level as well.

Conversely, the same region is critical for PTI. The results of 80-odd National Assembly seats in central Punjab will decide if the party will be able to form governments in Islamabad and Lahore and whether this will be achieved with or without help from other parties.

What works in PMLN’s favour is that its resistance narrative is resonating strongly in this region. What goes against the party is that many of its star candidates have already joined PTI in many places. And, as in northern Punjab, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan has the ability to get a few thousand votes in almost every constituency in central Punjab, hurting thereby the electoral prospects of PMLN.

Some other signs are also emerging in districts such as Jhang and Gujrat that suggest that PMLN is in trouble in some parts of central Punjab. Local ‘electables’ have either joined PTI or have opted to contest elections as independents in the former district; and PTI has made a seat adjustment deal with PMLQ in the latter. In both places, PMLN’s presence has been shrinking of late.

These developments suggest that the momentum is not on PMLN’s side even in central Punjab and may remain so unless Nawaz Sharif’s legal troubles and defiance mobilise his supporters in this region to a degree not observed before. The so-called hawa being contrived in PTI’s favour may, additionally, help the party win not just competitive seats but also secure many other previously non-competitive ones through ‘electables’.

One important reason to temper this assessment is that PTI may have overplayed the ‘electables’ card. Its award of election tickets to people of all political hues and colours to ensure victory has caused widespread and intense resentment among its own associates and supporters. Many who have failed to secure a PTI ticket are now either contesting elections as independents or they have decided to support the party’s opponents. In tight races in Punjab’s heartland, the votes secured by some of these spoilers will be the difference between PTI winning an outright majority and forming governments on its own in Islamabad and possibly Lahore and it having to depend on other parties and independents to get into power.

In southern Punjab, PMLN won big in 2013 though only after a keen contest with both PPP and PTI and that is why nine out of 13 districts in the region were competitive in the last election. While PMLN secured close to two thirds of the seats in these districts, a fair number of independents went past the post first because of a large presence of ‘electables’ in the region. Most of them were big land owners. Others were custodians of some famous shrines. Some were both.

Four factors suggest that PMLN will not be able to win most of the seats that it won in this region in the last election. Firstly, the defection of local ‘electables’ to PTI has been almost total. Secondly, some ‘electables’ who have not joined PTI are contesting as independents with ‘jeep’ as their election symbol. Seven of them, in fact, had returned their PMLN nominations to run independently only a day before the election authorities finalised the candidate lists, leaving the party high and dry since it could no longer field alternative candidates.

Thirdly, PMLN is not taking a clear position on creating a separate province in southern Punjab which may lose the party a sizeable chunk of Seraiki-speaking voters throughout the region. Lastly, even though PPP lost the 2013 elections in southern Punjab, as it did elsewhere in the province, its vote share in these 13 districts was higher than in other districts in the province. If the party increases its vote bank in the region that will also put a dent into PMLN’s vote share.

The combined effect of all these factors is likely to take away many seats from PMLN in southern Punjab, with PTI benefitting the most from this change.

Competitive districts marked
Competitive districts marked

Sindh

As observed earlier, Sindh has traditionally been the least competitive province. PPP and MQM have accounted for around 80 per cent of the vote share in the province in most elections and have usually won with large margins in their respective strongholds. Interestingly, all the competitive districts in the province in 2013 happen to fall in the rural parts of the province which suggests that various challengers confronting PPP have secured some solid ground for themselves in certain areas. This competitiveness will cost the party between three to seven National Assembly seats out of the 38 that lie outside Karachi and Hyderabad.

One of these seats is spread over the desert region of Khairpur district and the other is in the neighbouring district of Sanghar — both strongholds of Pir Pagara’s Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PMLF). A third seat in Naushahro Feroze district has been traditionally held by the family of former prime minister Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi.

PPP may also lose in Ghotki due to defection by the chieftains of the local Mahar tribe who have joined hands with GDA and other anti-PPP players. Similarly, in Badin district, former PPP leader Zulfiqar Mirza and his wife Dr Fehmida Mirza are challenging the party with help from all its traditional opponents. Apart from a family vote bank that the Mirzas have cultivated over the years, some ‘extraneous’ influences may also be working in their favour.

On at least three other seats, PPP is facing tough challenges. Two of them – one in Jacobabad and the other in Thar – were actually won by the party in 2013 by very narrow margins.

In Karachi, however, PPP may outperform itself compared to 2013. It won only one National Assembly seat from the city last election but for the upcoming elections it is in the lead in at least three out of 21 local seats.

As pointed out earlier, the level of competitiveness in Karachi is expected to increase significantly as compared to the past due to constituency delimitations and MQM’s troubles. This is best illustrated by the fact that heads of three major parties – PMLN, PTI, PPP – are contesting elections from the city. No one can recall if that has happened before.

The new delimitations have created a number of ethnically homogenous constituencies thus incentivising further what is already a norm in Karachi: voting along ethnic lines. This may benefit PPP, which tends to get Sindhi and Baloch votes in the city, in at least one constituency in district West. PTI and MMA could, similarly, be the beneficiaries of the consolidation of Pakhtun votes in the same district.

With its Bahadurabad and PIB factions having finally come together after a lot of bad blood, MQM is expected to win votes from Urdu-speaking communities – as it has always done – in Central, East and Korangi districts. Its share in seats, though, may decline significantly from 17 out of 20 in 2013 to somewhere between 10 and 12 out of 21 (since the city has got an additional seat in new delimitations).

Balochistan

The province is divided into three distinct regions with their own unique political dynamics. The northern parts are predominantly Pakhtun, with Quetta city being the only mixed population area. Then there is the old Kalat state area which is inhabited by the Baloch and is also the hub of Baloch nationalist politics. The third distinct region comprises areas bordering Sindh and Punjab – Lasbela, Jaffarabad and Nasirabad, Dera Bugti – which have been traditionally pro-Pakistan and relatively stable in political terms (except, of course, Dera Bugti which has experienced a lot of violence as well as military operations since the 2006 assassination of Nawab Akbar Bugti).

Nine out of the 14 National Assembly seats in Balochistan were competitive in 2013 — five of them being in Baloch areas. Much has changed since then though.

The Senate elections last year unleashed a flurry of events that have culminated in the elimination of PMLN from the electoral scene of the province. Concomitant to this has been the emergence of a pro-establishment entity, Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), which mainly comprises of former provincial heavyweights of PMLN and members of the pro-Islamabad political elite. Their coming together suggests that electoral outcomes in the Baloch-dominated National Assembly constituencies will be decided as much in polling booths as in back-room pacts and deals.

BAP is trying to make its electoral debut in areas traditionally dominated by Baloch nationalist parties — Akhtar Mengal’s Balochistan National Party (BNP)and Hasil Bizenjo’s National Party (NP). The latter is facing two major problems: criticism by voters over its failure to deliver on its development promises as well as its inability to address human rights abuses – such as the missing persons phenomenon – that arise out of separatist violence and military operations to counter that violence. NP is also considered close to PMLN, another reason why it may not do well in the polls.

As far as Akhtar Mengal and his BNP are concerned, it is not yet clear whether their relationship with the establishment is of cooperation or of hostility. He may get some electoral traction because of the multisided electoral deals he has made — with PPP in southeastern Balochistan, with MMA in central parts of the province and with BAP elsewhere.

The region comprising Lasbela, Nasirabad and Jaffarabad districts is the least electorally competitive area in the province. It is dominated by Pakistani nationalist politicians such as the Jams of Lasbela, Bhootanis, Jamalis and Khosos. Electoral competitions on seats in these districts are usually intra-tribe or inter-tribe affairs. In Jaffarabad, for instance, an interesting contest will take place between two Jamalis: a PTI candidate backed by former prime minister Zafarullah Jamali is pitched against Changez Jamali, a PPP leader whose father Taj Jamali was once chief minister of Balochistan.

In Pakhtun areas, the four seats that were competitive are mostly contested in each election by the representatives of JUIF and Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP). The two parties also dominated the 2013 electoral contests for those seats — as winners and runners-up on most of them. PKMAP, that has been firmly pro-Nawaz Sharif for more than a decade now, may be at a disadvantage for the upcoming election for the same reasons that are hurting PMLN nationally. The likely beneficiary of this will be MMA (of which JUIF is a major component). PTI, and to a lesser extent PPP, may also gain foothold in some of these constituencies.


The writer is a senior research associate at the Collective for Social Science Research.

Data coordination: Namrah Zafar Moti

Data compilation: Amal Hashim, Saad Sohail, Maisam Hyder Ali, Sarah Dara, Umair Javed and Kabeer Dawani


This article was originally published in the July 2018 issue of the Herald. To read more, subscribe to the Herald in print.