Although the caretaker government of Pakistan under Prime Minister Nasirul Mulk has given assurance that this Wednesday’s general elections will be free and fair, some Pakistanis have reservations. As usual, speculation is rife that the Pakistan Army will fix the results to have its “own” man as the prime minister of the country. Conversely, since 2008 the army has played little role in the country’s politics, though it has been active in decision-making processes.
Corruption is one of the foremost issues in this week’s elections. Because of the appearance of his name in the Panama Papers, Nawaz Sharif, former prime minister and leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), has been disqualified from contesting elections. At present, he along with his daughter Maryam and his son-in-law, retired Captain Muhammad Safdar Awan, are in Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi.
In Nawaz Sharif’s absence, the PML-N is being led by its president, Shahbaz Sharif. He is contesting from NA 132 (Lahore-X). There is also speculation that Maryam Nawaz’s son Junaid Safdar may participate in the election.
There have been whispers that the army was responsible for Nawaz Sharif’s fate, but there has been nothing concrete to prove it.
Chance for Imran Khan
With Sharif in jail, there is a chance for Imran Khan, the former cricket star, to unseat the PML-N government at the federal level. For this to occur, his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), has to perform well in Punjab and Sindh, which have 174 and 75 seats respectively.
But in Punjab, the PML-N is strong, while Sindh is regarded as the stronghold of the Pakistan Peoples Party. There is also speculation that the PPP and PML-N may form a coalition to keep the PTI away from power. However, this depends on the results of the election and political developments after the vote.
The opinion polls say that at the federal level the contest is, mainly, between the PTI and the PML-N. A Gallup poll puts PML-N marginally ahead of the PTI. On the other hand, according to a Pulse survey, the PTI has a lead over the PML-N.
At the provincial level, Pulse Consultant, Gallup Pakistan and the Institute for Public Opinion and Research (IPOR) show that the PML-N is still the voters’ choice in Punjab, while PPP continues to be the favorite in Sindh, Imran Khan remains strong in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and in Balochistan PPP has an edge over the others.
Ahmadis to boycott poll
The Qadiani Ahmadis, who are considered heretics by Sunnis and were declared non-Muslims way back in 1974 by the Zulfikar Bhutto-led PPP government, have decided to boycott Wednesday’s elections. One reason for the boycott is the discrimination practiced against the community by preparing separate voters lists for them bearing the titles “Qadiani men or women.”
Explaining it further, Ahmadi community spokesman Saleemuddin said: “This discriminatory treatment on the basis of religion is a deliberate attempt to disenfranchise the Ahmadis of Pakistan … deny them their right to vote. Such prejudicial behavior is an open violation of Pakistani Ahmadis’ rights as citizens of the state and goes against the vision of the founding father of the country and contravenes both the constitution and the very joint electoral system.”
Despite shortcomings, the silver lining is that this election, no matter who wins, will strengthen procedural democracy in Pakistan.
However, the country has to do a lot to establish a substantive democracy to address such issues as prevailing inequality, constitutional, political and social discrimination against minorities, religious and sectarian violence, and institutional supremacy of the military over civilian leadership.
Amat Ranjan is a visiting research fellow at the Institute of South Asia Studies.