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Can Jamaat-i-Islami win any seats on its own?

April 19, 2013

Can the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), an out-rightly rightwing political party, win elections on its own? After it failed to reach a seat adjustment agreement either with the PML-N, its traditional ally, or the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI), political observers are increasingly asking the question as to how the JI will perform on May 11. The talks for the revival of Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) are already over.

Even prior to the announcement of the general elections, the JI leadership had repeatedly met both the PML-N and the PTI leaders to look for a possible election alliance or seat-to-seat adjustment with either of them. In return, Imran Khan and the PML-N leadership also visited Mansora - the JI headquarters in Lahore - expressing their willingness to join hands against the PPP and its allies.

At least on the face of it, there seemed to be a genuine eagerness on part of the JI to have some sort of seat adjustment, either with the PTI or the PML-N. The JI leaders every now and then did accept on record their talks with the two parties to put joint candidates in constituencies where they found common ground. But, it’s official now that all the three parties are fielding their separate candidates.

“For us, the talks with the JI for a possible seat adjustment are over for quite some time. The PTI has decided in principle to go solo and will not have any sort of an election alliance with any other party,” declared Dr Shireen Mazari, the newly-appointed information secretary of the PTI. She has replaced Shafqat Mahmood, who will be contesting election for a National Assembly seat from Lahore.

A senior PTI leader told Dawn that the party chief, Imran Khan, was genuinely interested in seat adjustment with the JI but on one condition that it would have to finish all its contacts with the PML-N, a condition which the JI leaders refused to accept.

PML-N information secretary Senator Mushahiddullah Khan said at the moment talks with JI were over, but can be revived any time if the two parties agreed to support each other’s candidates in some constituencies. But Senator Khan did accept that chances of resuming the talks between the two parties were not encouraging.

According to a PML-N leader, the JI was asking too many seats for its candidates throughout the country which wasn’t possible for Nawaz Sharif to accommodate. The JI, according to the PML-N source, had asked some three dozen tickets for the National Assembly, and fifty plus of provincial assemblies, which the latter’s leadership rejected forthwith.

May be, he said, if the JI agreed to what PML-N had offered, the two parties still can seal an agreement before the election date. As per the PML-N source, the party had offered its support for around a dozen JI candidates for the NA, and some twenty plus in the provincial constituencies, not more than that.

Shahid Shamsi, a spokesperson for the JI, said the Jamaat was very much clear from day one that in the coming elections it would field its own candidates on the party’s election symbol, “even if we have seat-to-seat adjustment.”

Mr Shamsi, too, didn’t rule out the possibility of seat adjustment with the PML-N during the next week or so.

He agreed that the JI leadership had detailed meetings with both the PML-N and PTI leaders for the sole purpose of seat-to-seat adjustment. It’s very unfortunate that at a time when the PPP and its former allies are supporting each other the opposition parties are busy in dividing each other’s vote bank.

The JI leaders’ desperation to have seat-to-seat adjustment with likeminded parties definitely makes sense. The only time, the JI contested elections entirely on its own was in 1993 when it could only manage three seats in the house of 207 members. Before that, it was part of the alliance with the Muslim League in 1988 and 1990 general elections. The JI in 1997 boycotted elections. The party was for an across the board accountability before the polling.

Again in 2002, the JI was part of the MMA, a conglomerate of religious political parties, which won a healthy number of 59 seats in the National Assembly, and 52 seats in the house of 124-member of the then NWFP assembly and formed a government there.