Electoral Surprise

Other than the ‘electables’ of the feudal kind, every province has its own ethnic, racial and sectarian electoral dynamics. Our extremely defective ‘first-past-the-post’ system force-multiplies the problems of governance. Out of the nearly 35 million votes cast in 2008 (out of nearly 85 million,) the PPP got a little more than 10 million ie 29 percent but 97 seats (36 percent). The PML-Q had eight million ie 23 percent but only 42 (16 percent) seats whereas the PML-N got 6.8 million votes ie 20 percent but 25 seats. Many parties including the PTI and the JI did not participate.
The equation in urban-rural constituencies depends upon the predominant ethnic votes cast, highlighted best by the PPP’s problems in Sindh stemming from the on-again, off-again Sindh Local Bodies Ordinance giving the population two sets of laws within one province. The PPP’s gambit to accommodate the MQM’s reservations infuriated the ethnic Sindh population, the PML-F and nationalist parties uniting on an anti-PPP front. This also gave space to Mian Nawaz Sharif to make an election alliance, shoring up Pir Pagara’s alliance to do better than it did in 2008 and allowed some discredited former PML-Q stalwarts to revive their fortunes, albeit in different party garbs.
Notwithstanding enthusiastic Imran fans fired up to vote in Karachi and other parts of Sindh, the PTI will possibly not win a single seat in Sindh, except perhaps for Shah Mehmood Qureshi. Both the PPP and the MQM are still assured of a majority, albeit a reduced one. The Election Commission of Pakistan is unable (and unwilling) to prevent the deliberate staffing of polling booths by officials aligned to the PPP and the MQM, this pre-poll rigging condoned by the Sindh caretaker government. The PPP’s seat count will be followed by the MQM, then by the PML-F – nationalist alliance, a number of independents winning seats both in the National Assembly and the provincial assembly.
Unlike 2008 (and earlier) there is a greater awareness in Balochistan of electoral politics. Militant activity extends to mostly Baloch-populated areas – less than 20 percent of the population – but they are threatening people not to vote in Dera Bugti, Kohlu, Kalat, Mastung and Khuzdar, etc. The pervasive feeling of discrimination notwithstanding, the nationalists’ electoral support is mainly limited to Marri, Mengal and to a limited extent the Bugti areas, with adjoining tribal affiliations.
The nationalists’ electoral hype is more media creation of the media than actual electoral ground reality. The JUI-F will retain its inherent support in the northern Pakhtun belt. Mengal’s possible alignment with Achakzai is good news; the Pashto-speaking Hazara community will be more united with the Baloch – together in the face of adversity. The sectarian divide will not have a significant impact. Besides feudal ‘electables’ winning, the PML-N and the independents will get a handful of seats. And the PPP will only get three or four seats in the Balochistan Assembly.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will witness major change from the 2008 elections. Known for its honest and sincere worker-orientation, the Awami National Party stands very discredited and in serious trouble because of its blatant corruption. The PPP leads this category nationally in this respect. The ANP will be extremely lucky to get three or four seats nationally, and some more in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly. The PML-N will certainly get a half dozen seats plus, while JUI-F will hold its traditional bastions of power. The Jamaat-e-Islami will get some NA seats because of seat adjustment with the PTI, and some in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly. The PTI should get nearly a dozen seats, mainly at the expense of the ANP and the PPP. Disgruntled independent ‘electables’ contesting without a political party banner will also get a few seats.
The battleground is Punjab. Broadly speaking Punjab can be divided into rural, urban and urban-rural constituencies. The common perception was that the real fight would be between the PML-N and the PPP-and-PML-Q combined, but that is patently wrong. The PPP will be very lucky to get a couple of dozen seats with the electables in the PML-Q getting even less, in both national and provincial assemblies. Some seats will go to the independents, the JI etc but the real struggle is between the PML-N and the PTI, mainly in Central Punjab. The PML-N has a fair amount of support from the rural constituencies on electoral day but the urban and urban-rural constituencies all along the GT Road as well as the Lahore-Multan and the Lahore-Faisalabad-Sargodha-Mianwali roads works in favour of PTI. To score Imran Khan has to get the voter out on Election Day!
Enamoured by the District Management Group (DMG) the Shahbaz Sharif regime was nasty beyond belief to the Provincial Civil Service (PCS). More than 73 PCS officers as well as dozens of doctors and paramedics were arrested and booked under the anti-terrorist act for protesting. Their leaders were brutally attacked by the police. The president of the Lecturers’ Association had his leg broken on the Mall Road. While DMG officers may influence day-to-day governance, on Election Day it is the PCS officers down the line – teachers, education and population welfare staff etc – who man the polling booths. This works in the PTI’s favour by mostly eliminating poll rigging. PCS includes clerks, stenographers, personal assistants, peons, sweepers, gardeners, chowkidars, etc not to mention Provincial Police Service (PPS) constables, head constables, ASIs, Inspectors, etc.
Some ground surveys have the PTI actually outvoting the PPP 3-to-2 in many constituencies, neck and neck in the seat count in Punjab, the PML-N presently having a slight edge. This could change, mainly at the expense of the PPP, if the PTI manages to get out its solid youth and women support to actually vote on polling day. In 2008, 44 percent voted despite the terrorist bombings. The PTI needs to exceed 55 percent; every additional percentage will help the party. Imran Khan must target rallies in Sialkot, Multan, Faisalabad and Gujranwala close to Election Day to maintain the momentum. If a motorised rally along the GT Road, addressing not less than a dozen meetings only 3-4 days before Election Day is successful, it will be a game-changer.
Other than repeating its 2008 performance in Sindh, mostly because of systematic pre-poll rigging, the PPP is trailing behind both the PML-N and the PTI nationally. The PPP’s major problem – other than providing the worst and most corrupt governance in the history of Pakistan – is that at the political hustings at such a critical period it is leaderless. After blatantly politicising the presidency for nearly five years, Asif Zardari must be restless being legally hors de combat and confined to presidential quarters. Bilawal cannot step out of his security parameter because of genuine security concerns. Second in Punjab in 2008, this time around the PPP will be lucky to be ahead of even its coalition partners, the PML-Q and the MQM, for third place behind the PML-N and the PTI, probably in that order.
Whatever way one looks at it and, despite suffering negativity generated by the electronic media, the PTI has come out of almost nowhere to challenge the PML-N for a predominant electoral position in the country. This is a major achievement of significant importance. A hung parliament is certainly in the offing but this time it will be slanted towards good governance.