Random posts on all sorts of things designed to inform and provoke.
Pakistan is preparing to hold general elections sometime in the next two months and even though the country’s relative importance has dimmed, its presence as a fulcrum on a number of global issues means it remains a valuable player on the world stage. Consequently, multiple nations including China, India and the United States are watching these elections closely and predicting who they will have to deal with over the next few years.
However, before discussing the elections, one should consider whether the elections will actually take place. Pakistan stands on shaky security ground, facing threats from multiple internal and external actors including criminal enterprises and discontent civilians – the latter sure to grow as temperatures and prices increase while electricity supplies decrease. Consequently, it’s conceivable the military will assess these elections will cause an untenable increase in instability and thus postpone them for an indeterminate period.
While reasonable, I don’t believe this will happen unless there is a dramatic security incident – on the scale of the assassination of a major political figure. Barring such an event, Pakistanis will most likely go to the polls in the next two months.
The second issue to assess is whether these elections will be fair or marred with irregularities. Any part-time watcher of Pakistani politicians will admit these elections will not be impartial and intimidation will occur.
Expecting anything else will be unfair, not only to the country’s political history but also to the enormous efforts made by the ruling parties who, most surely, have been working diligently for months to set up a ground game that will efficiently steal votes from suspecting and unsuspecting citizens.
Rather, a more pertinent query is whether these efforts will have a noteworthy impact on the outcome. This won’t be obvious until election time but one could reasonably assume that protests against real or perceived voter fraud will almost certainly follow the results – regardless of whoever wins.
Since the assessment is the elections will be held, the next question is about the relative strength of the political parties.
The Pakistani media and youth have obviously fallen in love with the former-cricket captain Imran Khan. Even though Khan is well known to be the only honest politician in the country, his success over the past few decades has been negligible. The assumption is that given the strong turbulence in Pakistan – most of it blamed on the ruling party – this is the year for Khan to take the crown and take his place among the country’s political elite.
In the meantime, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif waits patiently for his return to the political limelight. His brother already governs Pakistan’s most populous and powerful province which significantly improves Mr. Sharif’s chances of riding a win in Punjab all the way to Islamabad.
The ruling Pakistan’s Peoples Party (PPP), on the other hand, has seen its popularity plummet. In addition, it is also trying to resolve internal conflicts as Pakistan’s president and PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari works to set up a handover to his young son and political novice, Bilawal Zardari.
Tangentially, former president and famed commando Pervaiz Musharraf recently parachuted into Pakistan on the promise of returning the country to its former glory. However, almost no one believes either him or his ability to deliver on anything. Thus, he is unlikely to make a major impact in the polls and likely to either get arrested or depart for distant shores once again.
Having set up the players (barring one exception who I reference below), let’s now focus on predicting the election outcome. In addition, let’s ignore the fact that it’s never a good idea to make such predictions about Pakistan since fortunes in that country change with every drone strike.
The first prediction is that Imran Khan will not win a significant number of votes. There are a number of reasons for this prediction but the primary rationale lies in the cricketing hero’s support base which is composed of the young and educated people in Karachi and Lahore. These cities are controlled by the MQM (the heretofore unmentioned political powerhouse) and PML (N) respectively. Consequently, these two parties will win a majority of the votes and undercut Khan’s success.
All will not be lost though as Imran Khan’s party will almost certainly win more seats than in the previous election but since that is such a low bar, these wins won’t make him a major singular political player.
It’s relatively definite that Nawaz Sharif’s party will win Punjab and thus maintain its status quo in that province. The PML (N) may even increase its strength in other provinces but that is unlikely to be enough for it to run the country by itself.
This leaves the provincial parties (such as the MQM) who will most likely maintain their current strength and their role as kingmakers.
Which brings us to the PPP which is likely to, once again, be the singularly majority party. Unlike the past though, its power will be much weaker.
All of this brings us to the bottom-line prediction which is that the next Pakistani government will be a coalition of various parties with conflicting interests. Zardari’s strength lies in marshalling these forces to follow his lead and Sharif will only be able to return to power if he is able to duplicate his nemesis’ skills.
Speaking of individuals who have master manipulative skills, one should not underestimate Pakistan’s Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry. While the judiciary will not support Zardari, both Khan and Sharif should (and likely are) actively seek his blessing.
The end result is likely to be a new prime minister and president which means that while the orchestra will change, the tunes will remain the same.