Pakistan will have general elections on July 25. In the 71-year-old history of Pakistan, it will be only the second time, a democratic transfer of power will take place. Earlier, it was in 2013, then ruling Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) handed over power to Nawaz Sharif led Pakistan Muslim League (N). But both the time, the prime ministers could not complete their five year terms. Nawaz Sharif had to vacate his post of PM in July 2017 following Supreme Court of Pakistan’s (SCP) order. During PPP regime, Yousuf Raza Gilani was also compelled to resign.
In a surprising move, the Balochistan assembly moved a resolution demanding that the general elections be postponed. It has become a major political issue. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) must act on it and see the elections are held as scheduled and does not get derailed.
Pakistan has a unique system of elections. The elections are held under the leadership of a neutral PM. The term of National Assembly expired on May 31 and on June 1 retired Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Nasir Ul Mulk has taken over as caretaker PM. He was appointed as PM following a consensus between ruling and opposition parties. This is for the first time, a retired CJP is chosen as caretaker PM. Clause 224 (1) of Pakistan’s constitution says; A general election to the National Assembly or a Provincial Assembly shall be held within a period of sixty days immediately following the day on which the term of the Assembly is due to expire. The five year term of Punjab also expired on May 31. While the term of Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Balochistan expired on May 28.
The elections are going to be very tough. The total strength of NA is 342 of which 272 members are directly elected and 70 reserved for women and religious minorities. As most populated Punjab has maximum number of seats, effectively, it can decide who will be PM. In the last elections, Nawaz Sharif became PM primarily on the basis of number of seats he won in Punjab. So, the main battlefield will be Punjab. This time it will not be that smooth for Nawaz’s party. Former cricketer Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has made a sizeable inroad in Punjab. PTI came to power in KPK province in 2013 with the help of Jamat-e-Islami and couple of religious parties. The militancy was at its peak during that time and secular parties like Awami National Party (ANP) could not go to voters and campaign. Many activists of ANP were killed by Taliban and other terrorist organisations.
Imran Khan sees an opportunity this time. He has hidden support from the establishment. In 2014, he held massive sit-in demonstration in Islamabad. At the same time, Tahir ul-Qadri, a religious clergy, who has written books against terrorism and suicide bombing, also held demonstration. It was believed that a section of the establishment helped him too. The PTI claims that if they will come to power they will free country from the rampant corruption. But, the experience of their rule in KPK does not give voters a glimmer of hope.
Nawaz was 15th PM of Pakistan. He became PM three times but never completed his full term. Since Nawaz came to power in 2013, the militancy has decreased. But, the influence of religion has increased. The disqualified-for-life Nawaz has already started addressing public rallies. Even if PML (N) gets clear or absolute majority, he cannot become PM. The battle with Imran will not be easy. Imran has his own ‘charisma’. He attracts youths in huge numbers. Many left, liberal Pakistanis call him Taliban Nawaz and he has already started campaigning. He is the most important and influential leader of PML (N). He still enjoys massive support in Punjab. Nawaz has become a vocal critic of establishment. He believes that the establishment was behind his ouster from the post of PM and claims that he is a victim of conspiracy. Nawaz is also projecting the achievements of their government like success in attracting foreign funds, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) worth $ 50 billion and improving law and order situation. Pakistan also improved their relations with China and Russia during their time but same cannot be said in case of US. The militants may try to disturb the elections. In May, terrorists shot interior minister Ahsan Iqbal. Fortunately, he survived.
There is a strong rivalry between PML (N) and PTI and in all probability, it will vitiate the atmosphere. Both parties are campaigning hard. But, at the same time PPP cannot be ignored. They have their areas of influence. They have vast influence in the province of Sindh. They are expected to come to power again in Sindh. They also have some influence in southern Punjab. The party founded by late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto is now led by Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.