Expect a hung parliament

An election in the current political environment is likely to result in a hung parliament

Expect a hung parliament


akistan is facing a serious political and economic crisis at the moment. Most political pundits believe that holding elections is the only solution to the current instability and economic crunch. However, the current scenario and past trends in similar patterns suggest that the elections might result in a hung parliament where major parties like the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) will remain dependent on other groups to form a government.

Before the no-confidence motion in 2022, the PTI’s popularity was declining because of poor policies and governance, especially in the Punjab. However, PTI chairman Imran Khan succeeded in persuading a section of the population that his ouster was a result of a US-hatched conspiracy. The narrative charged his dwindling supporters. Before the tragic events of May 9, the PTI, according to various surveys, was the most popular party in the country. But following Imran Khan’s arrest and ensuing violence, including the ransacking of state installations by PTI supporters, the party’s popularity has declined. Thousands of PTI activists, involved in violent protests, have been arrested and are to be tried on charges of heinous crimes. Several frontline leaders of the party, such as Dr Shireen Mazari and Fawad Chaudhry, have not only left the party but also active politics. Khan has lost several dozens of his electables. However, he still believes that his party can bag a two-thirds majority in the upcoming elections. The PTI’s performance in the local government elections in Sindh suggests otherwise.

The PML-N, once the largest party in Pakistan and now leading the coalition government, is struggling to regain its support. The PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif, convicted on corruption charges and imprisoned, is now living in London where he went for his treatment after the court’s orders following his ailment in jail.

The PDM government has failed to deliver on the economic front. Under its watch, the country has witnessed the highest inflation in Pakistan’s history. The government’s efforts to secure an IMF bailout package have also damaged the PML-N as it has had to make some unpopular decisions like withdrawing subsidies and raising fuel prices and power tariffs.

Seeing the declining support for the party, the PML-N appointed Maryam Nawaz as the new chief organiser of the party and tasked her with reorganising the party cadres. She is all work these days. But motivating supporters when the party’s government is not delivering is an uphill task. The only way forward for the PML-N appears to be the return of Nawaz Sharif, which is not on the horizon.

The PPP, despite being in a comfortable position in Sindh, is struggling in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The PPP chairman, Bilawal Bhutto, and co-chairman, Asif Zardari, are focusing on the southern Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In Balochistan, the PPP has attracted some electables like Sardar Fateh Muhammad Hasni to its fold. However, it will have to work hard to regain its traditional vote bank in the Punjab and the KP that has sided with the PTI in the recent elections.

Expect a hung parliament

Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl, Awami National Party, Jamaat-i-Islami and Tehreek-i-Labbaik have started their campaigns as well. But all these appear to be struggling.

The current political scenario resembles the situations close to the 2002 and 2018 elections. Before the 2002 elections, PML-N’s top leaders like Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Parvez Elahi, Gohar Ayub, Lt Gen Abdul Majid Malik (retired) and several other leaders had left the party and formed the PML-Q, while Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif remained in Saudi Arabia. PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto was in a self-imposed exile while Asif Zardari was in jail. Both had been convicted in a corruption case. However, their conviction became controversial after a leaked audio of a phone call between Saifur Rehman, the then chief of the accountability cell, and the late Justice Malik Qayyum who had presided over the trial.

Gen Musharraf’s advisors had herded several electables from the PPP and the PML-N into the then newly formed PML-Q before the elections. Still, they failed to get the desired results. The PML-Q was the largest party in terms of NA seats followed by the PPP, which had polled more votes. In order to ensure the formation of a PML-Q led government, another dent was made into the PPP by masterminding the formation of a splinter with the name of the PPP-Patriots led by Rao Sikandar Iqbal, formerly a close aide to Benazir Bhutto. Throughout its term, the PML-Q remained dependent on smaller parties like the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the National Alliance.

In 2017, Mian Nawaz Sharif, the then-prime minister, was disqualified for public office. Many electables from the PML-N, the PPP, the ANP and the JI were then encouraged to join the PTI.

Once again there was a hung parliament. The PTI could not claim premiership on its own and had to shake hands with the PML-Q and the MQM, which had been harshly criticised till then by Imran Khan. When the MQM and the Balochistan National Party withdrew their support, the PTI lost its government.

A number of PTI leaders have left the party recently. Some of the parties in the ruling coalition want a ban on the PTI and the disqualification of Imran Khan. However, the PPP does not support the idea. A ban on the PTI looks hard to come by, although Khan might face disqualification on corruption charges. Even if he is disqualified, his party will not disappear or become irrelevant. If elections are held this year, the PTI is likely to be one of the three largest parties in the parliament. Whoever then forms the government will likely have to rely on smaller parliamentary groups.

The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. He tweets at @BukhariMubasher

Expect a hung parliament