Pakistan’s post-election future? 20 May 2013

Mao Tse Dung allegedly was once asked what the impact of the French revolution was on the world.  Mao replied that ‘It was too early to tell’.  It is a little like that about Pakistan’s post-election future: it is too early to tell what the impact of Nawaz Sharif’s victory will be on Pakistan and the region.

It is certainly a very positive development that a civilian government in Pakistan has, for the first time, completed its full term without interruption.  Previously, all civilian governments either ended when the Pakistan President sacked the government (1990; 1993; 1996) or when the Pakistan military imposed martial law (1958-1971; 1977-1988; 1999-2008).

A further positive is that about 60 per cent of Pakistani electors voted in the recent national and provincial elections.  This was despite threats to their physical security and almost 200 people being killed in pre-poll and poll-day violence, with the Pakistani Taliban being the chief perpetrator.  Generally, the elections were considered to be reasonably free and fair.

While the results are yet to be finally determined—some by-elections need to be held where a candidate has won one more than one seat—they suggest some interesting possibilities.  Nationally, the big losers are the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid) faction and the Awami National Party, which latter has almost disappeared from the political scene nationally and provincially.

The big winners are Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) faction (PML (N)) and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (Movement for Justice) party (PTI).  The PML (N) will form government in Islamabad and in Punjab, and will be involved in the Balochistan government in coalition with the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and the National Party.  Imran Khan, while seemingly disappointed with the results, could possibly be the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, while his party will provide the bulk of the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

To some extent, religious elements have prospered in this election, with the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) now involved with the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.  Indeed, it is likely to obtain the important Education Ministry, which may not augur well for female students in this conservative province.  Similarly, some analysts fear that the Pakistan Government might go ‘soft’ on hardline religious elements, especially the Taliban, with whom Sharif and Khan both stated they would be prepared to negotiate.  Many neighbouring Afghans dislike this prospect, as do some Indians.

The big question will be who will oppose the PML (N)?  In Punjab, this party is overwhelmingly dominant, with few elected members in opposition.  Similarly, the PPP, the traditional opponent of the PML (N), lost in southern Punjab, an area where it previously had been strong.  Nationally, the PPP also is weak, while the PTI is new and unused to parliamentary procedures.

Conversely, the PPP is in a powerful position in Sind, where it will govern with in coalition with the Muttahida Quami Movement (United National Movement), which is exceptionally powerful, and sometimes disruptive, in Pakistan’s most important city, Karachi.  Already, MQM leaders have talked of wanting to oppose ‘Punjabi domination’, as they see it, a concept that also resonates with Baluchis who are politically unsettled.  I expect to see this become more of an issue as Sharif consolidates his rule throughout Pakistan.  Indeed, Sind could become a real ‘thorn in his side’.

Other variables involve personnel.  Pakistani legislatures need to select a new President in September.  The Prime Minister needs to appoint a new Chairman of Pakistan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and a new Chief of the Pakistan Army in October-November, and a new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in December.  Given Nawaz Sharif’s history with previous officials in these important positions, it will be important for him to ensure that people with whom he can deal are appointed.

Elections in Pakistan’s neighbours, Afghanistan and India, also could well impact on Sharif’s success, or otherwise.  Next April, Afghans will elect their next President.  No ‘stand out’ candidate has yet emerged.  In India, general elections must be completed before the end of May 2014.  Some analysts are predicting a change of government, with the possibly harder line Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party) being elected.  A small issue will be what to do with General Musharraf, with exile a distinct possibility.  However, this issue also is sensitive, and Sharif will have to take account of the wishes of the Pakistan Army in relation to its former chief, and on some other matters of importance.

The ‘jury’ is out about Nawaz Sharif and the PML (N), but it is still (far) too early to tell to tell how they both will go.


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