By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
Election fever which gripped the nation from April 21 subsided on May 11 after results were announced. Election results generated mixed feelings of joys and sorrows. The outright victors were overjoyed and celebrated their victory with heartiness. The losers mourned their loss and tried to lessen their grief by saying that elections were rigged and results manipulated. Partial victors remained in two minds whether to celebrate or mourn over the non-fulfillment of their dream of standing alone on the victory stand.
Elections took place on May 11 after a bloody election campaign in which the militants of Tehrik-e-Taliban -Pakistan (TTP) targeted the liberal parties in particular but didn’t spare rightist parties. Awami-National-Party (ANP) suffered the most. Even on Election Day, several incidents of terrorism took place. By and large polling process got completed in 91% polling stations fairly and peacefully. Irregularities took place only in 9% polling stations. Maximum complaints of irregularities were received from Karachi. The caretakers, Election Commission Pakistan (ECP) and security forces did their jobs satisfactorily, although some deficiencies were in plain sight. EU has expressed satisfaction with electoral process.
Most encouraging and noticeable aspect of the polling was the voters’ turnout which touched 60%. The youth and women galvanized by Imran Khan as well as by Sharif brothers were instrumental in increasing the turnout. Their enthusiasm to cast votes irrespective of insecurity was unprecedented and helped a great deal in defeating the sordid plans of anti-democratic forces to scare away the voters and fail the electoral process. Even in highly turbulent areas of FATA and Balochistan, voters came out in big numbers to cast their votes. In Balochistan, voter turnout was 40-45%.
Pessimists making authoritative predictions that elections will either be postponed or not held had to chew their words. All opinion polls and surveys had assessed that Pakistan-Muslim-League (Nawaz) (PML-N) would win the race. However, political wizards were on one page asserting that it will not be able to achieve even simple majority because of a close fight by Pakistan-Tehrik-Insaf (PTI) in Punjab and it will be a hung parliament. Another myth that had gained currency was that turnout higher than 55% would benefit PTI. Both the predictions proved false. PML-N not only emerged as the single largest party in the country by achieving near simple majority in the centre with 126 seats, but also is the only party which secured seats in all the provinces. PML-N swept the polls in Punjab by bagging 204 seats, won 8 seats in Balochistan, 13 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and 2 in Sindh. It is in a position to form governments in the centre, Punjab and Balochistan (Bln). It can also form a coalition government KP as a junior partner by allying itself with Jamiat-Ulema-Islam-(Fazlur Rahman) (JUI-F), Jamaat-e-Islam (JI), PPP-(Sherpao) and independents.
As predicted PTI has emerged as the second largest party but it couldn’t gain any seat in Bln and Sindh. It had high hopes that it will clinch the trophy in the centre but could gather only 32 seats. In Punjab too its tally was second best with 32 seats. In KPK it is the single largest party with 34 seats and is in a good position to form a government provided it can muster support of other parties to complete the number of 70. PTI is alleging that on several seats in Punjab, blatant rigging took place. Its workers staged a dharna (sit-in) in Lahore which has so far not dispersed.
PPP was laying high hopes on PTI that it would benefit PPP by cutting votes of PML-N in Punjab, but the reverse happened. PPP stood third in the federal race with 31 seats as against its expectation of winning 45-50 seats. Most of its leading lights lost. It fared poorly in Punjab bagging only 6 seats. It couldn’t win a single seat in KPK and Bln where it had coalition governments after 2008 elections. Only in Sindh it managed to thwart the threat posed by 10-Party alliance led by PML-F and emerged as the largest party securing 69 seats from rural Sindh. PML-F could acquire only 7 seats. PPP is in a comfortable position to form a government in Sindh in coalition with MQM. Having strong roots in all provinces, PPP has got confined to rural Sindh only. It is being said that it has reaped what it sowed. PPP’s poor showing has almost smashed the chances of re-election of Zardari for second term in August. The PPP however enjoying majority in Senate can create problems for the new government by blocking legislations.
The JUI-F succeeded in securing 10 seats in the centre, 15 in KPK, 6 in Bln but none in Punjab and Sindh. Crafty Maulana Fazlur Rahman has thrown bait to Nawaz to form a government in KPK minus PTI by inviting 13 independents and others.
The JI could collect only 4 seats in national assembly, 7 in KPK, and one in Punjab. Like ANP and PPP, Pervez Ellahi led PML-Q is another party which stands demolished. Its scorecard is one seat in the centre, 7 in Punjab and 2 in Bln.
In Balochistan results were a mixed bag; none emerged as a clear victor but Mahmood Achakzai’s PKMAP won 11 provincial and 3 national assembly seats, followed by PML-N. Bizenjo’s Nationalist-Party (NP) also fared well. Talal Bugti led Jamhuri-Watan-Party (JWP) boycotted elections complaining its voters were harassed and prevented from casting votes. Akhtar Mengal led Baloch-Nationalist-Party (BNP) rejected polling results and demanded fresh elections. Mengal’s protest rally in Quetta was struck by six rockets on 12 May. IG Police Sukhera had a narrow escape. Bln will have a multi-party coalition government.
The MQM claiming to further increase its seats in Sindh and national assembles and expecting to win seats from other provinces to emerge as a national party received a setback because of its politics of violence. It is chiefly responsible for bloodbath in Karachi during its last five years tenure. It has been able to retain its monopoly over Karachi as well as Hyderabad because of its power of bullet and not vote alone. After successfully thwarting ECP’s plan to carryout delimitation of Karachi constituencies and updating voters list through door-to-door verification, the MQM repeated its old tactics of rigging in elections in Karachi on May 11 with the help of its appointed caretakers and election staff. It was particularly worried about PTI which has become very popular among Urdu speaking community and has nibbled sizeable chunk of MQM vote bank. It also couldn’t ignore Pathan/Punjabi enlarged vote bank.
To its utter surprise, MQM’s high-handedness was challenged by other parties. While JI, JUP, Sunni-Tehriq and MQM (Haqiqui) boycotted elections, PTI youngsters, mostly belonging to Defence area staged a sit-in in Clifton to protest against MQM’s vandalism and unhindered rigging. Live footages how ballot papers were stamped and stuffed in ballot boxes, while presiding, returning and polling officers watched the show helplessly were shown on TV channels and social media. No security man was seen near the problematic polling stations. Neither any presiding officer considered it feasible to seek Army’s help despite mounting complaints of the voters.
People wondered as to why Sindh Rangers or 5 Corps troops didn’t reach when Gen Kayani had clearly spelled out his policy of providing full protection to ensure free and fair elections. People are asking that well-knowing the sensitivity of certain polling stations, why those were left unattended. They are asking why the election staff, ballot papers and ballot boxes didn’t reach the designated places in time and why polling couldn’t start at the scheduled time in some polling stations and started as late as 1230 pm. They are demanded re-polling in 18 constituencies under full protection of Army and soldiers deployed inside and outside polling stations. Anger has welled up against the Army and social media is blaming the Army for failing to prevent rigging in Karachi. Many are saying the goodwill achieved by Gen Kayani has been washed away. Reportedly bangles were presented by women to Rangers in Karachi.
To top it all, Altaf Hussain added fuel to rising tempers when he thundered during his telephonic address to his captive audience sitting in nine-zero that if MQM mandate was not acceptable, the Establishment should separate Karachi from Pakistan. He has repeated his inner wish quite often whenever MQM’s unreasonable demands were not accepted or things were not going in its favor. He was critical of the protesting crowd assembled at Clifton and warned that he will not be able to restrain his activists for long. He threatened that his men are ready to fire at the protestors and warned that if they didn’t stop playing with fire, whole of Pakistan will be burnt and reduced to ashes. His audience listened to him with pin drop silence and lustily cheered his emotional outbursts. I wondered why PEMRA kept snoozing all this time.
As against the poor conduct of MQM leaders, ANP leadership demonstrated greater sense of maturity despite being completely routed in its home province. It could win only one seat in the centre and 4 in KPK which it had ruled for five years. PTI drove the nail in its coffin since it had opposed ANP’s anti-Taliban policy and advocated dialogue with TTP to end the war on terror and also opposed drone war. Even the top ANP leaders like Asfand Wali, Ghulam Bilour and Hoti lost their seats but accepted defeat gracefully.
PML-N will form a government by co-opting independents, JUI-F, JI, PML-F, PKMAP and Baloch nationalist parties. With 198 seats in its kitty in Punjab, PML-N doesn’t require the support of any other political party particularly after over 40 independents join up. PTI should form a government in KPK and focus fully on it rather than chasing rainbows. What is required now is that losers should stop brooding over spilt milk, and show greater maturity by respecting the people’s mandate. ECP should take stock of irregularities in elections and correct them wherever feasible. Army should play its role in Karachi to remove the genuine grievances. Process of forming federal and provincial governments should get completed smoothly, and the new teams should put in their heart and soul to tackle the myriad of problems left behind by the last government. We can’t afford to waste any time.