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KARACHI: Despite the participation of 12 religious parties in the electoral battle this year, the far-right groups managed to secure only 5,203,285 (9.58 per cent) of the total 54,319,922 votes polled across the country as most of them saw a decline in their vote bank when compared to the 2013 general election.

The highest votes in favour of religious parties were cast in Punjab (2,704,856 votes) but that contributed to only 7.98pc of the province’s overall vote bank — the lowest among all provinces — as per the preliminary results released by the Election Commission of Pakis­tan. As compared to Punjab, their performance was better in Sindh where the religious parties rece­ived 1,116,644 votes (10.57pc of the total votes polled). However, religiously-motivated groups dominated the electoral space in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where nine parties collectively secured 18.84pc of the votes polled, followed by Balochistan (16.78pc).

The recently revived Mut­tahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) — an alliance of various religious parties headed by Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s JUI-F and the Jamaat-i-Islami — managed to secure 12 seats with 2.5 million votes for the National Assembly. Earlier in 2002, the MMA had emerged as the country’s third largest party with 3.1 million votes and 59 of its candidates had won. The alliance disintegrated when the JI boycotted the 2008 general elections. The JUI-F, however, took part in them. The JUI-F secured 760,000 votes in 2008 and 1.4 million votes in the 2013 general elections, while the JI had secured 960,000 votes in 2013.

Dominate electoral space in KP by securing 18.8pc votes

Similarly, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Nazryati-Pakistan managed to bag 34,170 votes as compared to 1,030,98 votes in 2013. Another religious party that did not leave an impact on the electoral battleground was Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan (Noorani) that received 22,918 votes in contrast to 67,966 votes in 2013.

The Majlis Wahdatul Mus­limeen — which received 41,520 votes last time — managed to only get 19,597 votes this time. The Sunni Ittehad Council also witnessed a significant drop in its popularity as it received 5,939 votes only as compared to 37,732 votes in 2013.

While old religious groups failed to make their presence felt this time, new splinter groups p roved otherwise.

On an unexpected front, the newly formed Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) — led by clerics of the Barelvi sect — emerged as the top fifth party which received 2,234,138 votes for the National Assembly, outranking major parties like the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan and Awami National Party among others.

Although the TLP did not secure a seat in the lower house of parliament, its 178 NA and over 500 provincial assembly candidates contesting elections across the country contributed significantly to its vote bank. The party bagged the most votes in Punjab (1,887,419) where it was the only party that had fielded over 100 candidates from the 117 constituencies of the province. The TLP also managed to govern Punjab’s religious poll bank as its votes make up 69pc of the total votes given to religious parties (2,704,856) in the region. In Sindh, the party candidates gave prominent leaders like Dr Farooq Sattar of MQM-P and PPP’s Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari a run for their money.

In NA-246 (Karachi South-1), TLP’s candidate Ahmed secured over 3,000 more votes than the PPP chairman whereas in NA-247 (Karachi South-2), the party’s candidate secured second position and beat Dr Sattar by a margin of over 500 votes.

The TLP notched up two seats in the provincial assembly — one from Lyari’s PS-107 and the other from PS-115 (Baldia Town). It also beat the five-party alliance MMA in Karachi, hijacking the Barelvi vote bank further.

The Tehreek-i-Labbaik (Islam) — the political wing of TLP’s Jalali group — also influenced religious vote bank as it managed to secure over 55,000 votes for the National Assembly.

Besides the TLP, the Hafiz Saeed-led Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek (AAT) was among the top faring religious parties this election. The AAT is another name for the Milli Muslim League which had been denied registration by the ECP over links with the banned Jamaatud Dawa.

The AAT had fielded 265 candidates — including 13 women — countrywide. Apart from Hafiz Waleed, the other prominent AAT candidate was Hafiz Saeed’s son Talha Saeed who was in the run for a National Assembly seat from Sargodha. The party did not win any seat.

However, the AAT — which received 171,356 votes for the National Assembly — emerged in the top eighth position (seventh largest party) in Punjab with 236, 386 votes, according to the figures uploaded by the ECP.

Interestingly, Pakistan Rah-i-Haq Party — which was fairly active in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2013 (19,975 votes) — bagged 55,222 votes from across the country for the National Assembly this year. Besides becoming the eighth largest party in Khyber Pakhtun­khwa with 53,504 votes, it also managed to leave an electoral stamp in Sindh (18,447 votes). A number of candidates of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat — political face of the banned Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) — were in the electoral race from the platform of this party.

Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2018