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The hunt for electoral alliances

October 04, 2012


A view of National Assembly. — File Photo

ISLAMABAD: With general elections looming in the horizon, political parties are scrambling for electoral alliances both at the national and regional levels. It is no secret that the 1990s era of one political party forming a majority government is now an old wives’ tale.

In 2002, General Pervez Musharraf couldn’t manage a simple majority for the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) in the National Assembly and banked upon the breakaway Patriots faction of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to help form the government.

In 2008, the PPP joined hands with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and then switched over to PML-Q to retain a simple majority at the centre.

Even at the provincial level, political parties relied on coalitions to elect their respective chief ministers.

It is clear that in the next general elections, alliances would be forged on the basis of practicalities and will vary from province to province and from province to centre.

Hence, two parties would be coalition partners in one place but be opposing each other in another place.

The elections would have little to do with ideologies.

Punjab undoubtedly will be a major battle ground for all political parties, and the only party getting the best deal would be the PML-Q.

The PPP is relying heavily on the Chaudhrys of Gujrat and their hold on key constituencies.

And on Wednesday formally announced filing joint candidates.

If the PML-N wanted to maintain its position in the next regime, it would have to join hands with the PML-Q, and giving into the fickle nature of politics, this could be a possibility as well.

The party is already accepting ‘turncoats’ and one doesn’t know the PML-Q’s long-term strategy.In Sindh, the PPP has taken steps to secure Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) when President Asif Ali Zardari endorsed the long-standing demand of the MQM to bring back local government system.

President Zardari has made his intentions clear: PPP and MQM will stick to each other and go into next general elections as coalition partners.

A top PPP strategist told Dawn: “Yes, we know that after the implementation of new law of local governments, the PPP vote bank in rural Sindh will be affected, but if the PPP and the MQM remain united until and after next general elections, President Zardari will have no major worries in the province.”

The decision to further cement PPP-MQM ties is partially pushed by Mian Nawaz Sharif’s wooing of regional and nationalist parties in Sindh for the past few months.

Just last week after meeting with Balochistan National Party chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal and Talal Bugti of the Jamhoori Wattan Party, Mian Nawaz Sharif expressed his desire to align with them.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the political situation remains completely murky. Although the PPP and Awami National Party (ANP) are part of a coalition, the leadership of either party is yet to make any commitment.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Anwar Saifullah, president of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chapter of PPP, ruled out any chance of forming an election alliance with the ANP. However, Mr Saifullah said the two parties could have seat adjustment.

Meanwhile, the PML-N is busy reviving its old contacts in the province and with Engineer Amir Muqam on its side, the party leadership is hopeful of putting up a good show in the next elections.

“As per our estimates, the party on the basis of its performances in Punjab and alliance with smaller parties will be able to secure a simple majority in the National Assembly,” claimed a senior PML-N leader, who ruled out any grand political alliance at the central level.

In Balochistan, tribal politics would still be driving provincial politics. If Baloch nationalists, who boycotted the last general elections, agree to contest, then they would join hands with those political parties that are currently not in power.

Given the opportunity offered, both the PML-N and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leadership are contacting estranged Baloch leadership for possible electoral alliances.

Likewise, the right wing Jamaat-i-Islami and PTI are also talking to each other. An effort is also being made to revive the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), the six-party alliance of politico-religious parties that had unexpectedly performed well in 2002 general elections.

PTI is still being treated as a wildcard that could single-handedly upend the PML-N-PPP domination of Punjab.

Analysts opine that given their track records President Zardari would be better at managing alliances than the Sharif brothers.

“Mr Zardari has managed his coalition partners well. Unlike the Sharif brothers, who are known for their stiff-necked attitude, Mr Zardari is flexible with his coalition partners and always listens to their demands,” asserted a PPP stalwart.

Overall as the situation stands today, barring any exceptional political movement in the country, the PPP, PML-Q, ANP and the MQM have a fair chance of managing decent number of seats in the National Assembly in next elections.