As Pakistan goes to polls on 11 May trends indicate that a right wing coalition may come to power in Islamabad. The principal political parties the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and opposition Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) are for the first time challenged by a party at the national level, Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI) led by former cricket captain Imran Khan. Provincial parties as Awami National Party (ANP), Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Jamaat e Islami (Fazlur Rehman) are likely to win a sizeable chunk of votes in their pocket boroughs. Thus in a scenario where no Party is likely to emerge as a clear winner, a number of fringe players expecting a fragile coalition in the federal government have jumped in the fray some of the leaders even returning from exile for the elections.
Specifically an opinion poll by Heinrich Boll Foundation gave the PPP an edge but the most recent one by PILDAT, and Gallup Pakistan has indicated voter preference for the opposition PML-N with Party leader Mian Nawaz Sharif favourite to become the Prime Minister for the third time. As per this poll, 41 percent voters supported PMLN, 17 percent ruling PPP and 14 percent PTI. Nawaz Sharif has played his cards well, being a right wing party the PML N is acceptable to Islamist hard liners and Sharif has been careful to scuttle all attempts to launch an all out offensive against the Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) the main tribal rebel group. The TTP in fact nominated him as one of the interlocutors for talks with the government recently.
Nawaz Sharif is also acceptable to the Pakistan Army after he has given up his antipathy for the coup in 1999 that deposed him from the Prime Minister’s chair and placed then Army Chief Pervez Musharraf as head of the government. Sharif was exiled from the country but in tandem with the late PPP leader Benazir Bhutto made a pact for return of democratic forces. Sharif did not intercede in numerous instances when Benazir’s husband Asif Ali Zardari was on the verge of being forced out by the Army in the last five years. This is seen to have paid rich dividends now and he is poised to come back to power.
Sharif is helped by the anti incumbency factor that is likely to impact chances of the PPP led alliance which is seen to have failed on all fronts security as well as economy with widespread accusation of corruption. The power situation has remained precarious and life in the commercial capital, Karachi a stronghold of the PPP has been reduced to a struggle for survival for the common man with daily mayhem of killings.
Sharif’s bête noir, former General Pervez Musharraf is now back in the country in a deal that is reportedly worked out by the Saudi’s in agreement with the Pakistan Army. This will also imply that the Army which seems to have reached a dead end with Zardari and the PPP may be amenable to Sharif returning to power in Islamabad. Nawaz’s brother and Chief Minister of Punjab is reported to have spoken to the Army leadership from time to time behind closed doors in the past. The Army was not very happy with the PPP’s policy of rapprochement with India and will hope that Sharif will not be as open with New Delhi as Mr. Zardari.
The political arithmetic in Pakistan denotes requirement of 172 seats to form the government. This would necessitate that a single party which can win 90 plus seats will be able to build a coalition. Presently the PML N looks the most likely to make the mark. There are however challenges as it may lose some votes to the PTI which also has the same agenda apart from been reportedly propped up by the Army. The PPP is also likely to split the votes in Southern Punjab where it is hoping to reap the harvest of traditional support base particularly after the move to carve out a separate province.
Meanwhile President Asif Ali Zardari, who is pulling strings for the PPP is considered to be a shrewd politician who can throw the dice in many different ways to seek an advantage for the Party which is suffering from heavy anti incumbency. Differences have also arisen recently with reports that his son and direct heir to the PPP legacy Bilawal Zardari Bhutto having left the country in a huff but has now returned. Bilawal is seen as a crowd puller like his mother.
The elections in Pakistan which will see the first democratic transition have led to a large number of so called, “fortune seekers,” such as former Chief of the Army Staff and martial law administrator Pervez Musharraf joining in the fray to test their luck. There are others such as Dr Tahirul Qadri who came in earlier some say to scuttle elections process but could not make any breakthrough. Some Baloch leaders as Akhtar Mengal of the Balochistan National Party (BNP) are also back in the country and have declared their intent to participate in the same.
While these leaders and parties are not anticipated to make a dent in the overall electoral prospects of the main parties the PML N and the PPP, it is also expected that neither Party is likely to gain a majority thus opening the way for a coalition in which smaller parties even with less number of seats have a chance and this seems to be the main game of Musharraf and others.
Meanwhile the proscribed TTP has started targeting secularists. The TTP openly claimed two attacks launched on Awami National Party (ANP) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The ANP was in power for the past five years and though there has been no improvement in the law and order situation in the province that has the maximum number of incidents of insurgency in the country so far, the TTP prefers right wing parties as the Jamaat Islami led by Fazlur Rehman.
The role of the armed forces is unclear but a series of corps commanders and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff meetings have been held which amongst other issues have also dwelt on political developments. Under the circumstances all eyes are now on the caretaker prime minister Justice (retd) Mir Hazar Khan Khoso and the Election Commission to secure the first democratic transition in a country infamous for military coups. The Army for now seems to be content at pulling the string from behind the scenes.