Pakistan Politics 2018
Early results 26 July 2018 showed the victory of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf in the general elections. PTI chairman Imran Khan summoned his party leaders for consultations at his residence in Bani Gala to discuss and decide the strategies for forming a government. Khan to asked his party leaders to contact independent candidates from across the Punjab and enlist their support. The meeting formulated a strategy to counter opponent's allegation that the elections were rigged. Gallup Pakistan estimated turnout at between 50 to 55 per cent in an electorate of nearly 106 million, similar to the previous contest in 2013.
The National Assembly has 342 seats, including 70 reserved seats including 60 for women and 10 for minorities. Latest unofficial results show Imran’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf in the lead with 120 seats, Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) with 61 seats, and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), led by the son of assassinated two-time prime minister Benazir Bhutto, led in 40 constituencies. Independents had at least 18 seats, and MMA gained 08 seats. Of the 272 Natioal Assembly constituencies constested [in the 342 seat National Assembly], at least 137 seats are needed to form a a majority. Supporters of jailed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said the counting process was an assault on democracy. The stock market shot up nearly 2 per cent in early trading on relief the likely coalition government will not be a weak one.
The 2018 election was about the judicial coup against Nawaz Sharif, and the emergence of Imran Khan as the favorite of the ‘deep state’. Pakistanis often complain that they are ruled by Allah, America, and the Army. ‘Khalai Maqlook’ and ‘Department of Agriculture’ are the new euphemisms for the ‘Deep State’ and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI).
Defying all conspiracy theories, Pakistan held the mid-term Senate elections in March, thus clearing the way for National Assembly polls later in the year. National and provincial elections are scheduled for mid-July 2018 and the military would do whatever it can to ensure the PML-N is defeated, or that Sharif’s control of the party is weakened. The adversarial relationship with the military establishment pre-empted any chances of Nawaz Sharif’s party being allowed to win.
As many as 11,855 candidates are in the fray for 849 general seats of Pakistan's national and provincial assemblies in the 25 July elections after the completion of scrutiny process, the election commission said 03 July 2018. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has issued the final list of candidates, according to which, 3,459 candidates will contest on 272 general seats of the National Assembly, while 8,396 are running for 577 general seats of the four provincial assemblies.
Pakistan's general elections were scheduled to happen before mid-August, and observers said more radical groups are trying to rebrand themselves to enter national politics. Many outside analysts say the government is willfully ignoring the problem because authorities believe the groups somehow promote the government's interests in the region. Pakistan believes it has a stronger interest in letting these groups continue to operate, with different names, than in waging a full-scale crackdown.
- Islamist cleric Hafiz Saeed, a U.S.-designated terrorist who allegedly was the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 160 people, is perhaps the most prominent leader accused of the tactic. Saeed lives freely in Lahore, despite having a $10 million U.S. bounty on him since 2012. His Lashar-e-Taiba (LeT) group also has been designated a terrorist outfit by the United Nations, Britain, Russia and the European Union. But he has evaded a ban in Pakistan on LeT by creating multiple other organizations that critics say are merely fronts for the original terrorist group.
- Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), an extremist group proponent of liberation of Indian-administered Kashmir, operated under a new name, Tehreek-ul-Furqan, after it was banned in 2002.
- Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, a U.N.-designated terror group, rebranded itself as Harkat-ul-Ansar in 1993 following a ban. Its leader, Fazlur Rehman Khalil, lives openly in the Pakistani capital.
- Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), a radical group that is blamed for deadly attacks against the country's minority Shiite Muslims, was banned multiple times by the government, only to reinvent itself as Millat-e-Islamia Pakistan (MIP) and Alh-e-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat (ASWJ).
Pakistan's Senate election is held through an indirect ballot, with members of the four provincial assemblies and the national assembly voting in nominees. As such, the outcome of the polls tends to be predictable, based on the proportional representation of each party in the assemblies.
Legislators voted for 52 vacant Senate seats on 03 March 2018, with the PML-N emerging as the largest party in the 104-member house, with 33 seats. They were followed by the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), with 20 seats, a group of independents with 17 seats and the PTI with 12 seats. The results saw several seats that were expected to go to the PML-N and PTI go instead to the opposition PPP, led by former President Asif Ali Zardari.
Pakistan's ruling PML-N and opposition PTI parties both alleged wrongdoing in the country's recently concluded Senate elections, with PTI chief Imran Khan accusing members of his own party of "selling" their votes.
Nawaz Sharif’s power base in Punjab appears intact. He has particularly benefitted from bitter fighting between his two major opponents — the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). All four provinces have equal number of seats in the Senate, elected by provincial legislators. So now, the PML(N) will not be able to win a single seat from Baluchistan. The situation in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is similar, thus reducing the PML(N) to Punjab.
In November 2017, the replacement cabinet headed by Nawaz loyalist Shahid Abbasi, was thoroughly humiliated and subdued. A largely unknown group, Tehreek-e-Labbaik, blockaded the main highway to Islamabad and engaged in violent protests, killing, beating, and kidnapping police officers. They demanded the resignation of the federal law minister and a veto on a vast array of areas, including school textbooks based on the false claim that anti-blasphemy laws were being watered down.
The army refused to render “military aid to civil power” when so ordered, and instead demanded the resignation of the law minister, who had to publicly implore the vigilantes to accept his apology. Meanwhile, a two-star general was filmed distributing money for return bus fares to freshly released rioters. The lesson to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and all other parties was that they could be cut down to size at any point by the military without a visible coup.
General elections are scheduled to be held in Pakistan any time within the 90 days after 05 June 2018. The 342 members of the National Assembly are elected by three methods; 272 are elected in single-member constituencies by first-past-the-post voting; 60 are reserved for females and 10 for ethnic and religious minority groups; both sets of reserved seats use proportional representation with a 5% electoral threshold.
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) on 11 November 2017 stated that next 2018 general elections would take place as per schedule. He was talking to media after inaugurating facilitating center at National Database and Registration Authority’s (NADRA) office in Islamabad. Speaking to media, CEC said that now vote would be registered with issuance of Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC) and termed the day as historic moment in country’s history. He also vowed to craft ‘flawless’ election list. NADRA chairman was also present on the occasion. He said NADRA has achieved another milestone and a big hurdle in way of vote registration has been slashed.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif held a significant meeting with Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif at his Jati Umra residence in Lahore. During the meeting, Sharif brothers categorically ruled out the possibility of early elections. They also decided to further accelerate their contacts with all political opponents. On the other hand, Punjab CM also held a separate meeting with Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman. Both discussed matters of mutual interest and political situation of the country. They also excluded the likelihood of early elections.
Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on 21 December 2017 announced that his younger brother and Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif will be his party’s prime ministerial candidate for the 2018 general elections. A second term victory in Pakistan is unprecedented and would be a first in Pakistan’s history. The national assembly of Pakistan comprises of 342 seats out of which 148 are for Punjab, 61 for Sindh, 35 for KPK and 14 for Baluchistan. Thus, Punjab becomes the battleground for elections in Pakistan because if a party is able to sweep Punjab chances are that it will form the next government.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz [PML-N] faced a tough time after Nawaz Sharif’s ouster. Former military ruler and head of All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) General (rtd) Pervez Musharraf predicted 01 May 2017 that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party were set to win 2018 elections unless a grand alliance of various parties is made to defeat these two parties. Musharaf said that there was a 90% chance that PPP and PMLN will win elections from their traditional strongholds, including from possibly KP, if a third force is not formed to mount a challenge. He said Imran khan alone cannot defeat PMLN and PPP because he has no plan. The former president assured Imran Khan that he was not interested in taking over the office of prime minister.
By November 2017 the way the mainstream parties were behaving indicated that Elections 2018 might be delayed. The PML-N would have been pressurized to hold the census much earlier by provinces ruled by other parties if Nawaz Sharif had been holding the CCI meetings regularly. The PML-N also did not care to get the census results confirmed from the CCI after the exercise was held at the eleventh hour. The Election Commission has told the government that elections would be delayed in case the National Assembly failed to pass the Delimitation of Constituencies Bill which is a constitutional requirement for holding the elections after a new census.
The census reduces the representation from Punjab by as many as nine seats on account of relatively smaller increase in population compared to other provinces. This is understandable in view of greater acceptability of family planning measures in the province combined with larger out-migration. The relative population growth in Sindh has only shown marginal increase which is acceptable neither to PPP nor the MQM.
Bilawal Bhutto has now actively assumed command of PPP and there is little doubt that he will be the front runner for the Prime Minister’s slot. The opposition ranks prepared for an all- out war to minimise any chances of the PML-N’s return to power even in Punjab,
On 03 December 2017 Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed announced that his organisation Jamat-ud-Dawah would contest Pakistan’s 2018 general elections under Milli Muslim League — a still-to-be-registered political front. The banned JuD is believed to be the front organisation for the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which carried out the 2008 Mumbai terror attack in which 166 people were killed. The JuD chief, who has been designated a terrorist by both the United Nations and the United States, carries a bounty of $10 million announced by the US for his role in terrorist activities.
Cricketer turned opposition stalwart Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf was on the ascent. The PTI prided itself on being the only party that ceaselessly worked towards ridding the country of corruption by pursuing the Panama Papers case against Nawaz Sharif. However, PTI chief Imran Khan had also vowed to work against other corrupt elements, especially Zardari; so it could be difficult for the PTI to work with the PPP if it needs to form an alliance after elections. Astrologers and palmists predicted that there is no possibility of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan becoming the prime minister in 2018.
Rather than acting against violent extremists, the military has also sought to “mainstream” them by recasting them as political parties. The aim is to shield these groups from international sanctions.
In June 2018, the heads of the coalition of five religious-turned-political parties known as Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) vowed to implement Islamic law if they are elected in Pakistan's general elections July 25. MMA's political alliance is a merger of five hard-line and ultraconservative religiopolitical parties that include Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadith (JA), Tehreek-e-Jafaria Pakistan (TJP) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP).
The Islamist-led political formation gathered in Islamabad to announce its 12-point election charter, declaring implementation of sharia as its top priority. "All Islamic provisions in the constitution must be protected, and Nizam-e-Mustafa [sharia] should be implemented," Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the head of MMA, said during a news conference.
Protection of all Islamic provisions in the constitution, empowerment of parliament, an independent justice system, new foreign policy and equal rights for minorities remained other salient features of party's election strategy. Liaquat Baloch, MMA's secretary-general, said "Our aim is to make Pakistan an Islamic and democratic country. Pakistan has been pushed toward so-called liberalism and secularism under the Western pressure. It is our responsibility as religious leadership to work to impose the Sharia Act".
All of these parties remained in power in the past decades and have a following in conservative parts of the country, mainly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan provinces that border Afghanistan. Traditionally, the religious parties in Pakistan, despite winning seats from different pockets of the country, were never able to pull enough votes to form a government in the center.
MMA emerged in 2002 when a coalition of religious-turned-political parties expressed its strong opposition to the U.S. war in Afghanistan that pushed the Taliban out of power. Surprisingly, MMA got a majority in the elections and formed a government in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, while remaining in alliance with the ruling party in Balochistan. MMA remained in pow
er in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa until 2007.
Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) parliamentary board failed to develop consensus over party tickets for various constituencies. The fissure between the two major political parties of the MMA, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) and Jamiat-e-Islami (JI), widened with each passing day, as candidates of both parties are filing their nomination papers from their respective parties instead of the MMA’s platform. Other allied parties including Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan (JUP), Tehreek-i-Islami Pakistan (TIP) and Markazi Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith (MJAH) did not have a vote bank enough to match the other parties and hence, they were being given little importance in the alliance.
Pakistani politician Imran Khan heads the popular Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI, Movement for Justice) party. Some analysts say he will have to work with Washington to prevent militant attacks in both Afghanistan and India. For the US, the idea of a Prime Minister Imran Khan may be unsettling, given how he and his party have been stridently anti-American in tone and messaging in ways that the PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League of former PM Nawaz Sharif) have not been.
In private conversations, former US diplomats and think-tank experts often recall a statement in which the cricketer-turned-politician threatened to shoot down any US drone that hits a target inside Pakistan if he was elected to power. Khan's statement scared Pakistan's powerful military establishment as well. The generals feared that if elected, Khan could further strain Pakistan's already tense relations with the US. But over the years, Khan has worked on polishing his statements and tries not to say something that he would later regret. He does not always succeed.
There was a clear political divide in Pakistan — parties that were resisting the role of the military in politics, and parties that did not want to challenge the generals and are prepared to give more space to the military in state affairs. The PPP and the PTI are aware that it was not possible for them to win this year's general election; therefore they took a non-confrontational stance toward the military. The military establishment was against Sharif's powerful role in politics.
The middle class population in Pakistan has increased manifold in the past decade. It is now close to 42 percent of the total population. The same pattern can be seen in Punjab, which is Sharif's political stronghold. Punjab's rural areas have economically prospered due to the infrastructure set up and their connectivity to bigger markets in the province. This constituency and the changing economic dynamics have forced Sharif to assert the civilian authority over the military. This is the requirement of his political constituency.
Sharif, who is a businessman, also understands that Pakistan has to take the path of regional cooperation sooner or later. Inability to do so would be damaging for Pakistan's economy and his business interests. The military establishment is against this policy, hence the clash between Sharif and the generals.
Leaders of various political parties across Pakistan stepped up their campaign efforts to motivate voters for the country's upcoming general election. Among them was Hafiz Saeed, a U.S.-designated global terrorist and head of Milli Muslim League (MML), a banned militant group turned political party. His rallies in Punjab province attracted large crowds of people.
Pakistan's government has lifted a ban on extremist religious leader Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, at a time when the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has placed the country on its terror watch list for its alleged failure to curb terror financing. Ludhianvi, known to be a staunch Sunni Islamist, is the leader of Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), a radical sectarian outfit that is accused of orchestrating several deadly attacks against minority Shiites in Pakistan over the past two decades. Some experts in Pakistan believed the decision will undermine the state's counterterrorism regulations and its narrative that the country is targeting militant groups, along with their money-laundering and terror-financing efforts.
According to Pakistani laws, with his name cleared, Ludhianvi can run in the upcoming general elections and would have access to his previously frozen financial assets. He also can freely travel within and outside the country. Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat is a sectarian Sunni militant group established in Punjab province in 1985 to counter the Shiite Islam in the country. It was previously known as Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP).
With a progressive stance on labor rights, gender equality, and environmental rights, People's Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto says he plans to bring prosperity to Pakistan. The young 29-year-old candidate for the People’s Party of Pakistan (PPP), Bilawal Bhutto Zardari revealed his plans for the future of the nation if his party takes the majority seats in the coming general elections. Bhutto revealed his intentions to initiate a more pro-active foreign policy to highlight human rights abuses in occupied-Kashmir being conducted by Indian forces. Mainstream political parties saw orchestrated “ maneuvering” on the part of the country’s powerful military establishment to keep them out of power. They believed the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party led by former cricket star Imran Khan is being favored thanks to a calculated pre-poll manipulation, a charge Khan and his supporters rebuffed. “Unfortunately, electoral engineering aimed at bringing a particular party to power is underway,” Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, head of the media cell of the Pakistan Muslim League's (Nawaz) (PML-N), told Anadolu Agency
The Pakistani opposition party led by former cricket star Imran Khan appeared to be gaining ground ahead of the 25 July 2018 general election, with one new poll showing it pulling ahead of the outgoing ruling party and another showing it only slightly behind. A survey by Pulse Consultant showed Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, or Pakistan Justice Movement) ahead with 30 percent of the respondents nationwide, compared to 27 percent for its main rival, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was at 17 percent. A separate nationwide poll by Gallup Pakistan had PML-N on top with 26 percent, PTI with 25 percent and the PPP at 16 percent.
Ex-Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam, both facing lengthy prison terms, were arrested minutes after landing in the country on 13 July 2018 as they returned seeking to revitalise their flagging party ahead of a July 25 election. Their imprisonment could generate more sympathy and sway the undecided to vote for PMLN. Their return represented a high-stakes gamble, but could shake up an election race riven by accusations Pakistan’s powerful military was working behind the scenes to skew the contest in favor of ex-cricket hero Imran Khan. He described Sharif as a “criminal” who deserves no support. Sharif’s return from London, where his wife Kulsoom is critically ill and undergoing cancer treatment, came at a time of dwindling fortunes for his party, which a year earlier was considered a run-away favourite to retain power.
The country’s media regulator warned local news channels to abstain from airing statements “by political leadership containing defamatory and derogatory content targeting various state institutions specifically judiciary and armed forces”, the regulator said in a statement.
Imran Khan, also known as 'Taliban Khan' for having a soft spot for the Taliban and pro-Pak terrorists operating in Afghanistan, was the horse the Pakistan army bet on in the elections. Fazlur Rehman Khalil, a US-designated global terrorist and founder of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen terrorist organisations, came out in open support of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party a week before Pakistan’s general elections. Khan’s frontrunner status heading into the election was not entirely of his own making. He was the beneficiary of the army’s determined bid to hobble arguably Pakistan’s most popular grassroots politician — former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Not only the political parties but the national and international media, NGOs, elections observers and analysts all agreed that equal opportunities of level playing field was not given to all the political parties. The military was at the center of allegations of "political engineering" before an election that would see the country's second civilian-to-civilian handover of power. Nawaz Sharif, the PML-N leader, has named the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directly as having threatened candidates from his party to switch loyalties. The PML-N has been foremost among those raising the allegations after Sharif was removed as prime minister over corruption claims.
In the three weeks leading to the vote, nearly 200 people were killed in attacks across the country, but mainly focused on the western Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces. More than 800,000 security personnel - including more than 370,000 army soldiers - will be deployed for security on election day, Pakistan's Election Commission said.
Psephology is not widely used in Pakistan. The latest opinion polls showed that none of the major parties were likely to win an overall majority and a coalition was likely. Leading Pakistani security firm AKD released a report showing the PTI was on track to acquire 99 seats against 27 won in 2013, and PML was expected to win 72 compared to 142 won in the last elections. If this came to fruition, the report said it was likely the PTI would lead a "grand coalition" government including both the PML and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). But others thought there was a fair chance that if Pakistan's next government was a coalition, Khan would not serve in it. In an interview with BBC Urdu, Khan declared that the PTI would not partner with the PML-N or the Pakistan People's Party in a coalition.
The 100-seat mark was the tipping point and any party that reached this figure can easily form the government with the help of independents who naturally gravitate to this party and with the support of smaller parties. Asif Zardari sought the role of kingmaker in Islamabad, believing that if he can manage 40 to 50 seats across Pakistan, then he would be in the driver's seat in national politics and would hold a veto on who gets to form the next government.
The preliminary findings of the EU Election Observation Mission highlight that election day was largely orderly and competitive. However, the electoral process was overshadowed by allegations of interference, restrictions on freedom of speech and the media, and unequal opportunities to campaign. EU observers concluded that the results were "credible," but criticized a "lack of equality" in the contest and said that the playing field was more uneven since the last vote in 2013.
"Although there were several legal provisions aimed at ensuring a level playing field, we have concluded that there was a lack of equality and opportunity," Michael Gahler, chief observer of the EU Election Observation Mission, said at a press conference. In its initial findings, the EU concluded that the Pakistani elections were relatively transparent, but raised the alarm on unfair pre-election practices.
Pre-poll curbs on media and a crackdown on Pakistan Muslim League party's (PML-N) activists and officials were noticeable, Michael Gahler told DW, emphasizing that the pre-election environment matters. At the packed press conference in Islamabad, Gahler said that the 2018 elections had been worse than in 2013, but ascertained that the Pakistani military had not interfered in the voting process.
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