Elections 2018: Who will get the Punjab crown?

Source:  ARY News Published in Politics on Friday, June 29, 2018

The politics of strategic Punjab province remained crucial in the history of Pakistan as whosoever can conquer the province in polls is ultimately crowned king. Punjab politics is complex with various factors influencing the opinions in the province. All national level political parties seek to grab a share of power and influence in the province.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, realising the important role of Punjab, launched the Pakistan Peoples Party in Lahore in 1967, and swept through the province. He faced little opposition because Punjab had historically failed to produce a leader of the national stature since partition.

Nawaz Sharif was ultimately ‘brought’ in the national politics to oppose the PPP and the government of Benazir Bhutto, both had two non-consecutive and incomplete terms of government each before the military under Pervez Musharraf took over in October 1999.

Democracy was set to return when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007 in a gun and bomb attack along with scores of her supporters. However, the PPP emerged victorious with an outpouring of sympathy votes to her spouse Asif Ali Zardari, who held the reins of the party after her assassination. This was the first time a civilian government completed its full tenure in the history of Pakistan, but the PPP ultimately found itself pushed out of Punjab and largely confined to Sindh in May 2013 General Elections.

Punjab looked up to charismatic cricketer-turned politician Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairman Imran Khan as a new factor and rival to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in place of the PPP. Imran Khan’s PTI performed exceptionally well but failed to tear down the deeply entrenched roots of the PML-N in Punjab.

Nawaz Sharif once against swept power in 2013 elections but had tough time ever since. The PTI has been the most vocal opposition with accusations of electoral rigging and a colossal sit-in in Islamabad which became a nuisance for the ruling party.

Sharif further had a down-slide when the Panama Papers, during his fourth year of the tenure, revealed his family owned expensive properties through off-shore accounts. This was the miracle Imran had been waiting for and moved the Supreme Court to investigate.

Sharif was ultimately disqualified by a ruling of the apex court in July 2017, which unleashed several corruption references against him and the members of his family.

He cannot contest elections and his younger brother Shehbaz Sharif, erstwhile chief minister of Punjab, is party president but he is still a guiding force. The party is adamant that it will recapture its stronghold in the upcoming General Elections on July 25, and Nawaz Sharif will ultimately be brought back.

The PTI is seeking to grab a much bigger share in the upcoming elections. With the PPP fading into oblivion, and other smaller parties acting nothing more than spoilers, the ultimate battle in Punjab will be between the PML-N and the PTI.

The number game         

The National Assembly has a total of 342 members, including 60 seats reserved for women and 10 for non-Muslims. In Punjab there are 183 National Assembly seats including 148 general seats and 35 reserved for women.

During the 2013 elections, the PML-N won 164 seats from Punjab. The PTI bagged nine, while the PPP received four, PML-Q got two, Sheikh Rashid’s Awami Muslim League and PML-Z of Ijaz-ul-Haq got one each, whereas there were two independents.

National Assembly
PML-N 164
PTI 9
PPP 4
PML-Q 2
PML-Z 1
AML 1
IND 2
Total 183

 

The Punjab Assembly has 371 seats with 186 seats needed for a majority. During the 2013 elections the PML-N won 313 seats giving them a comfortable four-fifth share. The PTI emerged as distant second biggest party with 30 thirty seats.

Punjab Assembly
PML-N 313
PTI 30
PPP 8
PML-Q 8
JI 1
IND 11
Total 371

 

Parties to look out for         

Most PML-N leaders including the ‘kitchen cabinet’ of Nawaz Sharif are expected to be elected from Punjab. Though PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif, widely considered as the party’s choice for prime minister, is also contesting on a National Assembly seat from Karachi, it will be Punjab which would decide his and his party’s political fate.

Maryam Nawaz, long seen as the political heir of Nawaz Sharif, will be contesting in election for the first time. PML-N leaders such as Khawaja Asif, disqualified and then restored, Ahsan Iqbal, Khawaja Saad Rafique,  Ayaz Sadiq and the brash Rana Sanaullah are contesting from Punjab.

The PTI is hoping that it will fare exceptionally well this time around after gaining more political experience and being in a constant state of campaigning. With Nawaz Sharif out, the party is being tipped as the favourite but will find it hard to crack the PML-N strong base.

It will be south Punjab where PTI hopes to achieve the biggest win. The area is the base of the party stalwarts such as Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Jehangir Tareen, both having differences but a strong force on their own. Independent candidates such as Jamshed Dasti are also expected to join the bandwagon.

The PML-N saw several defections in south Punjab particularly from those demanding a separate province. The defectors under nonagenarian Balakh Sher Mazari formed a separate movement but ultimately merged with the PTI. Therefore, it will be the south Punjab where PTI will hope to win the most assembly seats.

The PPP finds itself in a limbo and even struggled to find candidates amid ever declining popularity. It has even field loyalists such as Qamar Zaman Kaira, and former premiers Yousuf Raza Gillani and Raja Pervez Ashraf. Sadly,  the electoral base of the PPP is shrinking in the province with no hopes of revival.

Rise of the far-right

Punjab has also been a hotbed of extremist forces and sectarian outfits. These groups have a significant political role; in the past they had supported the PML-N campaign.

However, these fringe groups have now emerged as an independent political force. One of the most prominent names includes the Milli Muslim League led by Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed. The MML was not registered a party but has emerged under the little-known Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek and has field candidates.

Furthermore, the Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA) led by the cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi has emerged a strong force through its political wing Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP). The party shot to prominence during a sit-in in Faizabad protesting controversial amendments in election clauses.

The TLP has stated that it will use issues such as blasphemy and the finality of Prophet-hood for political purposes. The wheel-chair bound cleric delivered provocative speeches laden with profanities, and the military eventually intervened to call off the protest.

The far-right is not seen serious contenders but rather spoilers. They performed surprisingly well in a by-poll in Lahore and will split the vote in upcoming elections long seen as PML-N’s playground.

Main arena of contest

Punjab is the centre of power and will be the primary arena of contest in the next elections. The political reality of Punjab is that it has generally gone as a whole with one or another party, which may contradict the earlier stance that the mandate may be divided.

Furthermore, feudal political families and caste based politics communities are the centre piece of Punjab politics based on culture of power, patronage and kinship. They are nominated by the political parties to contest elections, and no matter what the cost, stay closer to the ruling party.

The PTI fully realises this and has brought forward a turncoat-heavy list of candidates, knowing that only electables will be given consideration. Power politics trumps principles, ideology and sometimes even democracy itself.

The PML-N is at crossroads with Sharif declared ineligible and a looming prison sentence with unraveling of its dynastic politics and internal struggles. Given the state of disarray it is currently in, it may not be able to withstand the ever-growing political wave of the rising PTI in Punjab.