Party-based local government elections are considered the best turf for smaller parties
With local government elections being scheduled across the country, religio-political parties have also accelerated their grassroots political campaigns by fielding candidates to muster support from public and in turn, use their success to strike political bargains with mainstream political parties ahead of the next general elections.
In the recently held first phase of local government elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, almost all religio-political factions, big and small, fielded their candidates at councillor and union council chairman level.
Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Majlis-i-Wahdat-ul-Muslimeen (MWM) and the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) are some of the main religio-political parties with sizeable pockets of support across the country.
The local government elections are considered a good opportunity for small parties to test their popularity and press their advantage in the national and provincial elections by negotiating with mainstream parties to get a few seats in the parliament to demonstrate a semblance of representation at the national level.
In the recently held local government elections, the TLP, the JI and the MWM were able to win seats at different levels. The TLP has claimed success of 122 candidates at different levels of union council but did not win any mayor seat at city, tehsil and district level. The MWM and the JI too won some seats at the UC level but failed to bag any mayor seat.
“We are fielding candidates on maximum seats in every phase and every province,” says TLP spokesperson Saddam Hussain Bukhari. He adds: “all our candidates are contesting with the party symbol. There is no alliance with any party or group at this [local] level.”
He hopes that like the first phase in the KP, the TLP will have a significant number of seats at UC level in every province. However, he does not seem optimistic about winning a mayoral slot at city, tehsil or district level. Similarly, the MWM and the JI are aiming for a good number of seats at UC level but are hardly hopeful for any at the mayor level.
“We are fielding the maximum number of candidates we can at the union council level in the local government elections. Our performance will define the future political course and determine the possibility of political alliances with mainstream parties in the next general elections,” Mazahar Shigri, a spokesperson for the MWM tells The News on Sunday.
There is also the impression that such factions have a limited grassroots level support and cannot command a majority of seats because of their specific ideologies and religious agendas.
Historically, religio-political parties have not been able to win a majority of seats in local or general elections anywhere. At the district level, these parties are usually unable to bag seats like that of the mayor because the public mostly supports mainstream parties’ candidates. Only hardcore ideological voters of these religious factions dedicatedly vote for them. There is also the impression that such factions have a limited grassroots level support. They are unable to win a majority of seats because of their specific ideologies and religious agendas.
According to party insiders, they are aware that they can bag only a few seats. But their hope is that they will be able to create some good pockets of voter support and use that strength to negotiate terms with mainstream parties, either to gain political favours or some representation in National and Provincial Assemblies. Sometimes their support can limit the electoral gains of a major party.
The TLP is currently seen as a major player in this game. This time, both in local and national elections, it is being viewed as a party that will play the role of either a supporter or a spoiler, causing a few upsets at the provincial and national level. However, these parties with a small but dedicated vote bank are unlikely to get major representation at district level.
The MWM has also won some UC level seats in its stronghold, Dera Ismail Khan (DIK), but failed to bag a major seat. It aims to win seats in the second phase of elections in KP, in Sindh and in the Punjab.
The JI has a stronghold in Karachi, where it once had its mayors. It also has significant support in parts of the KP and the Punjab. However, its chances of winning any big seat are bleak.
Most political analysts agree that at the UC level, people prefer to vote for those who can ensure civic works instead of voting for ideologies. This is why most people prefer to vote for mainstream parties’ candidates to get their local issues resolved. They believe that the smaller parties cannot secure the funds needed for development projects and hence favour mainstream parties.
Realistically speaking, local government elections held on party basis are a good turf for small political and religious factions to identify their strong pockets at a local level in different constituencies in order to better negotiate politically or electorally with mainstream political parties. These small political and religious factions are considered less relevant to parliamentary politics but can be quite significant in constituency politics.
The author is a staff reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets at @waqargillani