NationalVolume 14 Issue # 01

Lessons learnt from the 2018 elections

The recently held national elections in the country were significant from many standpoints and the outcome of the polls would have far-reaching impact on the political culture of the country. From the standpoint of political stability, continuity of the democratic system, capturing of political power by a non-traditional political party to questioning of the elections result by the defeated parties and candidates, the 2018 elections are profoundly important.

Insofar as the role of the 2018 elections in the political stability in the country is concerned, indubitably they would go a long way in politically strengthening the country. The national polls were the third successive elections, which is something of an unprecedented development in the chequered political history of Pakistan and obviously would have wholesome effects on the country’s political system.  In recent years Pakistan has been going through one of the worst period of its existence and in such an atmosphere the completion of their respective constitutional term by two consecutive elected governments and election of the third is a constructive happening in this ill-fated country. An important aspect of the recent elections is that the winner Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is the third different political party, which would form a coalition government at the federal level, after the third successive national elections. It was the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which led a coalition government that also included the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), Awami National Party (ANP) from 2002 to 2007. Even the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was initially part of the PPP government but it then left the government. The coalition also ruled the Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Sindh provinces.

Then in the 2013 elections the PML-N won a majority and formed a coalition government, including the MQM and the JUI-F. In the provinces the major gain was by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which had its first taste of government in the KP. The PPP again had an opportunity to form the government in Sindh. The PML-N also formed its government in the Punjab and Balochistan provinces. All these federal and provincial governments completed their respective five-year tenures in May this year. These five years proved historic, particularly when the Supreme Court of Pakistan disqualified the incumbent prime minister of the PML-N, Mian Nawaz Sharif, for his failure to explain the money trail with which property worth millions of dollars was purchased in London after a Joint Investigation Team probed the issue after the surfacing of the Panama scam. It was the same period in which the PTI staged a more than a 100-day sit-in in federal capital, Islamabad, for alleged fraud in the 2013 national elections.

During the period from 2013 to 2018, the PTI government in the KP province was a test-case for the future of the political party at the national level. The party government in the province performed quite satisfactorily while the federal government was hostile to it. The PTI went into the 2018 elections with that performance, as well as with the credit of having Sharif disqualified through the Supreme Court by filing and assiduously pursuing the petition in the court. On the other hand, the PML-N tried to win the masses’ sympathy vote by trying to portray Sharif’s disqualification as “politically motivated”. The PPP also attempted to win the trust of the voters by presenting Bilawal Bhutto Zardari as the new face of the party. The religious parties once again formed an electoral alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) including the JUI-F and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) in the lead while certain new religio-political parties emerged before the elections including the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) and Allah-O-Akbar Tehreek (AAT). Ethno-linguistic parties like the ANP also jumped into the elections in a hope to revive its dwindling fortunes. It is important to note that the PTI has been most aggressive and articulate in the electoral campaign and it was more than obvious that it would be leading all others in the 2018 elections. Apart from the above-mentioned PTI government performance in the KP and its head Imran Khan’s role in the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif as prime minister, the poor performance of the PML-N government at the centre to put the country’s economy on track and ending the energy crisis in the country, as well as the better leadership qualities demonstrated by Imran Khan were instrumental in the PTI win.

So when the PTI emerged as the single largest party in the 2018 elections, it was not at all a surprise. However, the anti-corruption agenda of the party unified all other mainstream political parties against it, as most of them have in some way or the other been involved in several mega corruption scandals during their respective stints in power. As Mr. Khan has been claiming to bring all the corrupt to justice and recover the looted money, he became a natural foe to all other parties. Therefore, all these parties have formed alliances across the country against the PTI, which could not form a major alliance other than a seat-adjustment with the nearly non-existent Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q). After the July 25 national elections, the PTI won 116 National Assembly seats, followed by the PML-N with 64 and the PPP with 43 seats. The MMA also won 12 seats with the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) winning five, PML-Q four and Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) in Sindh only two seats. However, the MQM managed to win seven seats. Apart from that the PTI has won absolute majority in its stronghold KP while also nearly equaling the PML-N tally of seats in the Punjab Assembly. Sindh has once again fallen in the lap of the PPP while in Balochistan the BAP is in the lead and would be able to form the government.

Noticeably, almost all the major and small political parties other than the PTI have raised serious objections over the result of the elections. They all have argued that the country’s establishment has manipulated elections to help the PTI win. These are very strange allegations because the PML-N has been able to win 64 NA seats and a slim majority in the Punjab Assembly, whereas in Sindh the PPP has won absolute majority. Had the elections been manipulated the PTI would have won landslide victory. Therefore, if the defeated political parties, would go on agitating about the results of the elections it would muddy the political atmosphere in the country. However, the defeated political parties may not be able to continue with the agitation regarding the election results as they do not have any strong organizational base and this is the problem with all the political parties. Even the Jamaat-e-Islami, which is generally considered as the most organized political group, organization seems in tatters. So it would be better to accept the elections result and go on as the country exigently needs political stability because the challenges on the domestic and foreign policy front are numerous.