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DAWN - Features; October 19, 2002

October 19, 2002


Electoral system helps PML-Q, MMA

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE official results of last Thursday’s elections have yet to be announced by the Election Commission. The haphazard manner in which information related to the polls is being released by the EC is quite intriguing. It is more than a week and the results have not been notified. That will, of course, only be the start of the post-election process spelt out by Gen Musharraf in the constitutional changes his government has announced from time to time.

It is only after the results have been announced that the independent members of the assemblies will be required to join one or the other political party within three days. Next the reserved seats for women and the minorities will be filled. Even this promises to produce many complexities. With changes being announced every few days and lack of experience in organizing elections on the basis of proportional representation, the filling of the reserved seats will not be a smooth exercise. Mathematics has never been the Pakistanis’ forte. It is not clear how the election statistics, especially fractions, will be handled.

In the midst of all these complications, the propensity of the government to go hi-tech has been not without its attendant problems either. On Tuesday, the Election Commission decided to release some tentative data pertaining to the elections. It put up the voters turnout figures with their provincial breakdown on its website ( The provisional results in terms of the votes received by different candidates/parties were also released on the same website.

It was all very professionally done (by SDNPK). But by the next day it had mysteriously vanished being replaced by the EC’s email address to contact for the latest results. When this writer sent off an email, there came a very prompt reply (probably automated) in typically Pakistani English saying, “we are punching it in Excel software, on the basis of consolidated result received from concerned returning officers after official counting (in which postal votes are also included as well as rejected votes are checked whether those were rejected correctly or not) in the presence of contesting candidates. This assignment is in process, it will be available in one or two days on our website for your information: www.ecp.” (sic) It generously offered to provide the results of any specific constituency if requested - but only if it has been completed.

So this has left us guessing about the real status of the results which were posted on Tuesday. Will the final results whenever they come in be close to what we saw on the website?

In any case, trusting the government’s integrity, one can expect these results, even though they are provisional, not to be too drastically different from the final results announced.

Taking a broad view, the picture which emerges confirms what had been widely believed.

But the intricacies of the electoral system, especially the redrawing of the constituencies has worked in favour of the PML-Q, the supposedly king’s party, and the MMA. The seats they have won are proportionately more than the votes polled by them. This may not have actually been planned but that is how it has been. After all the electoral process is known for its foibles. But as our national poet Allama Iqbal had said: “In democracy the people are counted and not weighed.”

The PML-Q won 77 NA seats (28.6% of the 269 seats the results of which have been unofficially declared) when it captured 26 per cent of the votes nationwide (7.72 million). Similarly the MMA’s seats are 45 (16.7%) when their votes were 15.6 per cent (4.63 million). The Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s 13 seats amount to 4.8% of NA seats the results of which have been declared when its vote share is 3 per cent (0.91 million). The PPP, however, wasn’t so lucky in that respect. It was returned to 63 NA seats (23%) when its share in the votes is 24.9 per cent (7.37 million).

The votes won by the various parties in the provinces show a significant pattern. The MMA’s support came from the NWFP (80%). Even in Balochistan it won only 18% of the votes (though it has captured nearly half the NA seats from that province). The PML-Q’s support base was Punjab with 35.5% votes. In Sindh it won only 7% of the votes, less than the MMA which got 10 per cent of the votes - mainly in the areas where the Afghans and migrants from the NWFP are clustered. The PPP’s support was spread over Sindh as well as Punjab, making it closest to what one can term a national party. In Sindh it won 34.5 per cent of the votes and its votes in Punjab were 25%.

Some observations about the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s performance would be in order. Its base continues to be Karachi where it won about 678,820 votes. This amounted to 39 per cent of the votes cast in the city. If the results put up by the EC are correct and there has been no rigging (as the Muttahida has alleged) the data indicate an erosion in the party’s public support. In 1988 the MQM candidates had won 1,447,859 votes which in that year amounted to 56.5 per cent of the votes cast. It was the MQM, which had mobilized the voters in 1988 when the turnout was 49 per cent in Karachi. Last week only 36.6 per cent of Karachi’s registered voters actually voted.

Some interesting highlights from the EC website’s results are:

* The highest votes polled by any candidate were 103,209 by Mohammad Akhtar Khan Kanju of the PML-Q in NA-155 (Lodhran-II).

* PPP’s major vote puller was Makhdoom Amin Faheem with 102,059 votes from NA-218 (Hyderabad-I)

* The MMA’s star performer was Maulana Nasib Ali Shah with 78,384 votes from NA-26 (Bannu).

Governing NWFP a tough task

By Intikhab Amir

PESHAWAR: Though the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) is comfortably placed to form the new government in the NWFP after recording a landslide victory in the Oct 10 polls, difficult days seem to be lying ahead for the future government due to multiple financial problems which had persistently confronted the successive provincial governments in the past.

Governing a province facing financial crisis due to increasing debt, ever-rising establishment cost and increasing infrastructure requirements due to population growth has never been an easy task for all those who remained at the helm of affairs during the last over one decade.

Besides, law and order situation, peculiar in nature in the case of the NWFP situated adjacent to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), had been making the job much more difficult for the past rulers.

Financial constraints hampering smooth development and economic growth coupled with complex law and order situation make governance all the more difficult as far as the NWFP is concerned.

Though MMA — involving six religo-political parties representing a various sheds of religious thought — managed to stage a remarkable show in the Oct 10 elections due to multiple reasons and afterwards amicably agreed to evolve a power-sharing formula to form the next government in the province; it would constantly require to put in extraordinary efforts to keep unity in its rank and file and deliver what it had promised to the masses of the province.

All these issues make governance the most difficult job and is not a bed of roses.

Lack of experience to govern on the part of religious parties as none of the religious parties ever headed a government in the NWFP after 1974 when Maulana Mufti Mehmood’s government was removed by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto is a harsh reality, bringing under question the MMA’s capacity to govern the province in accordance with the present day’s requirements.

Due to the apparent handicaps facing the MMA, political forces — specially which were almost wiped out by the MMA in the Oct 10 elections — have visibly opted to adopt the policy of wait and see.

The political parties, which were meted out worst defeat by the MMA candidates, including the PPP, the ANP, the PML(N) and the PML(Q), have assured cooperation to the future MMA government in the NWFP presumably to let the religious parties govern and ‘eventually fail.’

They believe that after coming to power the ‘honeymoon’ period of the MMA component parties would hardly last for six months.

The two major component parties of the MMA — the JUI(F) and the JI — after narrowly avoiding confrontation over the power-sharing arrangement in the province have experienced difficult time before evolving consensus over the most crucial question of nominating a consensus candidate for the chief minister’s office.

How would the MMA-led government in the NWFP live up to the expectations of its electorate whom the religious parties had promised, among other things, the removal of US military bases from Pakistan and introduction of Shariat as the sole system of governance, is a million dollar question.

On the face of it, the NWFP is going to be governed, by and large, by the civil bureaucracy owing to MMA’s apparent incapacity to put in a team of ministers who could command vision essentially required to lift the province where poverty is on the rise and sustainability of the public sector entities and development projects, completed with billion rupees investment, is a question hard to answer in view of the dwindling financial position of the provincial kitty.

The rise of the MMA

THE American and British press has shown a distinct wariness in the dramatic success of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), perhaps understandably so, since this six-party alliance had an overtly anti-West agenda.

Writing in The Guardian on Oct 12, Anatol Lieven, a senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, says that the increase in the vote for the MMA was “worrying and unwelcome, but it does not have to lead to disaster.” Lieven wrote that the “key question” — presumably as far as America and the rest of the coalition allies are concerned — would now be how far an MMA government in the NWFP is able to block joint actions by Pakistan and the US against Al Qaeda. Several commentators speaking on various private channels like Geo, Indus Vision and ARY have said that since the decision to stay in the war against terror was one taken by the federal government that policy is likely to remain the same. However, one analyst did ask the relevant question: what would happen if a raid against a suspect Al Qaeda terrorist has to be carried not in FATA but in Peshawar? As in, what if the provincial government refused assistance? To this, the answer came that the federal government has paramilitary and military troops at its disposal but still it would be an unsavoury and embarrassing situation were an elected government to refuse assistance to Islamabad in such a delicate matter. Besides, maybe some people forget that it was the police that carried out the raid in Karachi that netted the much-wanted so-called 20th hijacker Ramzi bin Al Shibh.

Going back to this article, Lieven wrote that the MMA was a “very long way” away from gaining “a plurality, let alone a majority.” And then the point that has been made in the editorial columns of some Pakistani newspapers (including Dawn), that the alliance is not a homogeneous/monolithic bloc but a “highly disparate and mutually antagonistic alliance” especially since it contains parties with varying degrees of militancy.

“Maybe hatred of America and of Gen Musharraf, and the joys of controlling provincial governments, will hold them together but maybe not,” he writes. However, the very cynical among us, including some in the PML-N and the MQM, have said that the MMA’s success is a deliberate ploy undertaken by the manipulators, and that the actual ‘king’s party’ was not the PML-Q but the MMA. Khwaja Saad Rafiq is reported to have said this at a news conference, but a few days later, we heard of reports of the PML-N contacting the MMA at the highest level with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif calling up and congratulating Qazi Husain Ahmad. The Guardian article then goes on to say that it is worrying that the MMA had “virtually obliterated most of its secular rivals” in the Frontier. However, perhaps if one were to do a detailed analysis of the total number of votes cast per party and then multiply it by the turnout percentage, we would probably get some interesting figures. For example, taken at the national level, according to the Election Commission of Pakistan, the MMA polled 19 per cent of all votes cast. If the turnout, say, is 40 per cent (by all means an optimistic estimate), then 7.6 per cent of the electorate voted for the MMA. This obviously is more an indictment of our electoral system which seems to rely almost exclusively on the first-past-the-post principle rather than the more equitable proportional representation concept (applied only to reserved seats). Of course, this figure of 7.6 per cent assumes that those who did not turn up to vote were all non-MMA supporters, a fairly safe assumption since it has been widely acknowledged that the alliance did manage to mobilize all its vote bank on a fairly large scale.

Mr Lieven then writes that the MMA could be expected to gain a “near-stranglehold” on the senate and that this “could block any continuation of the social reforms” begun by Gen Musharraf. This remains to be seen though it is likely that the MMA’s majorities in the two smaller provinces might more than offset the gains made by the PML-Q and the PPP in the larger provinces in terms of the representatives each province will send to the senate. However, the writer does correctly gauge that it is not sure to what extent the presence of MMA governments in these two provinces would undermine the hunt for Al Qaeda, keeping in mind that there already existed considerable hostility to these operations in FATA.

The rest is quite instructive, though nothing new for most Pakistanis: “If the MMA does succeed in obstructing US goals, the Pakistani administration would probably come under intense US pressure to get rid of it. Pakistani governments have shown again and again that with the support of the army, they can indeed get rid of governments in Pakistan’s three smaller provinces.”

As for the Punjab, the MMA made very limited inroads, but these were still significant, especially in areas where the writer says there is “heavy military recruiting.” In fact, NA-49, Islamabad, lying next to Rawalpindi division — the army’s heartland — now has an MMA MNA.

In their reporting of the 2002 elections, The Guardian, The New York Times and The Washington Post generally took the line that the MMA’s big win would hand them control of two provinces that were key to the anti-terrorism campaign, not least because several senior Taliban and Al Qaeda figures are believed to be hiding there. Mian Aslam, the MNA-elect from Islamabad, told The Guardian in response to a question that the MMA would “never” hand over Taliban suspects to Washington.

“The Taliban are our brothers. They are good people. The idea they are bad is a misconception of the West,” Aslam said, perhaps, forgetting that a vast majority of Pakistanis found their style of governance, and against all religious or civilized norms. Round about the same time the Jamaat-i-Islami’s Syed Munawwar Hasan and senior MMA leader told a press conference in Karachi that the Al Qaeda and Taliban were like “brothers” and they would never be handed over to any foreign power.

In an interview to The Observer, Qazi Husain Ahmad said: “We are not extremists. We would like to make bridges with the West — but we want justice. Injustice is being done to Muslims in Palestine and Kashmir.... We don’t want to chop people’s hands off. We don’t want to make all women wear burqa. We live in the world. We are educated.”

The MMA win also, for better or for worse, shows that emotional slogans can sometimes be much better in garnering votes than discussing issues that really matter, like providing clean drinking water, better roads, sanitation, electricity, telephones, a safer and cleaner environment or increased job opportunities. It remains to be seen whether the initial anti-US and anti-‘war against terror’ platform of the MMA gives way to more bread and butter issues. — OMAR R. QURAISHI