With only weeks counting down until the next Pakistani general election, Pakistan awaits the first democratically transitioned government. But will its history of rigged elections and violent tactics abridge the upcoming results?
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) will serve as the first government coalition to complete its full term. Yet even while the party is being commended for its smooth transition, the future of the nation remains at question.
Pakistan is a nation rich with history of political and violent corruption, particularly involving leadership agenda. From its early days, the country has experienced a series of aggressive progression, amounting to assassinations, military coups and falsely contrived elections. As early as 1951, Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated during his appointment as Pakistan’s first prime minister — a mere four years after the establishment of the Pakistani state.
Following the prime minister’s death, self-declared Field Marshal Ayub Khan declared Martial Law and took over Pakistan as the second president and first military-dictatorship. Among these individual regressive complications, the country has struggled with deeply rooted classism that has prevented minority populations from being fairly represented in the larger dialogue of the nation’s progression. Till this day, subjective discrimination fuels escalating attacks on groups, such as the Shia minority which constitutes about 20% of the population.
Of the parties polling between 20-30% of votes, Pakistan’s Peoples Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) share the lead as political contenders. PPP was founded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and has continued a family reign since its establishment. The party was previously led by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, but following her and is currently led by her husband, Asif Ali Zardari and outgoing Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and chaired by her son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. However regardless of the family lineage running within the party, Bilawal has openly contested the lack of PPP’s focus on issues such as sectarian violence and the inability to attract youth votes. PPP earned the most amount of seats in the 2008 elections with 124 out of 300. PML-N’s core support is derived from the Punjab province and is led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The party emerged as a right-wing, conservative leaning oppositional faction to PPP during Benazir Bhutto’s run for election in 1988. PTI has popularly challenged both PPP and PML-N by the former captain of Pakistan’s cricket team, Imran Khan. Through PTI, Imran Khan has advocated significant social, economic and political reform that has excited large groups of supporters, but hasn’t sustained electoral success yet.
Aside from the contending parties domination, the habitual roles of religious coalitions and the military provide an additional role of influence with the upcoming results. On one hand, the recent arrest of former President and Military Ruler, Parvez Musharraf, provides a slightly optimistic future in the shift in Pakistani politics. Knowing the potential consequences of being arrested, Musharraf returned to Pakistan after four years in exile to earn a seat in the National Assembly and “save Pakistan.” Musharraf’s arrest warrant, based off a number of charges including treason, caused him to flee before being arrested. Though his arrest doesn’t impact the election cycle itself (due to lack of initial political support), it provides a change in military rule; Musharraf marks the first reaction to defiance in rule of law as a military ruler.
However, religious militant coalitions have not received a similar waiver. While independent religious parties, such as the conservative-leaning Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) and the Taliban supporting Difa-e-Pakistan Council (Defense of Pakistan Council/DPC), are playing roles in the election process, acts of violence exhibited by militants and gangs in Karachi have not been reacted to by the governing power. Pakistan’s Taliban forces have publicly stated their intentions to attack individuals and candidates with any affiliation to PPP, the Awami National Party (ANP) and Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM). As a result of recent events, Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani even stated that “the situation in Karachi has deteriorated to alarming proportions and violence could get out of control if urgent action is not taken immediately.”
In spite of requests and demands made by citizens, there has been no response by senior officials to the increasing acts of mass violence. The lack of reaction to militant sources by authorities not only emphasizes the questionable role of physical safety for citizens, but also casts doubts on the progression of issues such as comprehensive education access and women’s rights.