The Mother of All Elections

Spearhead Analysis – 01.05.2013

election analysis Spearhead ResearchElection Day is May 11 and everyone across the board wants elections on time with no delay. Even the parties that are at the receiving end of the TTP’s election disruption plan have vowed to take part in the elections. The TTP has however become a factor in Pakistan’s elections. Their selective targeting of political parties has created the perception of a right and left wing divide and led to speculation that by restricting the activities of the targeted parties – the PPP, MQM and ANP – they are indirectly giving an advantage to the PML(N), the PTI and the religious political parties whose campaign goes on unhindered. This in turn has spawned rumors about who else could be supporting the so called right wing grouping – speculation ranges from ‘establishment’ to US and UK – but these are rumors and nothing else.

Many new factors shape the environment for the May election. The media is free and if it is fragmented and biased then it is so by choice and not under any compulsion – and this is by no means an unusual happening. The judiciary is free, impartial and active – really active. The ECP (Election Commission of Pakistan) selected by consensus is impartial, and though under some criticism for the scrutiny procedure, is fully in control of the process and prepared for the big day. The Caretaker Government has been accepted by all and is keeping itself restricted to its role of caretaking till the elected government takes over. The military or more comprehensively – the ‘establishment’ as it is called, is remaining strictly neutral with not even a whiff of its involvement in any manner. The Qadri intervention focused attention on the ECP and the scrutiny of candidates and perhaps served a purpose. The return of the former President did create ripples but has morphed into a drawn out judicial process as have many other happenings. What more could Pakistanis want? This truly should be the mother of all elections.

The one factor that casts a long shadow is the specter of unmanageable violence. Against the backdrop of recent sectarian attacks, attacks on security personnel, bombings in urban areas, the ongoing TTP insurgency in the western areas, its linkages with militant outfits and threats to disrupt elections and the cross border attacks from Afghan territory all combine to make the threat of violence very real. So far state power has not been orchestrated to confront the threat but it will be and the timing for this is important – too soon and you have running battles, too late and you have lost critical space. The perception is growing that militant violence is not just about elections – it is a threat to the states’ survival and must be defeated. There could be an impact on voter turnout though Pakistanis have shown enormous resilience in the face of the threat. Candidates being assassinated or polling booths attacked could also create issues. The threat in all its dimensions has been analyzed at the appropriate level and the indications are that it will be contained. The military stands ready in an over watch role.

Crystal ball gazing can be tricky and difficult. There are, however, some figures that are persistent. Voter turnout is expected to average between 45 and 55 percent. It was 44% in the last elections and if the traditional non voters – women and youth – step out it could be higher. Voters especially in rural areas expect transport and nourishment and do not want to spend to vote. There are restrictions on such support being provided by parties and candidates but there are safe and legal ways to circumvent the restriction. The magic figure that can result in a ‘good’ functional coalition is 110 or more seats by a party – short of this and the inevitable coalition can be messy. As of now the PML(N) is expected to get 80 to 90 seats, the PPP and its allies between 50 and 60 – they had 92 in the last elections and the PTI about 30 to 40 seats. The smaller parties and the Independents will be important commodities once the post election coalition forming activity gets underway. A possibility is that PML (N) gets more seats or that PTI sweeps the polls as its leader is incessantly predicting – these can be the surprises.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)