Pakistan, 2018

Pakistan elections were today.

Something to watch is how well new religious parties do. One of them, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, has a campaign poster that features a woman candidate, although you will need a little imagination to see her.

One of the party’s male candidates explains, “The party has nominated a few women… because… it is mandatory under the election law.”

I understand (via experts on Twitter) that there could be many by-elections in the weeks to come. One even spoke of a “wave” of them. Some of these will be mandated by a provision that invalidates any constituency result in which at least 10% of women on the voter roll did not participate. Others will be necessary because candidates can run in multiple constituencies and, if they win more than one, they have to step aside in all but one. Still others will be needed because several candidates (at least 8) have died since nomination; it is not clear to the extent the deaths are natural or due to election violence.

The electoral system is mostly FPTP. The total size of the National Assembly is 342, and 272 of them are from single-seat districts via plurality. Others are reserved for women or ethnic minorities; some form of PR is supposedly used for these, but I do not have the details. Perhaps someone will enlighten us in the comments. This election is the first under a newly delimited constituency map.

Early results put Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, led by Imran Khan, in the lead.


Unless I say so explicitly, mention of parties or candidates on this blog is not an endorsement. That is especially so when I have no clue what a party’s poster appearing with my entry even says!

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.

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.