Pakistan - Politics
The conservative party of former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif took a commanding lead as votes continued to be tallied for crucial parliamentary elections marred by Taliban intimidation. State television estimates showed Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League having easily secured enough seats to form a government and close to the majority needed to rule outright. Former cricket player Imran Khan's Tehrik-i-Insaf, or PTI, holds second place overall and will likely control the important provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, along the Afghan border. The incumbent Pakistan People's Party, led by the family of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, trailed in third place as voters cast ballots to fill 272 seats in the National Assembly. Officials estimated the turnout in Saturday's poll at a robust 60 percent, despite pre-poll violence and attacks that killed at least 24 people on election day itself, including at least 10 at a campaign office for the Awami National Party, one of the groups targeted by the Taliban.
Figures released by Pakistan's election commission 14 May 2013 showed that Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League - N would likely get a majority in the national assembly, setting him up to be prime minister for the third time. The commission said Sharif's party won 123 of the 272 directly elected seats. Sharif's victory meant that his party will likely only need the support of independents to secure an overall majority in the legislature. The outgoing Pakistan People's Party won 31 seats. Cricket star Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party moved into third place with 26 seats.
The 11 May 2013 parliamentary election is the first time in Pakistan's history an elected government has completed its full term, and a democratic transition is set to take place after the May vote. Until now, democratically-elected governments in Pakistan have not served their full terms because they were either dislodged by military coups or dismissed by pro-army presidents on charges of misrule or corruption. The elections will also decide on four provincial administrations. Despite attempts by Imran Khan's PTI and firebrand Canadian-Pakistani cleric Tahir-ul Qadri to challenge the existing political order, the ruling PPP and the opposition Pakistan Muslim League are expected to remain the main political forces in parliament.
Candidates contested 272 of the 342 seats in the National Assembly (the lower house of the national parliament) with the remaining seats reserved for religious minorities and women. The polls also filled 728 seats in the legislatures of Pakistan’s four provinces: Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Balochistan. under Pakistan's first-past-the-post electoral system, elected lawmakers elect the country's prime minister and four provincial chief ministers by majority vote, and the winners are then free to form their administrations. Recent consitutional changes rendered the office of President largely ceremonial, leaving the reigns of power in the hands of the Prime Minister.
Pakistan has some 85 million registered voters out of a population of roughly 190 million. Of those voters, some 10-15 million are living in violent areas, home to militants, nationalists and armed political groups. There are 35 million new voters on the rolls, most of them between the ages of 18 and 25. The governing Pakistan People's Party, or PPP, ruled through a political coalition of several parties. But there was a growing awareness among the opposition political leadership that if it could get enough young voters, it could tip the balance of power in its favor. Parties like the PTI, a relevant newcomer to the political scene led by former cricketer Imran Khan, and the opposition Muslim League led by Nawaz Sharif reached out to the younger demographic. But Pakistan youth hardly go contrary to their parents.
An unreleased opinion poll conducted by the Washington-based International Republican Institute in January 2013 was reported to put the Pakistan Peoples Party, co-chaired by President Asif Ali Zardari, in third place, with 14 percent of the vote, based on its dismal performance over the previous five years. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's conservative Pakistan Muslim League-N was in the lead, with 32 percent of the vote. He was followed by the Tehreek-e Insaaf (Justice Party), led by former cricket star Imran Khan, with 18 percent. This party was a wild card in the elections, after the dramatic rise in its popularity over the previous two years. Despite media hype around the return of Pervez Musharraf, he was seen as a marginal political player with only a small following. Islamist and ethno-nationalist political parties, such as the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Jamiat Ulam-e Islam, and the Awami National Party were expected to emerge as important blocs in parliament and in the provincial governments.
These standings may not be stable, and may not translate into results at the polls. According to a September 2012 survey by the International Republican Institute, Khan’s PTI party had plummeted in popularity, while that of one of his rivals, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, had gone up. Sharif and the PML-N party was seen as the main challenger to the ruling PPP party of President Asif Ali Zardari. But many analysts said neither of the two major political parties have enough support to win an outright majority in parliament in the 2013 elections. That could put Imran Khan in the position of political kingmaker in any future coalition government -- a government that will need the political strength to enact reforms.
The ruling PPP party could benefit from the emergence Imran Khan’s political party as a third major force on national scene in recent years. Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf gained popularity because of its harsh criticism of former Prime Minister Nawaz Shairf’s PML-N party, which ruled the country’s most populous province of Punjab and was the main opposition party in the national parliament. The rivalry could deprive Sharif’s party of crucial votes, largely to the benefit of the current ruling party PPP headed by [figurehead] President Asif Ali Zardari.
Mir Hazar Khan Khoso was appointed as a caretaker prime minister on 24 March 2013 to lead the government until May 11, when national elections are to be held. Pakistan’s Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin Ibrahim made the long-awaited announcement. Political parties welcomed the appointment of 84-year old Khoso as the caretaker prime minister, a former chief justice of the violence-hit Baluchistan province.
Pakistan’s former military president Pervez Musharraf returned home 24 March 2013 after four years of self-imposed exile. Musharraf intended to revive his political career and run for parliament in the upcoming elections. His party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, has confirmed that Musharraf will be at the helm as campaigning for the May 11 polls began. The party has little grassroots support and it currently is not represented in provincial or national assemblies. Adding to the party's woes is that many of its top politicians have left, as have many of Musharraf's former supporters. The party's efforts to align itself with established parties have so far failed.
Pakistan's Supreme Court ordered former President Pervez Musharraf to appear in court on April 9 in connection with treason charges. The April 8 order was in response to legal petitions accusing Musharraf of treason for suspending the constitution and dismissing senior judges, including the Supreme Court's chief justice, while in office in 2007. Musharraf faces a number of criminal charges, with the most serious -- treason -- relating to his role in the 1999 military coup that brought him to power. Another alleges that he failed to provide adequate security for political rival and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007. Another links him to the 2006 assassination of Baluch nationalist leader Akbar Bugti.
Musharraf applied to contest the May 11 polls from four Pakistani districts because a candidate is legally allowed to run for multiple seats simultaneously. Election officials in three of the constituencies rejected his nomination papers for suspending the country’s constitution and sacking top judges of the Supreme Court. Chitral, however, cleared him to participate in the upcoming elections. On 16 April 2013, that decision also was overturned by a higher court. Musharraf’s bid to make a political comeback is not over because he can appeal the decision to the country’s Supreme Court.
Musharraf was arrested 19 April 2013 in connection with his unconstitutional dismissal of top judges while he was president. After appearing before a judge, who swiftly placed him under arrest and ordered him to appear before an anti-terrorism court in two day's time, Musharraf was allowed to return to his house before being taken to Islamabad police headquarters. But on 21 April 2013 Pakistan's caretaker government refused to try former president and top general Pervez Musharraf for treason. According to the caretaker administration, such a move is simply beyond its temporary mandate. On April 30, 2013, a court banned Pervez Musharraf from seeking public office, in the latest blow to the former president and army chief since he returned from exile with plans for a political comeback.
Pakistan's political system is broken: its political parties are ineffective, functioning for decades as instruments of two families, the Bhuttos and the Sharifs, two clans, both corrupt. The Bhutto-Zardari axis may be considered "left leaning," while the Sharif brothers may be considered "right leaning." The Sharifs are much closer to Pakistan's military, and to Pakistan's Muslim fundamentalists. Punjabi, the Sharifs represent Pakistan's major ethnic bloc, and the devout Sunni Sharif has an advantage over the Bhuttos, who have Shiite ties.
Pakistan held successful elections in February 2008 and has a coalition government. Voting in Pakistan is intensely personal, with parties gathering votes primarily through allegiance to an individual candidate who is either a feudal or has a proven ability to deliver services. Pakistan is a developing country with some modern facilities in major cities but limited in outlying areas. The infrastructure of areas of Pakistan-administered Kashmir and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) regions were devastated by an October 8, 2005, earthquake and have not yet been fully rebuilt. Massive flooding in 2010 destroyed infrastructure throughout the Indus River valley.
Pakistan continues to face extraordinary challenges on the security and law enforcement front. The country has suffered greater military, law enforcement, and civilian casualties in fighting extremism and terrorism than almost any other country. In the midst of this difficult security situation, Pakistan's civilian government remains weak, ineffectual, and corrupt.
Yousuf Raza Gilani was appointed Prime Minister on 22 March and sworn in on 25 March 2008. On 29 March 2008 Gillani received a unanimous vote of confidence from the Parliament; this gave the new government six months to move forward and tackle significant economic and terrorism challenges. Gillani then outlined the coalition government's "First 100 Days" plan. After weeks of difficult negotiations, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and its coalition partners came to an agreement on the first tranche of cabinet ministers.
On September 6, 2008, Asif Ali Zardari, widower of assassinated Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Benazir Bhutto, was elected president and head of state. Domestic politics was initially dominated by uncertainty about the fate of President Zardari. He enjoyed approval ratings in the 20 percent range and repeatedly clashed with key power centers, including the military, politically ambitious Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif.
Pakistan's long term stability depends more and more upon the government's willingness to confront difficult economic policy choices it has long sought to avoid. Pakistan must begin to address a breadth of economic challenges that would overwhelm many emerging economies: overhauling the tax infrastructure, eliminating over $4 billion in circular debt in its energy sector, altering revenue sharing agreements among the provinces and the Federal Government, reversing a contraction in consumer credit and expanding financial access, removing price controls in commodity markets, preventing a crisis in water distribution, and breaking Pakistan's dependence on external financial support.
A number of extremist groups within Pakistan continue to target U.S. citizens and other Western interests and Pakistani officials. Terrorists have demonstrated a willingness and capability to attack targets where U.S. citizens are known to congregate or visit. Terrorist actions may include, but are not limited to, suicide operations, bombings -- including vehicle-borne explosives and improvised explosive devices -- assassinations, carjackings, assaults, and kidnappings. Pakistani military forces are currently engaged in a campaign against extremist elements across many areas of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province, formerly known as Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). In response to this campaign, militants have increased attacks against both civilian and government targets in Pakistan’s cities and in late 2010 launched several coordinated attacks against Pakistani government and civilian targets, especially in Bajaur and Mohmand Agencies.
Over 2500 civilians and 670 law enforcement personnel died in terrorist-related incidents in 2011, and the presence of al-Qa’ida, Taliban, and indigenous militant sectarian groups continues to pose potential danger to foreigners throughout Pakistan. Terrorists targeted civilians in attacks on markets, clubs and restaurants, places of worship, schools, and outdoor recreation events in Pakistan. In addition, the summer and early fall of 2011 saw outbreaks of serious political violence in Karachi, with estimates of death tolls there in the hundreds. Embassies of most western countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand Embassies issued travel advisories recommending against non-essential travel to Pakistan. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. Rallies, demonstrations, and processions occur regularly throughout Pakistan on very short notice and have often taken on an anti-American or anti-Western character.
A judgment the Supreme Court delivered in late 2009 struck down a controversial amnesty that former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and her family had received in late 2007 and would allow a $60-million Swiss graft case against Bhutto’s widower, President Asif Ali Zardari to be reopened. However, the Pakistan government has refused to ask Switzerland to reopen the case, arguing that the president enjoys immunity from prosecution in and outside Pakistan while in office.
On April 19, 2010 president Asif Ali Zardari signed into law the 18th Amendment to the Pakistani Constitution. The amendment realigned executive powers by restoring the prime minister as the premier civilian official and returning the presidency to its original, more ceremonial role, largely eliminates the 17th amendment constitutional changes made by former President Musharraf to strengthen the presidency. Zardari thus gave up key presidential powers. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had less interest in trying to force Zardari out once his presidential powers were reduced to that of a figurehead president, while Zardari would in any event remain a powerful political figure by virtue of his role co-chairing the PPP.
The reform package also reorganized center-province relations, empowering provincial assemblies to elect their own chief ministers. The constitutional reform package helped Zardari shrink the moral high ground Nawaz Sharif had gained on the 17th amendment issue, while also keeping the smaller nationalist parties that favor provincial autonomy, including ANP and MQM, on the PPP's side.
By late 2011 tension was growing between the government and the military over a probe into the government's role in a scandal centered on a memo that sought U.S. help in curbing the army's power. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s office said on 25 January 2012 that he was "dispelling" comments this month that accused top military officials of subverting government channels in supporting a court investigation of the scandal. Gilani said the country "cannot work in an atmosphere of confrontation" among institutions. The remarks followed talks with army chief of staff General Ashfaq Kayani and intelligence chief Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha.
Pakistan’s beleaguered prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, made a rare appearance before the country's supreme court 19 January 2012, amid increased tensions between his government and the country’s fiercely independent judiciary. Gilani appeared before the supreme court in a bid to avoid being held in contempt for his failure to pursue corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. Gilani told the court his government was unable to initiate legal proceedings against the president because he has immunity while in office.
By mid-2012 Zardari’s government was reeling from a combination of rolling power blackouts, rising unemployment, militant attacks and a tense relationship with the United States. There was a situation of crisis and feeling of uncertainty, and in this kind of situation government officials do not really take very bold steps because they don’t know who would be there ruling the country next week. And the whole thing goes in favor of those who challenge the state authority, who are criminals, who are creating problems because they get relatively free hand.
Pakistan's Supreme Court triggered a political crisis when it confirmed a ruling 19 June 20122 that Yousuf Raza Gilani was ineligible for office. The court had previously found him guilty of contempt for refusing a judicial order to ask Switzerland to investigate claims of corruption against President Asif Ali Zardari. The Supreme Court's action marked the first time a Pakistani prime minister was removed by the judiciary. Members of the opposition and others who support the court welcomed the ruling, which they see as a gesture against corrupt and ineffective government. The country's leading opposition PTI party declared the court's decision to disqualify Prime Minster Yousuf Raza Gilani from office a victory for justice Others felt the court overstepped its boundaries.
The Pakistan People's Party, which held a majority in parliament with its coalition partners, nominated the textiles minister, Makhdoom Shahabuddin, for the prime minister's post. But a Pakistani judge issued a non-bailable arrest warrant 21 June 2012 for Shahabuddin in connection with a scandal involving illegal imports of the drug ephedrine during his time as health minister.
On 22 June 2012 Pakistani lawmakers elected a new prime minister to replace ousted Yousuf Raza Gilani, in a bid to end the country's political crisis. Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of former water and power minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, who had been hit with corruption allegations and was partly blamed for the country's electricity crisis. Ashraf won 211 votes in the 342-member national assembly. He is a member of the ruling Pakistan People's Party, which holds a majority in parliament with its coalition partners. Sardar Mehtab Abbasi of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League - N received 89 votes. Since Prime Minister Ashraf seemed likely to face the same pressure to investigate President Zardari, a number of analysts are doubtful that the switch at top levels of the government will end the country's political standoff.
Born on December 26, 1950 in Sanghar, Sindh, Raja Pervez Ashraf was the Federal Minister for Information Technology and earlier Minister for Water and Power in the present PPP-led government. Raja Pervez Ashraf has remained Chairman of Social Action from 1994-1996. He has been twice elected as a Member of the National Assembly from his constituency of Gujar Khan, Rawalpindi with the latest being of February 2008 elections. Before taking oath of the Prime Minister of Pakistan he was Secretary General of the PPPP. He is the graduate from University of Sindh (1970). He is a businessman. Married with two sons and two daughters, he has traveled to Saudi Arabia, U.K, France, Germany, Holland, Ireland, U.A.E, China, Belgium and North Korea.
On 08 August 2012 Pakistan's Supreme Court ordered Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf to appear before it to explain why he has not taken action to reopen corruption investigations against the president. The move was the latest episode in a long-running standoff between the government and the judiciary.
The only son of assassinated former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto told hundreds of thousands of supporters on December 27, 2012, the fifth anniversary of his mother's death, that he would carry forward her legacy, an appearance designed to anoint him as a political heir. "I am the heir to the martyr,'' Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, 24, told the crowd in the southern province of Sindh, referring to his mother and to his grandfather, the founder of the current ruling party who was hanged by a former military ruler. "If you kill one Bhutto, there will be a Bhutto in every house.'' Bhutto was joined by hundreds of high-ranking officials, including the current president, his father Asif Zardari, to commemorate his mother's killing in a gun and suicide attack during a 2007 political campaign rally. He is still not old enough to contest the elections scheduled for spring 2013 - the minimum age is 25. Bhutto, who has his mother's good looks, will only turn 25 in September 2013.
Pakistan's Supreme Court ordered the arrest of the Prime Minister in connection with a corruption case linked to power projects, plunging the country into fresh political turmoil. Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf was accused of accepting bribes when he was Pakistan's Minister for Water and Power in 2010. The Supreme Court gave authorities 24 hours to arrest Prime Minister and 15 others. However, analysts said that the move was unlikely to lead to the prime minister's immediate removal from office. The head of Pakistan's anti-corruption bureau decided January 17, 2013 not to arrest Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, despite orders to do so by the supreme court. Fasih Bokhari, chief of the National Accountability Bureau, told the court that he did not have sufficient evidence to arrest Ashraf on corruption charges.
The National Assembly completed its tenure on 16 March 2013, so the general elections might be held 26 April 2013. By 31 October 2012, Pakistan had drawn up a preliminary road-map under which the National Assembly would be dissolved in January 2013, a caretaker government installed, followed by general elections. President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf would, however, take a final decision on the installation of a caretaker set-up, dissolution of the assemblies and general elections after consulting their coalition partners. In case the National Assembly is dissolved in January 2013, the constitutional limit for holding elections would be 90 days while the Constitution demands elections within 60 days after the completion of the constitutional tenure of the assembly. It would be a historic landmark in the country that a democratic government would complete its constitutional tenure for the first time. On the other hand, as the 2013 general elections got closer, the political wheeling and dealing in the country gathered pace and new political alliances were forged before the elections. The process gained momentum as talks for new political alliances start.
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