The Pakistan People’s Party celebrates after news it is set to win the election. Getty image via the BBC.
Pakistan has successfully held elections for the National Assembly and provincial governments, and President Pervez Musharraf and the pro-Taliban Muttahida Majlis-e-Amil, or MMA, have encountered major setbacks. Musharraf has lost his governing coalition, while the MMA lost most of its seats in the National Assembly as well as control of the Northwest Frontier Province. The Pakistan People’s Party has won the majority of seats and will form the government, while the Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz finished a close second. The Awami National Party also won a surprising victory.
Election results are available for 240 of the 272 seats for the National Assembly, as well as for the four provincial assemblies. The PPP — the party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto — is in the lead with 87 seats, followed by the 66 seats won by the PML-N, the party of Nawaz Sharif who is also a former prime minister. The PPP is on track to form the governing coalition.
The Pakistani Muslim League-Quaid, Musharraf’s party, has won only 38 seats. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement — a students’ movement based in Sindh province — won 19 seats and the Awami National Party (a secular Pashtun party) won 10. The MMA only won three seats. Thirty-five seats have been distributed to independents, while results are still being counted for 26 of the seats. Elections were postponed in four districts.
Winners and losers
Monday’s elections had three clear winners and two losers. The Pakistan People’s Party and Nawaz Sharif have come out on top in the elections, as did the little-known Awami National Party. President Musharraf and his party, and the MMA suffered clear defeats at the polls.
Musharraf’s PML-Q encountered a major electoral defeat on Tuesday. The party won a majority and formed the government after the 2002 election, but has seen its political gains dissipated over the past six years. Musharraf’s disbanding of the Supreme Court and the imposition of a state of emergency in October 2007 are seen the reason for his party’s defeat. These actions this past fall in addition to rounding up his political opposition were seen as efforts to ensure his re-election as president. Musharraf defied the constitution by running for president while serving as chief of staff of the military. Many of the PML-Q leaders, including party president Chaudhry Hussain and the former Speaker of the National Assembly Chaudhry Ameer Hussain lost their seats. The PML-Q does appear to be on track to govern in Baluchistan province.
The MMA also suffered a major political defeat in both the national and provincial elections. The MMA has won only three seats in Pakistan’s National Assembly and has lost control over the Northwest Frontier Province. Maualana Fazlur Rahman, the party’s president, lost his seat in the national election. The MMA has facilitated the rise of the Taliban in the province and tribal areas by blocking military actions and pressing for negotiations. The MMA has also vocally opposed the US and NATO presence in Afghanistan and has stirred up protests during strikes against Taliban and al Qaeda training camps in the region.
The clear winner is the Pakistan People’s Party as it will form the next government, appoint a new prime minister, and will control the Sindh provincial government. The PPP was widely expected to win the election, but the outcome was by no means certain. The Dec. 27, 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the group’s popular leader, plunged the party into a leadership and identity crisis. The reins of the party were turned over to her husband Asif Ali Zardari, who faced charges of corruption for embezzling $1.5 billion during Bhutto’s time as prime minister, and her 19-year-old son Bilawal Zardari, a student at Oxford. Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, the former Minister of the Interior and leader of the PPP-Sherpao also is a winner within the PPP. He won his seat in Charsadda, where the Taliban made two attempts on his life during 2007.
Nawaz Sharif and his party, the Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz, were also expected to win big. The PML-N is poised to take second place in the National Assembly polling and will also control the provincial government of Punjab. While Sharif was not allowed to run for political office, he is exercising power through his party. Sharif has opposed military operations against the Taliban and has been accused of accepting bribe money from Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.
The Awami National Party, with its 10 seats, may serve as an influential coalition partner with the PPP. The ANP will control the Northwest Frontier Province, and has stated it will ally with either the PPP or PML-N to form the provincial government. The ANP is a secular Pashtun party that is opposed to military action against the Taliban and promotes nonviolent solutions. The Taliban conducted two major strikes against ANP offices in North Waziristan and Kurram the week before the election, killing and wounding scores of its members.
Western watchers who have closely followed the election in Pakistan see the transition to democracy as being key to fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda insurgency that threatens to destabilize nuclear Pakistan and the wider region. Numerous attacks against the West and India have been hatched in al Qaeda training camps in the tribal areas. The US government hoped a coalition between Bhutto and Musharraf would provide the unity needed between the secular political class and the military to fight the rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda in northwestern Pakistan.
It is now unclear what action, if any, will be taken by the new Pakistani government. The PPP will need to align with one or more parties to form a government. A coalition with the PML-N makes action against the Taliban less likely as Sharif is opposed to military action. The PPP indicated is ready to form a coalition with the PML-N, which may push for the impeachment of Musharraf. The MQM and ANP will also oppose military action against the Taliban. A coalition with the PML-Q may be possible, but the PPP would face serious political backlash for aligning with the party blamed for the assassination of Bhutto and the usurping of the constitution.
And while the defeat of the MMA in the Northwest Frontier Province is a welcome development as the party has facilitated the rise of the Taliban by sponsoring peace deals, there is little reason to believe the ANP will fare better against the rise of extremism. The ANP’s platform of nonviolence and accommodation play directly into the hands of the Taliban, which seeks “peace” deals that give it time and space to consolidate power. Attacks on ANP political offices, such as the two that occurred just prior to the elections, may change this position over time, but time is on the Taliban’s side.
Election results obtained from Dawn‘s 2008 Election Results page.