Pakistan is in the midst of the most violent and an anarchic election of its history. The electoral politics in Pakistan has polarized the internal factions of society and more importantly of the powerful security establishment. Hundreds have been killed so far in dozens incidents of violence, mostly taking place during the elections campaign. It is widely believed that the results of these elections are strategically important to decide the narrative about the future of Pakistan.
The violence has mostly centred in Pakhtunkhuwa, followed by the rest provinces, and has been targeting the campaigns of liberal and secular popular parties such as the Awami National Party (ANP), the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and to some extent the Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). Some powerful candidates have been attacked, many have escaped but a couple of them have been killed, with the Taliban claiming responsibility of a large number of these incidents.
The elections in Pakistan are of strategic significance because of at least three basic factors including the ISAF withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014; the saturated antagonism between liberals and extremists in Pakistan; and finally a race between the conservative and relatively liberal schools of thought within highly powerful security establishment. It is widely believed in Pakistan that the security establishment wants a right-wing government that would appease its aims with regard to a 2014 strategic engagement in Afghanistan, and revitalize its role within future statecraft.
Widespread violence during the election campaign in Pakistan is a result of the overpowering anarchy that prevails both in the society as well as within the institutions of state and the interplay between them. The changing socio-political chemistry in Pakistan has pushed various antagonistic political forces to confront each other, which are bound to change the structure of statehood in Pakistan after the election. During these periods of anarchy, the various sub-powers of the state continue to alter their position in attempts to impose rites on the wider society, most visibly from within the judiciary, army, and civil bureaucracy.
Around 200 independent candidates have entered into the elections, a broader selection than ever before in Pakistani politics, but their chances of winning seats remain slim. There are also a number of candidates who are civil society activists and from marginal sectors of society such as Dalits, transgender activists, artists, and women. However, there is little coordination between the candidates or groups at this stage, with the situation indicative of the reality of a developing middle class and youth in the country who are detaching from the mainstream traditional parties and political narratives.
Ethnic divide is another important aspect of these elections. Previously, Mutahida (previously Muhajir) Qaumi Movement (MQM) have focused their campaigns on ethno-linguistic lines, but today Sindhi, Baloch, and Pashtuns are tilting towards the ethno-nationalists narratives, which indicate that ‘ethnicity’ is steadily becoming the focus of politics in Pakistan.
Candidates of almost all traditional electoral political parties have witnessed an extraordinary wrath of voters for the first time in the history of Pakistan. Never before have the candidates of the PPP, PML-N, and MQM been poorly received by the public. PPP candidates have felt the worst of this in Sindh because of their legislation for the highly unpopular Sindh Local Government Act, which according to the people of Sindh, was an attempt of administratively dividing the province. In some parts, the candidates have also had their honour questioned due to their silence on injustices to the Hindu minority.
It is generally predicted that PPP will hold much of the seats in South Punjab, but they may well lose in SIndh and Balochistan due to the growth of nationalist movements in those. PML – N is predicted to be the winner in the central Punjab, Hazara division of Pakhtunkhuwa, along with an extremely thin representation from Sindh and Balochistan. ANP may comparatively neglect Pakhtunkhuwa. MQM is speculated to lose in Karachi and Hyderabad cities, where they have traditionally found their base of support. The religious parties like JUI (Fazal and Sami groups) and Jamat-e-Islami are likely to capture some seats in Karachi, South Punjab and in parts of Pakhtunkhwa, Balochsiatn and FATA. It is the first time that the chances of the Baloch nationalists, and nationalist-leaning parties in Sindh, including Pir Pagaro’s Muslim League, are so high among Sindhi and Balochi speaking voters. There is only an outside chance of Imran Khan’s PTI sweeping the board even in his own district of Mianwali in the Siraiki speaking Punjab.
What Lies in the Future?
It is widely predicted that the election results will break the dominant two-party system and replace it with multiparty rule, with no single party expected to form a majority government. This outcome would be most beneficial to the security establishment, and could set the language of future civil-military relations within the country. This change in political makeup will impact on the internal issues facing Pakistan such as the crises of federalism, security, and stability, but also on the country’s foreign policy regarding India and Afghanistan.