Categorized | South Asian Politics

Pakistani Elections between 1947 and 1985

Posted on 27 March 2013 by admin

Dr. Hasan Askari

  The national and provincial elections in Pakistan have been scheduled for May 11, 2013. These would be 9th general elections in Pakistan from 1970 to the present. No direct elections were held in Pakistan for electing the national assembly at the federal level from 1947 to 1970.

 The two-part article will provide an overview of the elections in Pakistan as a backgrounder to the forthcoming elections.

 The system of elections was gradually introduced by the British colonial government in India. The British government decided in the second half of 19th century to associate Indians with government affairs. Initially Indians were nominated to government positions. Subsequently the system of election was introduced which expanded from 1909 onwards. The central and provincial legislative bodies began to be partly elected. That is, some members were elected and some were nominated and were official members. In 1937, the provincial assemblies were fully elected. The same principle applied to provincial elections in 1946. However, the British introduced restricted voting system. The people fulfilling the prescribed conditions could vote in the elections.

 It was after the attainment of independence in August 1947 that Pakistan and India introduced universal adult franchise. All citizens of at least 21 years of age were given the right to vote. In the year 2002, the voting age in Pakistan was reduced to 18 years.

 Pakistani leaders shied away from holding elections at the national level. The first two constituent assemblies were constituted in 1947 and 1955 by indirect election. The members of the provincial assemblies elected the members of the constituent assembly. The 1947 constituent assembly was originally elected on the basis of the 1946 provincial assemblies. More people were inducted through nomination and elections later.

 Pakistan had provincial assembly elections in 1951-54. The provincial assemblies of the Punjab and Sindh were elected by direct vote in March and December 1951. The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (NWFP) Assembly was elected directly in March 1953 and the East Pakistan (East Bengal) Assembly was elected directly in March 1954.

 There was little interest in holding elections at the national level. It was decided that the National Assembly at the federal level would be elected directly in early 1959. That did not happen because in October 1958, General Ayub Khan, Command-in-Chief of the Army and President IskanderMirza decided to abrogate the 1956 Constitution and impose a martial law.

 The military government of Ayub Khan introduced the system of indirect elections. He established a local bodies system called Basic Democracy. It had 80,000 elected members in different local councils. These elected councilors elected members who were made the electoral college for electing the president and national and provincial assemblies.

  The first indirect elections through the members of Basic Democracy were held in April-May 1962 when the National Assembly and Provincial Assemblies were elected. Another National and Provincial Assemblies’ elections were held in the same manner in 1965. Presidential elections were held in January 1965 wherein Ayub Khan won against Fatima Jinnah. These elections were also indirect through the members of Basic Democracy.

  In March 1969 Ayub Khan’s military dominated government came to end and General Yahya Khan, the Army Chief assumed power on March 25, 1969. His military government accepted the demand of political parties to hold direct elections to national and provincial assemblies. It was also decided to divide seats in the National Assembly on population basis between East and West Pakistan instead of their equal representation as was the case in the past. This decision increased the seats ofEast Pakistan in the National Assembly because it had more population than West Pakistan.

 The first direct elections of the National Assembly were held in December 1970. Provincial elections were also held in the same month. Two leaders emerged in these elections. In East Pakistan, the Awami League led by Sheikh MujiburRahman won 160 general seats out of 162 seats allocated to East Pakistan in the National Assembly. It campaigned on the basis of 6-point Formula for maximum provincial autonomy for East Pakistan which bordered on separatism. In West Pakistan, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto won the largest number of seats allocated to four provinces of West Pakistan. The PPP agenda was Islamic socialism, state ownership of important industries and greater focus on the lowest strata of the society.

 The next elections were held in March 1977 for national and provincial assemblies. These elections caused much controversy because the opposition claimed that the PPP government had rigged these elections. The opposition boycotted the provincial elections and launched street agitation against the manipulation of the elections by the PPP government. All those opposed to the PPP and its socio-economic policies and its policies of restrictions on press came out in street. It soon became a nationwide movement. However, this movement for holding new fair elections soon changed into a movement for introduction of Islamic political order, described as the ‘Nizam-e-Mustafa.” Islamic political parties and groups, including the madrassa students who had the support of the business and trading classes were in the lead.

  In June 1977, the government and the opposition (led by Pakistan National Alliance, PNA) started negotiations for holding elections. They agreed to hold fresh elections but diverged on details, including the issue how would the government ensure fair elections?

 While the negotiations were in the final stages, General Zia-ul-Haq, Chief of Army Staff, overthrew the civilian government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, suspended the constitution and imposed martial law. The opposition, the PNA, welcomed the overthrow of Bhutto. Zia-ul-Haq promised to hold election in 90 days but this promise was not fulfilled. The elections were postponed and the military government embarked on Islamization of the state and society and started the accountability of the political leaders. The main target of the accountability and punitive action were the leaders and activists of the PPP.

 He promised in March 1979 to hold elections in November 1979 but these elections were also postponed and he ruled with an iron hand, suppressing political opposition by all possible means. The next elections were held in February 1985.

Next week we will discuss the elections from 1985 to 2013.

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