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Religious parties stand no chance ‘sans partners’

April 14, 2013

LAHORE, April 13: None of the religio-political parties should expect reasonable electoral success in the May 11 contest in Punjab without going into seat adjustment or an all-out alliance with some mainstream party with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Tehreek-i-Insaf being their most likely partners.

Though the religious parties, except Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan (Noorani) and few others, had fielded candidates from Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) platform or independently, in dozens of Punjab constituencies in 2008, none of them succeeded in securing even a single National Assembly seat. The JI and JUP (N) had boycotted the last elections.

Results of 2008 election show that the contest was mainly among Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam), and the MMA, along with other independent candidates having religious groups’ backing, were thrown out of parliamentary politics.

NA-89 (Jhang) was the only constituency where Maulana Muhammad Ahmad Ludhianvi of Ahle-Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ), the new face of the banned Sipah-e-Sihaba Pakistan (SSP), remained runner-up after being defeated by the PML-Q’s Sheikh Waqas Akram.

The performance of these parties in the last election was so pathetic that a majority of their candidates couldn’t get even 2,000 votes in various NA constituencies.

The statistics reveal that MMA candidates Ghulam Idris Hattani bagged only 652 votes in NA-52 (Rawalpindi), Muhammad Akram Abbasi 741 votes in NA-55 (Rawalpindi), Zubair Kayani 213 in NA-56 (Rawalpindi), Muhammad Abdul Salam 326 in NA-58 (Attock)), Mufti Fazalur Rehman 1,110 in NA-85 (Faisalabad), Mufti Muhammad Younus 410 in NA-114 (Sialkot), Hafiz Sanaullah 842 in NA-120 (Lahore), Rai Bashir Ahmad 783 in NA-129 (Lahore), Muhammad Anees Rohani 288 in NA-150 (Multan) and Ehsaan Bari Mian got 4,626 votes in NA-189 (Bahawalnagar).

Similarly, Maulana Zubair Anwar of ASWJ bagged only 4,532 votes in NA-90 (Jhang), Ibtasam Elahi Zaheer of Jamat-e-Ahle-Hadith Pakistan 1,199 votes in NA-96 (Gujranwala), Mautasim Elahi Zaheer of JAHP 1,109 in NA-141 (Kasur), Maulana Ajmal Qadri of JUP 1,880 in NA-156 (Khanewal) and Zia Ahmad Farooqi of JUI-S got only 404 votes in NA-180 (Muzaffargarh).

Political analysts believe that in the upcoming election too the religious parties without winning partners from mainstream political entities stand no chance of getting any sort of substantial role.

“Neither the JI nor JUI-F or others have candidates that can win from any National Assembly or provincial constituency in Punjab unless they make seat adjustment with a popular political party, such as PML-N,” journalist Suhail Warraich told Dawn.

He said though the JI had potential candidates in certain constituencies, it couldn’t win the elections on any seat on its own keeping in view the present scenario.

“You can see the results of 97 general elections when the JI got success on some seats owing to PML-N support. Similarly, JUP secured all seats in Jhang during 1970 elections,” he added.

He said though the JUI-F recently organised a big rally in Lahore, it wouldn’t be able to win in any constituency of Punjab without support of any major political parties.

Mr Warraich said since the religious parties had assumed the role of pressure groups they were no more considered ‘electable’ parties.

Religious parties’ leaders think that the 2013 election results would be no different or could only be slightly better from previous polls for their parties if they fail to unite on a single platform.

“Actually a majority of religious parties, except JUI-F and JI, boycotted the last elections. The MMA was being run by the JUI-F alone. And some other parties contested elections individually. So the standing of religious forces in the last elections remained pathetic,” JUP (N) secretary general Qari Zawar Bahadur told Dawn.

He says since JUI-F and JI have divergent views on forging a broad-based electoral alliance of religious forces, seat adjustment with mainstream political parties such as PML-N and various other issues, the prospects for religious parties were bleak.

He said as the JI couldn’t reach seat adjustment with PML-N or PTI and JUI-F failed to woo the PML-N for accommodation in various Punjab constituencies, their candidates might face an embarrassing situation and were expected to perform even more badly than those being backed by other religious parties individually in the upcoming elections.

Quoting results of 2002 and 1997 elections that gave considerable representation to religious parties in the parliament “because of unity”, Bahadur said the JUP had urged the two parties to play sensibly rather than showing inflexibility.

“Though we are trying hard to bring JI and JUI-F closer, mainly in Punjab, the obstinacy of these parties’ leaders on certain issues is causing loss to all of us. So if the situation persists in near future, they will loose all seats in the province due to the division of religious vote,” Bahadur said.

He said though the JUP had fielded its candidates on 33 national and 77 provincial seats in various constituencies of Punjab, it was still hoping to have seat adjustment with PML-N, JUI-F and JI too.

Commenting on the situation, the JI ameer Syed Munawar Hasan said though his party couldn’t succeed in making seat adjustment with PML-N or PTI in certain constituencies, it was in touch with various religious parties in this regard.

“Since our workers themselves want not to make seat adjustment with PML-N or PTI, we are trying hard to avoid division of religious vote,” he said. He, however, termed the situation better for religious parties this time, mainly because of the bad governance by the rulers.

“We think the people want change. And they will also vote for us. So we are optimistic about change in this election, resulting in victory of JI candidates with the support of various religious parties,” he claimed.

Talking to Dawn, the JUI-F information secretary Maulana Muhammad Amjad Khan said his party had been making serious efforts for past two and a half years for reviving the MMA in order to avoid division of religious vote.

“You know better the role of JI in this regard (MMA’s revival). But we are not worried about it, as we are still trying to unite (religious) parties on one platform by making seat adjustment in order to avoid division of religious vote,” he explained.

Senior lawyer and political analyst Abid Hassan Minto sees no chance for religious parties in Punjab constituencies.

“Actually these (religious) parties have been winning in certain constituencies under special arrangement in the past. You can see success of Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) that was engineered under the army in 1988 elections. So since these parties have no support from any of the major political parties, they will loose a majority of seats in Punjab,” Minto who also heads the Awami Workers Party explained. He said as the political contest during 2013 elections would be among the mainstream political parties such as PPP, PML-N and PTI in Punjab, there would be no chance for the JI, JUI-F or any other religious party to succeed. He said these parties would only be able to win in some constituencies of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

Minto said since the JI was the oldest (in electoral politics) and was considered to be well-organised all over the country, its votes (in case it fields its own candidates) scattered across Punjab would cause reduction in score of PML-N or PTI candidates.

The JI votes in the constituencies having no candidates of its own would either go to the PML-N or PTI, Minto said.