What to expect from Elections 2013
In the last two weeks we have seen a flurry of political activity across Pakistan. Be it the rally in Karachi or the jalsa in Lahore, the political temperature of the country seems to be finally heating up after slowly simmering for the last two years. The reason is the impending elections that are expected to be held in 2013.
It is natural that alliances are being formed, seat adjustments are being negotiated, and parties are becoming more aggressive in their rhetoric. Unlike the last elections in 2008, where there were numerous parties contesting, the upcoming elections present a fairly different picture. Over the last few years the election battle has created two groups of political parties that will battle it out in the next general elections. I realize that this does not seem so right now, but hear me out.
To start with, let’s categorize these alliances as the ‘incumbents‘ and the ‘challengers‘.
In the last one year it has become clear that the PPP, PML-Q, ANP and MQM will stay together. In order to understand why they will stay together, we need to take a closer look at each party involved.
This party has come under criticism from all angles; even its own members are criticizing the party. It feels as if everyone in Pakistan hates them because that is what we see on the media. However, the reality is different.
Back in July I wrote a piece that argued that the PPP would come back to power in the next general elections. I still maintain my claim. With 121 seats in the National Assembly, the PPP has managed to stay in power for almost four years without any major hiccups. There were times when everyone thought that the government would collapse but it held through, scoring a stronger majority than the party started out with (by bringing PML-Q on board to rebuke any further pressure from MQM). So if they managed all this while the economy was in a free fall and with everyone hating them, then you have to give them credit and know that they are not going to be unprepared for the next elections. Plus their power base is Sindh, especially the rural areas, while they still maintain pockets of influence in Punjab. So, anyone who thinks that PPP will be wiped out is kidding themselves.
Like the People’s Party, the Q league is hated by the general public. But what no one gives them credit for is that the party is probably the smartest political party in Pakistan. Once the PPP called the Q league the ‘Qatil’ (murderer) League but now they manage to share a government. The same people who called them names have been forced to sit with them for the political well-being of both parties. The political survival of both the PPP and PML-Q is dependent on each other; on their own they will have a tough fight in Punjab and Balochistan, but together they can maintain a majority.
Moreover, the Q league is made up of politicians who are constituency politicians i.e. they have a strong presence in their areas and are virtually guaranteed a seat. In the last elections the Q league got lost out due to a vote split as well as a strong showing by the PML-N but this time around, with the new seat adjustment deal they are assured one on one fights in most areas with the added support of PPP voters. So while people might not be giving them credit right now, the Q league has a genuine shot at coming back with 50 odd seats in the next general elections.
While our national media does not give ANP much importance, the fact is that ANP is crucial to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Pakistan. Without ANP, the PPP would not be able to rule KP. Since the last elections, ANP has been accused of corruption and bad governance. Under their government the province has suffered economically to the point where the people have started praising the days of JUI-F. So while ANP will likely not get many votes in the next election, it will probably lose a maximum of five seats out of the 13 NA seats they currently have. Most of the damage would be at the provincial level, but given that they are part of the alliance with the PPP, PML-Q and MQM, they will be part of any future government.
They have 25 seats and they will get these 25 seats again. It is absolutely pointless to even dwell on the election results of MQM because their vote bank is rock solid plus every time they are not in government, things just do not work out for Karachi. So as part of their uneasy alliance with the PPP, they are staying put and will remain part of any future government in the future.
So while these four parties clearly form one side, the other side is a bit tricky to outline. The fact that the PPP, Q league, MQM and ANP are already allies will only help them to further consolidate their election year positions by negotiating seat adjustments and forming closer ties.
The other side, however, is still in disarray but will eventually come together. For the sake of the argument let’s just call them the challengers.
The party has consolidated its influence over their existing constituency. They have often slammed the government, however, their own governance in Punjab has not been above reproach.
Currently the PML-N is lonely but fairly popular as far as national politics are concerned. The party understands that it cannot govern without an alliance with other parties and has started talking to the like minded group as well as others who deserted the party after Musharraf created the Q league. Chances are that these deserters would probably return as they need to belong to a party to continue their political career. In addition to this, the PML-N wants to assimilate the forward block in Punjab to field winning candidates in the next elections. But the party has a long way to go. It is likely that the PML-N will form an alliance with centre-right and regional parties such as JI, PPP Sherpao, PTI, BNP, JWP, SNP and so on, as thy are ideologically more comfortable with these parties as compared to the MQM or ANP.
After boycotting the last elections, the JI has been out of active politics for a while. They do not have members in any assembly. So while many are quick to dismiss them straight away, the party is out to prove its critics wrong. They have been working hard in the KP region to regain their popularity that they had lost as part of the MMA with JUI-F. Add to this the inept governance of ANP, the JI is mending fences in their former strongholds of Swat, Bajaur, Upper and Lower Dir, Mardan and Kohat. In addition to this, the party has a loyal following in southern Punjab where they held a few provincial seats during 2002 to 2007 and have been investing time and effort in those areas.
Given that JI has ideological differences with the PPP, MQM and ANP, their logical choice is to work with a centre right or ideally a rightist party. So expect the JI to sit down with the PML-N and the PTI either before or after the elections to form a coalition as simply put, they have nowhere else to go.
Having been around for 15 years, the PTI can finally say that it is their time now. They say that they can sweep the elections, but fact of the matter is that they can’t and they won’t.
Their primary presence is in Punjab, and that is their area of focus. I am not going to speculate how many seats they will win, but whatever they win, they will have to sit down with others to form a coalition. And while many suggest they will gain a majority, they will not as they do not have enough constituency candidates right now. However, with the inclusion of Shah Mahmood Qureshi, they will gain a decent number so that they can at least negotiate a good deal for themselves.
Now the thing is, ideologically the PTI is on the same wavelength as PML-N and JI, and while their supporters might not like it, the PTI will eventually have to sit down with these parties as just like JI they have nowhere else to go. So what seems to be an unholy alliance between the PTI, PML-N and JI, to a lot of people right now is it an election reality that will eventually happen.
There are a lot of other parties that I did not mention and the reason is that these parties will simply side with the group that holds the majority. Parties like JUI-F, Jehangir Tareen’s Clean Party and PML-F have guaranteed seats, and they do not like to sit in the opposition.
The fact is the next election is going to be the most divisive election ever seen in Pakistan. The two sides that are pointed out above are not random thoughts; they are the political realities of Pakistan.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.