Saturday, January 26, 2013

Pakistan Election Watch

Pakistan Election Forecast and Political Situation:

The elections later this year will mark the first time a civilian government has completed a full five-year term and transferred power through the ballot box in Pakistan. Past governments have been toppled in military coups or dismissed by presidents allied with top generals. Although few expect a coup this time, there is widespread unhappiness with the ruling Pakistan People's Party's performance at a time when the country is plagued by high unemployment, rampant energy shortages and frequent attacks by Islamist militants.

An estimated 40 million young Pakistanis will be voting for the first time in the upcoming elections, out of a registered electorate of 90 million, this presents an engine for change according to a number of leading politicians. That said there is likely to be an epic battle by the political class and parties that have a vested interest in preserving the current crumbling system and status quo to stop change. One exception to these elections however is the Army won’t be involved for the first time in a campaign.

With only a couple of months to go before the nation heads to the polls, tensions are palpable throughout the political parties.  Party defections have been reported as personal agendas take over from political objectives. And a number of prominent politicians have shifted allegiance over the past weeks.

As the government completes its term in mid-March, reports are surfacing that a caretaker government will be appointed to organize and conduct general elections scheduled for 17 May.

With the opposition parties still in disarray, the potential for joint campaigns against the leading party are becoming increasingly apparent. Unlike the previous general elections held in 2008, where a number of parties contested the elections on independent agendas, the upcoming elections present a fairly different picture this time round. It is believed that no single party will gain enough support to win the elections, so a coalition government will be formed following a period of negotiation on seat adjustment and power sharing agreements.

On the external front, the United States’ contemplated withdrawal from Afghanistan will also cast its shadows on who forms the next government in Pakistan. Subsequently, there seems to be a state propaganda campaign done deliberately by parties that want to tell the U.S. they are moderate, pro-western, and against extremism.

Although electoral reform remains a widely reported subject in the Pakistan media, the main concerns of the population remain with the deteriorating security situation, worsening economy, and the fear of physical intimidation from armed political activists during the polls.

A number of key trigger points have the potential to exacerbate the security situation over the coming weeks, which could theoretically see the elections fall into a period of sustained violence.

Those catalysts include an increase in clashes between ethnic political parties in Karachi; the two most prominent of which is the Muthidda Qaumi Movement – MQM and Awami National Party – ANP. Any significant increase in sectarian conflict in Quetta, Karachi and Gilgit, would also see a regression in the security environment. And increased terrorist attacks on political personalities could further ignite an already tense situation between political groups in the country.

Irrespective of these security issues, political tensions and an invasive militant threat are likely to galvanize the masses across the main cities heading towards the elections. 

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