The 2013 general elections, the tenth since 1970, had offered the country a reason to rejoice because for the first time in history, a democratically-elected government had managed to complete its tenure and hand over the reins of power to the one elected next.
This was no small feat, but the triumph, however, was marred by the fact that despite a successful democratic transition, true civilian rule remained a distant dream.
Within months following the 2008 elections, dictator retired General Pervez Musharraf had to vacate the presidency as parliament made no bones about its intention to impeach the former military ruler. But that only drew the curtains on the establishment’s overt rule.
They had a lot many invisible tools at hand to distort and subjugate the democratic discourse, and employed all of them unashamedly. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of Asif Ali Zardari managed to make it to the finish line, completely bruised and battered.
But the glass-half-full part of the story is that the outgoing parliament was determined enough to pass the landmark 18th Constitutional Amendment that laid down the basic rules and instituted requisite structures for equitable distribution of resources among the federating provinces. This was by all measures historic, probably as momentous as the passage of the democratic Constitution back in 1973.
The constitutional reforms introduced a unique-to-Pakistan system of caretaker government as a transitional buffer between successive elected governments. The caretaker set-ups, since their introduction by General Ziaul Haq, were used not only to influence electoral outcomes but also to pre-empt and dictate elected governments in important policy matters.
The 20th Amendment severed the caretakers’ links with the presidency. They are now not handpicked by the president; instead the responsibility rests with parliamentary parties. The parliament thus attempted to shut this ‘window of opportunity’ for the interventionist establishment.
The new system was used for 2013 elections for the first time and though it may not qualify as a perfect solution, it did serve its basic purpose.
Extremist violence continued to mar the election environment. In the 40-day period preceding polling on May 11, 2013, the country withstood 128 terrorist attacks — over three a day on average. These were mostly claimed by the Taliban who had declared the ‘secular’ PPP, Awami National Party (ANP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) as their legitimate targets.
While the environment of fear put these parties to disadvantage, it utterly failed to cow the voter. They came out in droves. The turnout in 2013 was a healthy 54.9 per cent; 10.5pc points more than in 2008. It was also the highest turnout after the first general elections of 1970. This can easily be interpreted as a sign of growing confidence of electors in a democracy.
Voters in Punjab gave an unequivocal verdict in favour of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). The party more than doubled its vote bank, compared to previous elections, and won in 129 of the country’s 272 constituencies; with 120 of these coming from Punjab alone. As 19 independents also joined the PML-N after winning, it easily formed governments in Punjab and the Centre.
The PPP was wiped out in Punjab in 2013. The party’s attempts to reinvent itself in its old bastion, after a setback in 1997, proved to be futile. Its vote bank in Punjab shrank from six million in 2008 to just 2.5m in 2013, bringing its seat tally to a humiliating three national and seven provincial victories in Punjab. The party was effectively limited to Sindh where it secured a little over half of the national and provincial seats and formed the government in the province.
Also 2013 bid farewell to the ‘king’s party’ — the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid — that was cobbled up by Gen Musharraf. It won only two national seats in Punjab.
From the rubble of the PPP in Punjab, rose the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI). Although the new party’s seat tally of six national and 23 provincial wins in Punjab was anything but impressive, it did mop up a good number of votes — 7.68m to be exact — of which around five million came from Punjab. This helped it outshine the PPP as the main opposition party in national politics, despite the latter having more members in parliament.
The voters in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa lived up to their reputation of being highly susceptible to the incumbency factor — electing a different party in every election. They gambled over the PTI, giving it 34 of the 94 provincial assembly seats. The PTI formed a coalition government with Jamaat-i-Islami and others, and the province provided the PTI the foothold it needed to stake claims of being the chief opponent of the rulers at the Centre and in Punjab.
Karachi remained unsurprisingly beholden to its old choice — the MQM — although the PTI came close to threatening its grip over the metropolis. The alliance that had bestowed religious parties with a five-year rule in Pakhtunkhwa in 2002, likewise, remained elusive. The religious parties, though, sustained their hold over their niche constituencies.
Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2018