Pakistan Elections 2018: Who’s Contesting & What India Can Expect
Amid tight security, Pakistan went into the 11th general elections on Wednesday, 25 July, with voting underway in 85,000 polling booths across the nation. The military is reportedly deploying 350,000 soldiers nationwide, at the request of the Election Commission.
The country is voting to choose a new Prime Minister and a new government and is holding elections simultaneously to the parliament and the four provincial Assemblies in Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
In the nation of approximately 207 million, 106 million people are expected to cast their votes on Wednesday, according to Dawn.
A total of 849 directly elected seats are up for grabs in the election, which includes 272 seats in the national Assembly and 577 seats in the country’s four provincial assemblies. Gulf News reported that a total of 11,855 candidates are competing for these 849 seats, out of which 8,396 candidates are running for the 577 provincial assembly seats. The remaining 3,459 candidates – 1,623 from Punjab, 824 from Sindh, 725 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 287 from Balochistan are in running for the 272 seats in the national Assembly, according to the report.
This election will mark only the second-ever democratic handover of power in Pakistan, without military rule in between. The incumbent elected government completed its full term on 31 May and handed over power to a caretaker government on 5 June. But this election has been surrounded by reported tensions between the incumbent government and the powerful military.
The results are expected by 26 or 27 July.
With this being Pakistan’s second democratic handover of the government, India and the world will be watching closely to judge the stability and capability of Pakistani democracy – especially that of the civilian government. A stable civilian government is the partner of choice for India in diplomatic efforts, and the country would hope that a strong civilian establishment could reign in the Pakistani Army.
Here’s a look at how Pakistan elects its legislative members, key players and how the election affects India.
How it Works: The Election Process
The Pakistan National Assembly has a total of 342 seats. Out of these, 272 general seats are filled by direct election, while 60 seats are reserved for women. 10 more seats are reserved for religious minorities.
Members are elected through first-past-the-post system under universal adult suffrage. A party needs to win 172 seats to obtain a majority.
Out of the 60 seats reserved for women, 33 seats are for Punjab, 14 for Sindh, nine for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and four for Balochistan.
These seats are allocated to parties based on the number of general seats they win in the general assembly. A simple formula of 272 (general seats) divided by 60 (the number of reserved seats) is used to allocate each reserved seat for women. Effectively, a party winning 4.5 seats will get one seat for a woman, The Express Tribune reported.
For this process, parties are required to submit a list of woman candidates with their priorities marked. On the basis of this priority, women are allocated seats in the National Assembly.
The formula of dividing 272 by 10 is used to allocate one minority seat, meaning that political parties winning 27.2 general seats will get one minority seat.
What is special about this election is that the nation will see a record number of women contesting even for general seats.
The Current Scenario: Events Till Now
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is the incumbent party, having won the last general election in May 2013. The party won 166 out of 342 seats, becoming the single-largest party, but falling short of the simple majority of 172 seats required to form government. Amidst speculation of a potential hung parliament, 19 Independent candidates joined the PML-N, giving it the majority required. Nawaz Sharif was sworn in as the prime minister of the country, for what was his third term.
Nawaz held the position till July 2017, when he was forced to step aside after allegations of corruption in the Panama Papers case, a massive leak of documents that named many people across the world who owned assets in offshore companies.
Sharif was one among nine Pakistani leaders and government officials on the long list, with three of his children owning offshore companies not mentioned in his wealth statement. In light of the information, it became untenable for him to continue as the prime minister of the country. The Supreme Court banned him from holding elected or party office following the revelations.
The party continued to be in power, but Sharif was replaced by Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who was elected as the 18th Prime Minister of Pakistan by the National Assembly in August 2017.
Abbasi’s government completed its full term before handing over power to an interim government on 31 May. Former chief justice Nasir Ul Mulk is currently the interim prime minister.
Meanwhile, Sharif’s PML-N has accused the military of interfering in the elections and trying to engineer defections from the party towards the Opposition, a charge which the military has denied.
“It is a chipping away. It’s behind the scenes, under the covers, below the radar,” PML-N’s outgoing Privatisation Minister Daniyal Aziz told Reuters.
On 13 July, Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Sharif were arrested within minutes of landing at the Lahore airport in relation to a disproportionate assets case in which they had been arrested, according to Dawn. They had earlier been convicted on 6 July for owning four luxury apartments in London.
They were then taken to Adiala Jail, Rawalpindi, where the father-daughter duo are still lodged. While Maryam is serving a seven year term, her father has been sentenced for ten years.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf: Imran Khan
Pakistani cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan is the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the main challenger to PML-N. Khan is betting that his anti-corruption message will propel him to power.
The Pakistani opposition party gained ground in the run-up to the election, pulling ahead of the PML-N, with a survey conducted by Pulse Consultant showing that the party holds 30 percent support among the respondents, according to a Reuters report. Another survey conducted by Gallup Pakistan showed the party holding 25 percent support, trailing behind the PML-N only marginally by one percent.
The 65-year old, thrice-married Khan has vowed to sweep the upcoming elections, promising radical change for the poor as well as 10 million jobs. He is running on a socially conservative, anti-corruption promise, and throughout the campaign has promised the dawn of a ‘Naya Pakistan’ if his party comes to power.
Many lawmakers from PML-N have defected to Khan’s side and there has been talk of the military throwing its weight behind the party.
PTI has denied these reports, naturally, but there is no denying that the party has made inroads, and as a result, the charismatic Khan is now considered the key challenger to Sharif, aided by the latter’s legal troubles, according to Reuters.
Khan, who is contesting from five constituencies — NA-35 (Bannu), NA-53 (Islamabad), NA-95 (Mianwali), NA-131 (Lahore) and NA-243 (Karachi), has maintained his position as frontrunner in the run up to the elections, taking on his opponents strongly and never missing an opportunity to criticise Nawaz Sharif over money laundering and corruption charges.
The former leader and opposition leader, who enjoys almost mythical status in Pakistan for leading his country to victory in the 1992 World Cup, has “disparaged liberals, attacked feminism, embraced radical religious parties and vowed to uphold Pakistan's blasphemy law”, according to the Associated Press. He has also drawn criticism for not choosing young candidates for the elections, as initially promised, instead picking older, more seasoned candidates who were more likely to win the elections, the so-called "electables”, reported AP.
However, he has faced his own share of controversies ahead of the elections, with speculations cropping up about his third marriage to faith healer Bushra Mareka and claims made in his ex-wife Reham’s book, a manuscript of which was leaked earlier this year. His critics call him ‘Taliban Khan’, a reference to his earlier support for negotiations with Pakistan's Taliban, according to AP.
While Khan has criticised Washington's intervention in Afghanistan, he has also spoken against Pakistan's turn toward China, which has invested billions of dollars in the country, reported AP.
For India, Khan is a tough sell. He has vowed to solve the Kashmir issue and raise the problems of every Kashmiri at international forums, and has in the past condemned what he calls “Indian aggression” in Kashmir. Last year, he slammed Trump for siding with the “oppressor India” and expressed his displeasure at India rather than Pakistan being given an ‘interventionist’ role in Afghanistan.
In comparison to Sharif, Khan is viewed as a hardliner by India.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz: Shehbaz Sharif
With Nawaz Sharif out of the electoral game, his brother, the current Chief Minister of Punjab, Shehbaz Sharif takes centre stage as far as the the PML-N is concerned. He took over as the president of the party from his brother after the latter was named in the Panama Papers last year.
Shehbaz has controlled Punjab, which is Pakistan’s richest province and houses 60 percent of Pakistan’s 207 million population, for a large part of the last decade, having twice been the chief minister of the province. According to a Firstpost report, he has led several big infrastructure projects, including starting Pakistan’s first metro bus service. He has also been reported to have represented Pakistan at several international forums including the United Nations, reported Firstpost.
He is contesting the election from NA-132 (Lahore), NA-192 (Dera Ghazi Khan), NA-249 (Karachi) and NA-3 (Swat).
Shehbaz now faces the challenge of leading the party into the election, while balancing defections and intra-party disputes over how to deal with the judiciary and military establishment after Nawaz’s disqualification, writes Colin Cookman, an expert on the region and its politics. In recent times, at least 15 National Assembly PML-N lawmakers have left the party, mostly to join PTI, reported Reuters.
While Nawaz Sharif has had a tumultous relationship with Pakistan’s military, Shehbaz has had more balanced ties with them, according to AP.
As the incumbent, the party theoretically has an upper hand, backed up by a recent Gallup poll percentage of 36 percent, according to Reuters. However, this has been challenged by the judiciary’s disqualification of Nawaz Sharif and the challenge of maintaining party unity in the wake of his loss of office, according to Cookman.
Nawaz himself maintained good relations with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and had been accused by his political rivals in Pakistan of having a softer stance towards Kashmir, according to Dawn.
Another Dawn report said if PML-N wins the election, Shehbaz will likely be appointed as prime minister. This would be a positive for India, since Shehbaz is also in favour of dialogue and normalising relations with India, meaning a continuance of the policies of Pakistan’s civilian leadership. Despite having to toe the Rawalpindi line, he is being seen as India’s best bet, according to a Deccan Chronicle report.
Pakistan People's Party: Bilawal Bhutto Zardari
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is going into his first election campaign, is the son of assassinated Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. He is front lining for Pakistan’s only Left-leaning party, the Pakistan People’s Party, which is fighting to regain the political relevance it once held in the country, as well as to re-establish one of the country’s best-known political dynasties.
The PPP, once one of the most popular parties in the country, has lost ground nationally, with one poll putting it at 17 percent and another showing it at 16 percent. Despite Bhutto leading the campaign, the best chance for his party may be to make an alliance with the PTI if they are to keep the PML-N out of power, according to a Reuters report.
The 29-year old Bhutto is attempting to capitalise on the support his mother enjoyed, but there is some debate about whether he will be hindered by the legacy of his father, former President Asif Ali Zardari, who was plagued by a tainted image, the result of numerous corruption allegations. However, making Bhutto as the face of the party will give it fresh new appeal, according to Reuters.
The political debutant has roundly criticised both the PML-N and the PTI, waiving any chance of the PPP joining hands with either of them. “PML-N deceives (others) while PTI keeps taking U-turns. PML-N has not treated PPP well,” the young leader had said.
However, Bhutto has very little chances of winning the election. Despite having made efforts to try and rekindle the dwindling fortunes of the party, political analysts do not feel that he has chances of winning a simple majority. The party is reportedly having trouble even holding on to its traditional stronghold in the Sindh, although it is set to retain its rural base. At best, Bhutto and his party may play the role of kingmaker if either party fails to win a majority in Wednesday’s election.
The Bhutto family scion is battling the first election of his life from four constituencies -- Lyari NA-246, considered a PPP stronghold, the NA-8 seat, the (NA 6) - Lower Dir 1 and is also standing from (NA 200) Larkana, according to an NDTV report.
Bhutto will be a difficult Prime Minister for India to negotiate, with the young politician having criticised Nawaz Sharif in the past for what he had called his soft stance on Kashmir.
He has also in the past slammed the Sharif-Modi friendship for causing damage to the Kashmir issue and has been quoted declaring that he would “take back Kashmir, all of it, all of it, and I will not leave behind a single inch of it because, like the other provinces, it belongs to Pakistan.” He has also held many rallies to show solidarity with the people of Kashmir and has condemned ‘Indian violence’ in the area.
(With inputs from Reuters, AP, Express Tribune and Dawn.)