By Dr. Hasan Askari
Pakistan is gradually moving towards new general elections. The term of the National Assembly will expire on March 18, 2013 and the Provincial Assemblies will complete their term of life within two-three weeks after that. Some political leaders have suggested that the PPP should declare the state of emergency and extend the tenure of the National Assembly by one year by a vote in the National Assembly. This is not expected to happen because it will increase the political problems of the People’s Party and it would find it extremely difficult to rule for the extended term. Such a decision will also be challenged in the Supreme Court and given the anti-federal government mood of the Supreme Court, the PPP government may face embarrassment there. Further, the constitution does not specifically talk of extension of tenure of the provincial assemblies.
The PPP and its allies want to improve their performance in the last five months of their tenure. They want to focus especially on reducing electric power cuts by the end of the year. However, there are hardly any signs that the federal government can show any major success in its socio-economic field and power generation.
The PMLN’s Punjab government wants to complete the much publicized transport project inLahoreby the end of December so that it adds this project to its achievement list for the next elections. The PMLN is also working hard to neutralize Imran Khan’s appeal to youth.
ThePakistanTehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) is engaged in political mobilization. TheSouth Waziristanmarch was the latest attempt to draw attention towards the PTI and project itself as the most vibrant party. After having done a series of public meeting in major cities, now it will resort to more public marches for political support building.
A good number of political leaders are exploring different political parties for getting the party ticket. The main focus is on three political parties, the PPP, the PMLN and the PTI. The PMLQ of the Chaudhris of Gujrat will contest elections in partnership with the PPP but it is unilaterally given election ticket. This can create complications between the PPP and the PMLQ.
Pakistan’s political scene is taking an interesting turn in terms of political orientations of the competing political parties. The situation on the centre-to-the left of the political spectrum seems somewhat orderly. The PPP occupies the leading position, followed by the MQM and the ANP. The PMLQ is expected to stay with the coalition. These parties have uneasy relationship with one another but they will lose if they splinter. The MQM and the ANP are strong in their respective provinces but both face challenges from Islamic political parties, i.e. the Sunni Tehrik inKarachiand JUIF and the PTI in Khyber-Pakhtunkwha.
The political scene on the Right of the Center to extreme-right and Islamist orientations appears to be crowded and confused. There are a host of political parties that are expected to appeal to similar voters. The PMLN leads this side of the political spectrum but it faces challenge in thePunjabfrom Imran Khan’s PTI. The Jamaat-i-Islami will also pull some votes from amongst those being sought by the PMLN and the PTI. As the Jamaat has an image problem, a good number of people with Islamist orientations are expected to opt for the PMLN and the PTI.
Islamic political parties are attempting to set up an electoral alliance. It appears that they may not create one all-embracing alliances. The Jamaat-i-Islami is trying to create its own alliance. The JUI-F and some smaller parties want to revive the old MMA (minus the Jamaat). Two other alliances are likely to contest elections: The Sunni Tehrik and the Defa-i-Pakistan Council.
The PMLN is quietly negotiating with small Islamic-sectarian groups, especially the Ahle-Sunnet-Wal-Jamaat party, formerly the Sipah-i-SahabaPakistan, for seat adjustment. It may try to collect smaller groups around it to weaken the position of the PTI.
The urban Sindh is dominated by the MQM, although other contenders, including the PTI, would challenge the MQM’s traditional dominance. In the rural areas, there is a noticeable alienation from the PPP. It is difficult to suggest who will benefit and to what extent. The nationalist groups are endeavouring to offer them as an alternative to the PPP. The PML-Functional is hoping to bag more seats. The PMLN has also engaged in mobilization in interior Sindh. However, its success in the interior depends on the standing of its Sindhi candidate rather than the PMLN and its leadership.
Balochistan continues to be divided among Sardars, politically active ethnicity based groups and political parties. Its electoral results are expected to be divided unless Sardar Akhtar Mengal and others return to active politics and create political alliances with mainstream political parties.
The real political picture will start becoming clear in January-February 2013. The Party manifesto will be ready by that time. It appears at this stage that no party will get a clear majority in the National Assembly. As more parties are competing now, the National Assembly may be more divided than the present one. It would be a hard task to create a post-election ruling coalition. Whosoever is able to do that will be the real winner.