Pakistan's Imminent Election

Commentary | May 08, 2013

Writing for The News International, EWI Board Member Ikram Sehgal discusses Pakistan’s upcoming elections. He argues that a new more conciliatory political atmosphere, triggered in part by the injury sustained by candidate Imran Khan, could generate strong voter turnout. It may also encourage much needed cooperation among the politicians after the elections.

Notwithstanding PPP and ANP desperately trying to avoid impending rout by delaying the electoral process, approximately 86 million people will be eligible to decide the country’s fate on Saturday May 11, 2013.

Kayani put to rest widespread doubts by reiterating the army’s commitment supporting the election schedule, 70000 troops fanning out to deploy in sensitive areas. 35 million voters of the 80 eligible (about 44%) exercised their right in 2008.  Alongwith fake degrees a greater number of votes (37 million, 46%) being bogus and/or duplicate undermined the credibility of the “elected” Assemblies and served to show the disfigured face of our “democracy”. These “anomalies” have now been removed, to an extent.  Given the ineffectiveness of the due diligence conducted by the ECP, these frauds will be soon be back in Parliament.

The voting percentage represents the barometer of the will of the people, it is impossible to quantify whether the aspirations of the people desperate for change will be translated into votes.  Whoever thought up the idea of launching the movie “Chambeli” at this particular time has a genius for impact and sheer timing.  The spontaneous reaction of the audience captures the deep resentment against the existing feudal system, coincidence that the content and theme is synonymous with Imran Khan’s message?  With a majority of youth and women already vowing for him, Imran Khan has woken up dormant society, will his unfortunate injury galvanize the populace to vote the difference for this nation, his party and for himself on May 11?

Constant terrorist attacks notwithstanding, about 43 million (nearly 50%), are expected to turn out.  17 million (20%) voters ages 18 - 25 years and women across the age divide being very visibly enthused may cross the 45 million voters (52%) mark.  Coincidentally 17 million now between the ages 51-70 were in the age group 18-25 in rooting for Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1970 in the vain hope of acquiring “Roti, Kapra aur Makan”.   PPP, MQM and ANP candidates are being targetted by terrorists as “liberals” but other parties are also being attacked, JUI (F) lost 25 killed in Kurram Agency this Sunday and 5 in Hangu a day later. PPP, ANP and PML (Q) stand to become politically “endangered species” on May 11, only the MQM vote bank (about 2.5 million) remains intact. Notwithstanding the excellent Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) initiative, discredited and in disarray, PPP will be lucky to get close to their 10 million tally in 2008.  Most of 2008’s 8 million PML (Q) votes will return to PML (N), ANP registering far less than their half million plus votes in 2008.  PTI stands to match the PML(N) popular vote estimated at about 14 million votes (6.7 million in 2008). JUI (F) and JI will each poll half a million plus with “independents” getting 5-6 million votes.

The Federal capital has 0.6 million (0.33 males 0.27 females) voting for 2 NA seats and FATA 1.75 million (1.15 males 0.59 females) for its 12 NA seats. The 61 NA seats in Sindh voted for by 18.7 million voters (10.3 males, 8.4 females) are divided demographically along rural, urban and urban-rural constituencies. Primarily due pre-poll rigging PPP will still retain 27 or so NA rural seats. PML (F) alliance with nationalists and PML (N) could manage upto 9-10 seats, MQM will retain its 19 urban seats, PML (N) two with a seat each for ANP and PML (Q).  PPP will lead the Provincial coalition with MQM and ANP as partners.

Wooing 3.34 million (1.9 males 1.4 females) voters for 14 NA seats in Balochistan are PML (N), Balochistan National Party (BNP) headed by Akhtar Mengal, Mehmood Khan Achakzai’s Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP), JUI (F) and Hasil Khan Bizenjo’s National Party (NP), NA contenders include JUI (Nazaryati) (separated from JUI (F)) and Bugti’s Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP).  PML (N) may get 3 seats, BNP, PKMAP, JUI (F) and NP 2 each, and 1 seat each for JUI (N), JWP and independent.  The Provincial coalition is up for sale!

Faced with a meltdown, ANP are citing security fears.  The battle-fatigue of the 12.3 million (7.04 males 5.3 females) KPK electorate has been force-multiplied by blatant corruption. ANP may at best win 4-5 NA seats out of 35 NA seats and maybe 12-15 PA seats. Gaining most from ANP’s misery, PTI will take some seats also from PPP, collecting between 12-15 NA seats. PPP will retain 5-6 seats.   Its Hazara stronghold should get PML (N)  7-8 NA seats overall, JUI will have 4-5 seats, one each for Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Aftab Sherpao.  PTI could lead the Provincial coalition but so could PML (N) if PTI cannot get the numbers together.

Nearly 49 million voters (27.6 males 21.4 females) will battle for 148 NA seats in the Punjab.  PPP will manage around 18-20 NA seats with PML (Q) getting 10-12 NA “electables”, about 10 will go to independents.  PML (N) should get 80 seats and PTI 50 on the 2008 pattern.   If near 50% vote, it will tilt towards PTI, PML (N) could have 70 and PTI 65 NA seats.  The Punjab Provincial elections is presently a toss-up.  PPP will peak at 40-45 seats with PML (Q) bagging 15 and MQM 19 NA seats, JUI (F) 7 and JI about 5 seats. There may be 12-15 independents.   With five million possible overseas voters eligible, Imran’s tally could have gone up by 3.5 million if ECP had not denied the Pakistani diaspora abroad their right of vote.

Adding independents, either party will need the magic 100 plus seats to lead a coalition government.  While there is virtually no difference ideologically between PML (N) and PTI bad-mouthing between  PML (N) and PTI has been quite vicious and quite unnecessary. Having been outmaneuvered time and again by Zardari’s duplicity, can Nawaz Sharif rely on the reliably unreliable? Moreover the pound of flesh Zardari will extract will be a political price (re-election as President) almost impossible for PML (N) to pay. Whatever way one looks at it, whether PML (N) is in front or PTI is, Mian Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan must come together.

The nightmare of the last five years was symbolised by the rule of law being broken by the rulers as their convoluted version of governance, something highlighted in “Chambeli”.  Despite his grievous head and back injuries Imran Khan gave a dramatic and emotional appeal to the people from his hospital bed, “I have done what I have to do, that was my responsibility.  Now you do what is your responsibility.”  Observers agree that the wave of sympathy for him and his exhortation for the people to change their destiny by going to vote on May 11 will encourage them to flock to the polls. The fact of his electronic media appearance from the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) on prime TV in contrast to his opponents will help PTI.  We are on the verge of salvation, the Sharif’s spontaneous reaction to Imran’s injury, Mian Sahib’s suspending of his campaign for a day, shows compromise is possible by recognizing each other’s popular mandate and working out an amicable relationship to ensure good governance.  Only adherence to the rule of law will usher in the peace and prosperity that the people of this country have been denied and badly deserve. 

Imran’s injury, though unfortunate, is the game changer for compromise badly needed in Pakistan politics.  There is a time to fight and a time to unite!

To read full published article click here.