Pakistani parties

Pakistan perhaps could use a modification of its laws on political parties.

A few observations drawn from an Express Tribune item on the “mushroom growth” in the number of parties:

The number of approved political parties has grown from 147 to 281 in the last five years. Partly this is because “there are dozens of parties registered with the same prefix or suffix – the Pakistan Muslim League, for instance.”

Fully 90% of the registered parties are a “one man show”!

There is no law to deregister a party.

It gets worse:

Some argue that it is easier to register a political party in Pakistan than to register your child in school.

There are no registration fees and all you need is an application, a copy of the party’s manifesto and constitution along with a list of office-bearers. An applicant can also give an undertaking that intra-party elections will be held soon.

The ECP doesn’t have a mechanism to verify documents submitted and nor does it pursue the verification process. As a result, many party manifestos or constitutions are reworded versions of another party’s. The list of office-bearers is only checked for names that another party’s lists may include.

This process is not exactly helpful to developing a party system that would actually aid voter representation. And, no, this is not the worst of problems facing Pakistani democracy, or Pakistan more broadly.

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Jubilation in Pakistan

“The king is dead,” reads the headline in Sindh Today, as Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf announced his resignation.

The possibility of impeachment, which requires two-thirds votes of the two chambers of parliament, seemed too good to be true, and the possibility that Musharraf would resign seemed even more too good to be true. However, it was clear that his support was crumbling fast. The party that had been the closest thing he ever had to a support base outside of the army, the PML-Q, had deserted him. Whatever aura of political support he might have enjoyed vanished when the parliament of Sindh province voted unanimously,

asking President Musharraf to take vote of confidence from the Parliament including the provincial assembly that is also part of the presidential Electoral College or resign. (The Nation, nation.com.pk)

It was never clear (to me) what strategy Musharraf had for remaining in power. But I certainly was not ready to count him out. The two main ‘democratic’ parties (or as close to democratic as the country has among major parties) had combined for a large majority in the recent national parliamentary elections, and had formed a coalition together. And while the concept of ‘legitimacy’ is far too squishy to be of much use, whatever it may mean operationally, clearly Musharraf lacked it. ((An editorial in The News on the occasion of Pakistan’s recent Independence Day celebrations sums all this up well.)) That much was clear when he summarily fired the Supreme Court justices just as they were poised to uphold their own jobs by declaring unconstitutional his reelection by the (fraudulently elected) past parliaments (that comprise the electoral college). Having formally shed his military uniform, he could no longer count on army backing. And the presence of a president chosen by the pre-transition parliament in what is otherwise a parliamentary democracy was always going to be anomaly. (In fact, the ruling parties had just announced a series of steps to strip the presidency of the powers it had as potential checks on the parliament and cabinet. These, presumably will go ahead before a new president is installed.)

Not to put a damper on the justified jubilation, but the resignation was almost surely pushed as much by the army as by the parliament–or the people of Pakistan who do indeed deserve much credit for brave resistance in recent months. ((After writing this latter point, I came across Manan Ahmed’s excellent post, in which he says, “Pakistan just had a slow-burning, people-powered, secular revolution and they forced a sitting dictator – who had the complete confidence and support of the only superpower in the world – out. Peacefully.” Well put.)) That is, the ability of Musharraf to serve out his fixed term as president despite losing political support always would have depended on the army’s willingness to uphold transitional accords negotiated with the political parties. Ultimately, that would rest on the credibility of a coup if the parties pushed too hard. Evidently, in retrospect, a coup was not credible and the parties–even alleged allies–were ready to push. A trial would have sullied the army, too, given that it was always Musharraf’s only real basis of support. The officer corps no doubt is also now saying “good riddance.” While it remains unclear whether there is an exile deal in place, one has to be skeptical that the dictator will be brought to justice.
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Pakistan–more elections comparisons

According to a table of seat results at Wikipedia,* the “victory” for the PPP in 2008 was a bit worse a showing–in seats–than it had in 1988 and 1993, the two elections that resulted in Benazir Bhutto’s premierships. Out of 207 total seats in these elections, her party won 93 in 1988 and 89 in 1993. That’s 45% and 43% of seats, respectively, compared to 32% this time.

Sharif’s party won 137 in 1997,** the election that led to his premiership, which was interrupted by Musharraf’s coup in 1999.


* Never my favorite source, but will have to do for now.

** Compared to 68 of 272 now.

Pakistan 2002 comparison

If the PML(Q) of the 2008 elections can be considered more or less the same as the PML(Q) that ran in the 2002 elections under military rule, it actually did about as well–in votes–in these elections as it did under less competitive conditions then: 25.7% in 2002, 24.0% in 2008.

In 2002, given different district-level competitive dynamics, this quarter of the vote translated into a quarter of the seats, compared to the 14% it got in 2008.

With the “democratic” parties fully participating again, voter participation was higher in 2008, but not dramatically so: about 31 million, compared to 29.6 in 2002.

So, with a slightly higher turnout Musharraf’s party experienced almost perfect stasis in the vote share. It did, however, suffer a substantial loss of seats.

Pakistan election results

From Pakistan News Room, by way of Adam Carr, the preliminary results from the recent Pakistani parliamentary election are rather typical of how FPTP works in a politically fragmented context.

The big “victory” by the PPP (Bhutto’s party) wasn’t much of a victory. It was the largest party in votes, but with under one third. It won more than 8 percentage points more than its closest challenger, the PML(Q), which is Musharraf’s party (which supposedly suffered a big “defeat”; perhaps it did, but being second in votes in a fragmented field is not what I was expecting, based on the media spin).

The PPP was slightly under-represented (32% of the seats on 32.7% of the votes), which is not what one normally expects of parties that earn “big victories” under FPTP. The second largest party by votes (i.e, the PML(Q)) was indeed a big loser in seats (14.3% on 24% of the votes).

The third largest party in votes was the other party noted in the media to have done so “well.” In seats, that is true. It was somewhat over-represented: 25% of the seats on 20.6% of the votes.

The main Islamist party, MMA, indeed did quite badly: 4 seats (1.47%) on 1.3% of the vote. Its main and more successful rival in the Northwest was the Awami National Party (3.7% of seats on 1.9% of votes, showing the advantage of regional concentration under FPTP).

The PPP was the only party to win seats in all states, according to Manan Ahmed, and of course, its being the more national party in such a fragmented system likely explains why it did not get the over-representation normally expected by the largest party under FPTP (votes wasted by running in districts it lost outside its strongholds). Still, for “the only national party in the country,” and supposedly benefiting from “the after-shocks of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination” (Ahmed’s words), less than a third of the votes/seats is pretty bad. As Ahmed notes, the result is also a “reflection of how restrictive the ethnic or regional based agendas the rest of the parties” are.

Back to the election results. About 10% of the seats were won by independents, and the fourth largest party by seats, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, had 19 seats (about 7%, on 7.6% of the votes). Four parties not mentioned thus far had 1 to 4 seats each, and another 10 seats are shown by Carr as “Undeclared or postponed.” There will also be another 60 seats (i.e., in addition to the 272 FPTP seats) “allocated to women members of the various parties, in proportion to the votes received.”

Other than the reversal of the second and third-place parties and the substantial over-representation of Awami, the result is fairly proportional to votes cast, which is not quite as odd as it sounds for FPTP, given the regional fragmentation. I have not seen district-level results, but one can expect that many seats were either dominated by one party or, in the case of contested seats, many likely were won with less than 50%. Such bimodal distributions of district-level outcomes are also rather common under regionally fragmented FPTP. If anyone has seen the detailed results and can confirm or correct that presumption for this election, please do so in the comments.