With the May 11, 2013 elections fast approaching, the country is set to witness the first smooth transition of power from one elected government to another. The elections, which will be the first of its kind in the country, must be seen in the backdrop of all the past elections held in Pakistan and how they shaped its political dynamics. Dawn.com takes a short glance at all the direct elections held in Pakistan (from 1970-2008), their principal winners and losers and how they shaped politics in the country.
Elections of 1970
These were the first direct elections held in Pakistan on the basis of adult franchise and were also said to be the most free and fair ever noted in the country’s history. Polls for National Assembly seats were held on December 7, 1970 with provincial assembly elections on December 17. The optimism surrounding the event was visible amidst increased tensions between what were then known as East and West Pakistan.
The elections were held under Yahya Khan’s Legal Framework Order (LFO) of March 30, 1970 which also laid down principles for holding the polls. Sheikh Mujeebur Rehman’s Awami League (AL) from the East and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) from West Pakistan were the front-runners in the campaign for these elections. Being Pakistan’s first ever direct elections, countries both friendly and not so much were keen to observe the process.
The national polls were swept by the Awami League which secured 167 out of 313 NA seats making it the single largest party in the country which earned the mandate to form a government. Moreover, Bhutto’s PPP, which stood largely in opposition to AL, managed to secure 85 seats in the National Assembly.
The Awami League was however not allowed by the then power-bearers to form the government and the situation led to a mass uprising and eventually a war in East Pakistan. The circumstances resulted in the dismemberment of Pakistan and the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent state in December 1971.
In West Pakistan, Bhutto was handed over the presidency. He also took charge as the first civilian chief martial law administrator of the country and in 1972 issued a National Assembly (Short Session) order to form a constituent assembly comprising 138 members elected to NA from the west, six elected to women’s reserved seats and two members elected on NA seats from the east on tickets of parties other than the Awami League. Eventually, the term of the assembly, which drafted the 1973 constitution and also elected Bhutto as prime minister, was extended to last until 1977.
Elections of 1977
The elections of 1977 were initially expected to be held in the second half of the year, however, they were held much earlier — on March 7 — mainly on Bhutto’s prerogative.
With the national and provincial assemblies dissolved in January 1977, Bhutto went on a massive election campaign, holding public meetings, addressing rallies with huge turnouts and propagating his so-called agenda of Islamic socialism along with taking steps and issuing orders to appease the religious right.
At the time, Bhutto was faced with the Pakistan National Alliance, the chief group comprising nine political parties, which stood in opposition to his re-election. Parties in PNA had agreed to stand in the 1977 election as a single bloc against PPP, accusing Bhutto and his party of engaging in corrupt practices, policy mismanagement and miring the country into a host of national crises. The PNA also resorted to religion-centric sloganeering and kept a strong drive going against Bhutto over what it called the PPP chief’s personal shortcomings.
When the results for the 1977 elections came in, Bhutto’s PPP secured a massive win with 155 National Assembly seats out of the total 200. The PNA, which had boycotted provincial assemblies’ elections, secured only 36 seats in the National Assembly.
The alliance refused to accept the results of the elections and launched a massive civil disobedience campaign accusing PPP of poll rigging. It began a protest movement against Bhutto and demanded for resignations of the PPP chief and the chief election commissioner. The alliance further demanded that elections be held again.
Although Bhutto initially rejected PNA’s demands, he later held talks with its leaders and after a series of parleys the two sides were expected to arrive at an agreement over holding fresh elections. This could not materialise however as Bhutto’s hand-picked chief of army staff, Ziaul Haq, seized power in July 1977.
The events following the coup d’état led to Bhutto’s arrest, imprisonment and finally hanging in a case over the killing of Mohammad Ahmad Kasuri, father of renowned lawyer and former Bhutto loyalist Ahmed Raza Kasuri.
Non-party elections of 1985
General Zia’s regime featured a rigid form of governance which also imposed a ban on active participation of political parties in the February 1985 elections held under military supervision. The events surrounding these polls involved arrests and imprisonments of numerous political workers with the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD), an alliance of political parties opposing Zia’s dictatorship, boycotting the elections.
Prior to the elections, a number of relevant laws and rules went through considerable changes. A separate electorate system was introduced, making it imperative to include a declaration of faith in the application for vote registration.
These elections are chiefly viewed as an exercise that fundamentally aimed to provide legitimacy to Zia’s regime as opposed to being an attempt at moving a step closer to establishing a system of representative government in the country. This view however stands valid as the post-elections scenario saw a transfer of power from the Parliament to the president — a position held by Zia at the time. The transfer took place through the passing of the 8th Amendment by the National Assembly elected that year.
Moreover, Zia kept reiterating that all his steps were in conformity with the Constitution of Pakistan, whereas, political parties barred from contesting elections continued to demand that the constitution formulated in 1973 be restored.
Elections of 1988
On May 29, 1988, Zia used Article 58 (2) (b) to dissolve the assemblies. He later announced that countrywide elections would be held in November 1988 on a non-party basis. However, the military strongman failed to see the project materialise as a result of his death in a helicopter crash which also claimed the life of Arnold Raphel, the then US ambassador to Pakistan.
Although Zia had sought to hold non-party elections in 1988, the idea was rejected by the Supreme Court over a constitutional petition filed by Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir, who had pleaded that such a process would violate the fundamental right to freedom of association.
With Benazir leading the PPP and the field for political parties open, elections for the national and provincial assemblies were respectively held on November 16 and November 19 of that year.
However, PPP’s return to the political arena went side by side with the emergence of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), a group of political parties and leaders brought together to counter PPP’s influence. The chief components of IJI were Muslim League and Jamaat-i-Islami.
The political parties’ campaigns for the elections remained generally peaceful and the results showed PPP as the winner, securing 93 out of the 204 general seats in the National Assembly and forming a coalition government by striking alliances with smaller parties. This government was headed by Benazir who was elected the country’s first female prime minister on December 4, 1988.
Elections of 1990
Benazir was shown the door in 1990 by the then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan who dismissed her government on charges pertaining to corruption and failure to maintain law and order.
Soon after, elections were announced for October 24, 1990. Benazir held rallies around the country with hundreds of thousands of workers turning up, while Nawaz Sharif also held a number of public meetings as part of his campaign for the elections.
This time PPP decided to run under the banner of Pakistan Democratic Alliance which also featured three other parties: Tehreek-i-Istaqlal of Asghar Khan, Tehreek-i-Nafaz-i-Fiqah-i-Jafria and Malik Qasim group of Pakistan Muslim League. And even though support to Benazir’s party was immense, the elections saw the more conservative IJI winning the majority of seats (105) in the National Assembly, whereas PDA secured only 44.
As a result, Nawaz formed the government in Islamabad as PPP kept voicing its concern that the elections had been rigged. However, no concrete measures were adopted at the time to address this grievance.
Much later, in 1996, Asghar Khan filed a case accusing the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of doling out money to politicians to prevent PDA from winning the 1990 elections. The judgment on the case was recently announced with the Supreme Court ruling that the elections held that year were “subjected to corruption and corrupt practices”. The court further ruled that money was handed out to certain political leaders in an exercise to deprive the people of Pakistan from freely choosing to elect their representatives.
However, Nawaz’s term ended in 1993 following a widening rift between himself and Ghulam Ishaq Khan who also tendered his resignation.
The then chairman of the Senate, Wasim Sajjad, took over as acting president and Moeen Qureshi was sworn in as caretaker premier. Elections were subsequently announced for October 1993.
Elections of 1993 In these elections, Nawaz and his supporters fought under the name of Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) and a faction of PML that had fallen out with Nawaz took on the name of PML-Junejo.
The elections were held on October 6, 1993 with PPP securing the most number of seats in the National Assembly but not enough to form a government. The party however formed the government after winning support from small parties in the National Assembly with Benazir becoming the country’s prime minister for a second time. The PML-N took on the role of chief opposition to Benazir’s government.
Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari was elected the country’s president only to dismiss Benazir’s government. The dismissal came about primarily over corruption charges levelled against the PPP chief and her husband Asif Ali Zardari. Strife in Sindh, a continuing stand off with the Supreme Court and the killing of Benazir’s brother, Murtaza Bhutto, in a ‘police encounter’ in Karachi, also catalysed the ouster.
Elections of 1997 After the Benazir government’s dismissal, the president called the elections which were held on February 3, 1997, once again pitching Nawaz’s PML-N and Benazir’s PPP in a fierce battle.
In light of the last government’s ouster, most election campaigning revolved around eliminating corruption, working for a stable economy and establishing ethnic harmony.
The elections saw PML-N winning 135 general seats in the National Assembly, making it a landslide victory for the party. PPP fared badly securing 18 general seats with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Awami National Party (ANP) managing to capture 12 and nine seats respectively.
The PML-N formed the government and months into PPP’s defeat, Benazir left the country for a self-imposed exile.
Elections of 2002
Nawaz’s victory in the 1997 elections was short-lived and he was ousted in a military coup led by General (retd) Pervez Musharraf. The bloodless coup of 1999 took place after months of contentious relations between Nawaz and his hand-picked military chief.
A year and a half after the coup, Musharraf called the elections for October 10, 2002. Political parties that had been waiting in the wings for an opportunity sprang into action and campaigned for seats with over 50 groups partaking in the elections.
The elections for the National Assembly saw Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid (PML-Q) win a total of 118 seats with PPP securing 81. The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) won 60 while PML-N managed to return from 19 seats. Moreover, the polls saw MQM winning 17 seats and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) only one.
At the time, PML-Q came to be known as the King’s party with MMA, an alliance of religious parties, emerging as its principal ally. A PML-Q-led government was then formed at the centre whose de facto chief was Musharraf himself. And while he had started out with relative popularity, events from his rule, mainly Akbar Bugti’s killing, Lal Masjid operation, Benazir’s assassination and the deposing of superior court judges tarnished his reputation in the public. Increasing unpopularity drove the former military ruler into imposing a state of emergency in the country in November 2007 and gagging the national media.
The events also led the now-retired general into resigning from his position of chief of army staff and announcing elections for January 8, 2008 which were eventually held on February 18 of that year. Months after the elections, Musharraf resigned from the position of president and went into a self-imposed exile in London.
Elections of 2008
The elections that took place just over a month after Benazir’s assassination, were predictably swept by PPP. The party secured 122 National Assembly seats with PML-N securing 92. Twenty-five seats were won by MQM and 13 by ANP.
The PPP then formed a coalition government at the centre, initially by forming an alliance with PML-N as its chief partner. The alliance fell apart, however, other parties, such as ANP and MQM remained allied to PPP through the years with the PML-Q jumping to the treasury benches much later. Moreover, Zardari was elected to the position of the country’s president after Musharraf’s resignation.
The PPP saw two prime ministers in this term — Yousuf Raza Gilani, who was ousted on contempt of court charges and Raja Pervez Ashraf, who was elected premier in the wake of Gilani’s dismissal.
The assemblies elected in these elections were the first in the country’s history which took power from a fully civilian administration and continued to last with their stipulated terms completing without interruption from the country’s military.
To elect new assemblies in 2013, elections were called for May 11. The main parties partaking in these polls are PPP, PML-N, MQM, ANP, PTI and PML-Q. However, campaigning has turned out be a relatively tough call in the existing security environment, especially with recent attacks that have targeted candidates from ANP, PPP and MQM.
— Research and text by Saher Baloch