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Friday May 24, 2024

GENERAL ELECTIONS 2024: Even massive street power didn’t help religio-political parties win big

By Zubair Ashraf
February 16, 2024

When it comes to demonstrating street power, religio-political parties in the country, such as the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), can pull massive crowds, and pressure governments and even powerful state institutions into succumbing to their demands.

Activists of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) are holding a protest demonstration against alleged rigging in the General Election 2024, outside the Provincial Election Commission Office in Karachi on February 15, 2024. — PPI
Activists of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) are holding a protest demonstration against alleged rigging in the General Election 2024, outside the Provincial Election Commission Office in Karachi on February 15, 2024. — PPI

However, in the context of electoral politics, these political parties have not been able to make it into the assemblies with a considerable mandate as often. In the 2024 general elections, which were held last week on February 8, the JUI-F could secure only four seats in the parliament, and the Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM) only one.

In Punjab the TLP got just one seat. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa the JUI-F and the Jamaat-e-Islami won seven seats each. In Balochistan the JUI-F secured 11 seats, and the JI only one. In Sindh the JI won only two seats, of which the party’s Karachi chief relinquished one.

The News talked to some renowned political analysts in order to seek their insight into the phenomenon of religio-political parties not performing well in electoral politics.

According to senior journalist and political analyst Mazhar Abbas, religio-political parties possess considerable street power, but they have not been successful in electoral politics because of their sectarian outlook.

Abbas explained that the JUI-F has a Deobandi mindset, the TLP and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan are Barelvi, the MWM is Shia and the JI is Wahabi.

He said that because of this sectarian outlook, the vote bank of the religio-political parties is divided, adding that contrary to their ideological bases, vote from each individual matters in an election, regardless of their religion or sect.

He also said that religio-political parties performed well only in the 2002 elections when they contested the polls together from a single platform of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). He cited the uprising against the then Pakistani government supporting the US invasion of Afghanistan as one of the reasons for the success of the religio-political parties.

Abbas said that it was then that the MMA formed its provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and brought their leader of opposition in the parliament.

He said that this group had also secured seven National Assembly seats from Karachi. These political parties generally do not have significant support bases in terms of votes, he added.

He also said that although mainstream political parties like the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz have right-wing and religious elements with them, they do not formulate their policies based on religious views. He pointed that the JUI-F’s power stems from their madrasas that increased significantly after Ziaul Haq’s era.

He commented that religio-political parties, especially the JUI-F, need to revisit their policies, because they have been constantly losing in the past few general elections.

On the other hand, senior journalist and political analyst Abdul Jabbar Nasir opined that the vote bank of religio-political parties has increased since the previous elections, but they have not been able to win enough seats for many reasons.

Nasir said religio-political parties have a collective vote bank of around six million across the country. Street politics and electoral politics are quite different, he added.

He explained that in street politics one needs to demonstrate only power and muscles, which is relatively easier than gaining votes, because in the latter case area and constituencies matter.

He said that for a long time religio-political parties have not been able to come into power with their own vote bank, which was limited to certain pockets and not across constituencies, especially in the urban centres of the country.

He also said that among the religio-political parties, the JI has conducted good political campaigning by forming their narratives around the rights of people: Karachiites, for example. Yet, he added, they could not win because of delimitation politics.

Senior journalist and academic Dr Tausif Ahmed Khan said that the circle of religio-political parties is very limited, because they are divided into sects. He remarked that religio-political parties have been used by the establishment throughout the history of Pakistan.

Dr Khan said that from the 1970s, when the first election in Pakistan was held, to the 12th election in 2024, religio-political parties have never gained considerable mandate in terms of votes. In short, he pointed out, they have not become part of the mainstream foray.

He said the JI’s Karachi chapter is different from the rest of the party, because in this city it has emerged as a political party of Urdu-speaking middle-class liberal people by taking up civic issues that have worsened during the 15-year rule of the Pakistan Peoples Party. That is why JI Karachi came into the limelight, yet could not gain considerable votes, he added.