Like cricket, elections is a game of glorious uncertainties. Nobody could have predicted that the voters in Pakistan will throw up a hung house. This is precisely what they did. As the election results are pouring out, it is becoming increasingly clear that no party has got the clear mandate to rule the country.
As per the latest tally, the counting of 255 out of 266 seats of the National Assembly has been completed and the independent candidates, a vast majority of them backed by jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, are on the top with 101 seats. Then comes former prime minister Nawaz Sharif-led Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz [PML-N] wining 73 seat, Pakistan People’s Party [PPP] winning 54 seats, Muttahida Qaumi Movement [MQM] winning 17 seats and other seats going to smaller parties.
Sharif's Unexpected Setback and the Shift to 'Unity Government'
These results disrupted plans of Sharif who was in league with the Army bosses. They took voters for granted and were ready to uncork the Champagne. But then, as they say, there is always a gap between the cup and the leap. Sharif was quick to see this change and started talking about ‘unity government’. Same Sharif laughed off the same idea just a day earlier as he was confident of clear majority. He ended up with just 73 seats while one needs a minimum 133 seats to form the government!
In tune with the political culture of South Asia, the losers often cry foul when the results are announced. This time too, such reservations were voiced. Voting in some cases was marred by allegations of rigging, sporadic violence and a countrywide mobile phone shutdown. This is why one must reckon with the comments of international observers about these elections.
International Observers' Verdict on Election Conduct
The Commonwealth election observer’s mission in Pakistan said on Saturday that barring a few incidents, the elections process was smoothly held. Jonathan Goodluck, the head of the mission in Islamabad, delivered the preliminary findings. This comment is quite important as more often than not, in Pakistan’s elections, the losing party always cries foul and questions the election process. This time this standard excuse is not available as there is no clear winner.
Now the fight has begun to form the government. Sharif has already announced the need for ‘unity government’ where he is eyeing a coalition with the PPP with Army’s backing. But PPP’s chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari commented that his party has not had any official conversation with PML-N, the PTI or any other political parties regarding a possible coalition. On the other hand, the PTI’s interim chief Barrister Gohar Ali Khan expressed hope that President Arif Alvi would invite his party to form the government as their party had secured a majority in the National Assembly. To form a government, a party must win 133 seats out of 265 in the National Assembly. Election to one seat was postponed after the death of a candidate.
Implications and Reckoning
What are the implications of these results? Whosoever comes to power, that dispensation will have to reckon with a host of challenges. Economic downturn, insurgencies in Baluchistan, deeply divided society…the list is endless with no imminent solution in sight! It urgently needs to mend its relations with the USA. As of now, Imran Khan seems to be the winner. This is not to say that the PML-N or the Army are out of the race. As nothing moves with Army’s nod in Pakistan, the political leadership will have to devise ways and means to do business with the Army.
This is where Nawaz Sharif stands a better chance as he is the most favoured candidate. Of late the Army has been openly leaning towards him. The Army that has ruled Pakistan for almost half of its existence, now seem to have perfected the art of back-seat driving by giving reigns to a civilian leader but retaining all important levers of power. This is despite the fact that the public mood as expressed through the ballot box is decidedly against the Army and Nawaz Sharif, its blue-eyed boy.
Implications for Indo-Pak Relations
No matter who gets the nod, it is unlikely to bring peace and prosperity to our beleaguered Western neighbour. The new government in Islamabad is unlikely to be stable. The new team will have to depend on Army’s support and hence will not be able to write a new script. This is especially true of Indo-Pak relations.
The Army will move heaven and earth to keep Imran out of power. In the zero-sum game between Imran and General Munir, army chief, the later will prevail and it means Sharif will get the job who, of late, has been advocating better ties with India. It means a status-quo for now, but it also means a bruised Army, which is a bad news. It is not a dominant player it was under previous army chiefs. Then there is social media and young generation of Pakistan. Yet Army has brute power. And that is the reality of Pakistan of today.
(Avinash Kolhe is a Mumbai-based retired associate professor in political science. He is a visiting Associate Fellow at the Institute of Chinese Studies, New Delhi.)