Is Pakistan Headed to Early Elections?

Increased political activity suggests a hint of elections in Pakistan, maybe only 6-9 months away. The incumbent PML (N) may emerge as the party with most seats after electoral reforms and early elections but could lose its absolute dominance in Punjab.

Posted on 10/15/14
By Ikram Sehgal | Via ViewsWeek
Election season has virtually started in Pakistan. (Photo by Mustafa Mohsin, Creative Commons License)
Election season has virtually started in Pakistan with opposition Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party of former cricket star holding massive rallies. Other parties like the PPP of former president Asif Ali Zardari are also planning their shows of strength. (Photo by Mustafa Mohsin, Creative Commons License)

Imran Khan wowed even the most cynical by a series of very successful massive public meetings in Karachi, Lahore and Mianwali, however tragedy struck as the crowd was dispersing after the huge rally in Multan once Imran had left the Stadium.  While the civil administration must be held accountable for the 7 who died and many injured, PTI’s lack of management contributed to the tragedy. It was an accident waiting to happen. In stark contrast to the well-organized Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT), PTI relies heavily on the mass spontaneity that Imran delivers rather than an inherent capacity for organization.


Turned off by the stampede and resultant chaos at Multan, women may stay away from future PTI rallies. Otherwise the increasing gender turnout, even in conservative Mianwali, could be a game-changer. Whatever may be the voter preference, the twin “Dharnas” in Islamabad have awakened the people of Pakistan to their fundamental rights. PTI is planning a rally in the PPP heartland of Larkana on Nov 21.


With the debilitating last 60 days eroding PML (N)’s capacity for governance, the huge PML (N) event being planned on Sharif homeground in Lahore should also be sellout. PPP’s Chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, will kick off his campaign for “democracy” on Oct 18, 2014 at the Quaid’s Mazar (the mausoleum of Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah), starting “from the scene of attack on the convoy of his mother Benazir Bhutto (on Sharah-e-Faisal — a major highway in Karachi) on Oct 18, 2007 to complete the task that she had commenced.”


The PPP Chairman complicated matters for his Karachi event by warning Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) Chief Altaf Hussain to control his ‘Na Maloom Afraad” (taken by some as a joke promoting Lollywood’s “Na Maloom Afraad” premiering on Eid Day). Urdu for “unidentified men” it is no joke, this term is widely used for suspected criminals, mainly target killers, in Karachi. Mimicking the MQM Chief Bilawal threatened, “Uncle Altaf, if my workers get a single scratch, forget London police, I will make your life miserable.” The possible “MQM threat” is pre-emptive tactics, meant as a readymade excuse if the PPP faithful do not turn up in numbers.


The Rangers have painstakingly ensured a semblance of peace in Karachi. As a consequence of Bilawal’s rather unnecessary diatribe, MQM’s Rabita Committee convened an emergency meeting. To quote MQM’s Haider Rizvi, “Bilawal was reading his statement from a piece of paper, therefore we will take this as part of PPP’s stated policy. It was not a slip of the tongue. Filled with hatred and based on discrimination, it is an open-ended threat to Altaf. No amount of threats will stop us from pursuing our goal. The PPP has lost its popularity, except in some parts of rural Sindh.” There is substance in the MQM’s claim that the landowning class of Sindh is apprehensive over MQM’s proposal for new administrative units in the province.


Chief Minister Sindh Qaim Ali Shah eulogized PPP’s young Chairman as a “fearless and bold leader” who will go ahead with the meeting regardless of his own personal safety and security, “he has won the hearts of people, this is new leadership with new spirit and new soul. Bilawal’s direct contact with the masses through such public gatherings would enable him to emerge as the “true heir” of the family of Bhuttos.”  Claiming that the Bhutto enigma was still very much alive in hearts of the people, Bilawal Zardari said the next Pakistani PM would be from the Bhutto clan.


Exhorting Imran Khan to learn politics from the Bhutto family since “politics is not a game,” the PPP Chief inadvertently gave away a political hometruth, Imran Khan’s PTI is the greatest threat to his party.  Hard-core workers in Punjab are deserting to PTI in droves, the “Shah Mahmood Qureshi” factor is proving to be increasingly problematical for PPP in Sindh.  With a number of Provincial and National PPP legislators aggrieved with Zardari for sidelining them with his nepotism-centric policies, there could be serious inroads in the PPP stronghold.


The Catch-22, can we have elections without meaningful electoral reforms? Community governance at the grassroots level is the very basis of democracy, democracy without this is a sham. The legal hurdles deliberately created by the provincial governments in the “Local Bodies” laws makes it a convenient to delay the polls, and if at all they are held, to install a system acceptable to the feudals.  Instead of being independent, community governance has been made infructuous by the Sindh “Local Bodies” Ordinance 2013, full of lacunas and ambiguities, it has put all municipal matters under control of the Provincial Govt.   And what about credible electoral rolls and delimitation based on a National Census, not conducted since 1998?


A 90 day period for any caretaker regime will get us continuation of the prevailing mess, effecting change in so short a time is asking for the impossible.  The incumbent PML (N) may still emerge as the party with the most seats after electoral reforms but could lose its absolute dominance in Punjab. Confusion prevails, PPP leaders alternate between “advising” the PM to go for early polls and not having them. While Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) is on the record for fresh elections under electoral reforms, smaller political parties who stand to lose ground in any future elections are vehemently opposed.


Increased political activity suggests a hint of elections, maybe only 6-9 months away. Can they be fair?


The writer is a defense and security analyst, chairman of the Pathfinder Group and director of the East West Institute. He can be contacted at

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