Pakistan election: Radical parties likely to dent right-wing PML-N's vote bank, help Opposition in tightly-contested seats

Edit note: In the past, ethnicity was one of the major factors influencing voters in Pakistan. However, the 2018 General Elections has witnessed an increase in the number of religious parties contesting the election, and it is feared that they may divide the vote bank further on the basis of schools of Islamic thoughts. In a multi-part series, Firstpost looks into the different religious parties in the fray, and how their presence will impact the results on 25 July

Islamabad: As the 25 July election enters into its final phase, many far-right radical religious groups and parties have upped their campaign in the effort to make their way into the parliament of Pakistan, either in the four provincial assemblies or in the National Assembly.

Most of these religious parties have come into the fray for the first time to try their luck in a bid to become mainstream, however, a few have contested elections in the past as well.

A look at the chequered political history of Pakistan, show that voters in the Islamic Republic have not shown much trust on the religious parties and people generally do not vote for them with the exception of few instances. Despite that, these groups have always made their presence felt as pressure and interest groups. For the Pakistan General Elections 2018, it is being widely believed that these religious groups cannot be victorious in the polls, but few of their members will certainly make their way into the assemblies.

A poster for the Pakistani radical political party, Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah is displayed alongside a banner for the Pakistan Peoples party in Islamabad, Pakistan. AP

A poster for the Pakistani radical group Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah is displayed alongside a banner for the Pakistan People's Party in Islamabad, Pakistan. AP

Political analysts believe that these religious groups and parties have an agenda to attract the right-wing voters only to cause a dent to the vote bank of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) which is already in hot waters due to the conviction of its leader and three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif in a corruption reference and his on-going tussle with the military establishment. The party has also faced many defections within its ranks and files before and after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) announced 25 July as the Election day.

PML-N has been in power at the Centre for three times and Punjab, the largest province in Pakistan population-wise, has also remained its stronghold since 1985 when non-party basis elections were held in the country by military dictator General (Retired) Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq.

PML-N is considered a right-wing party of Pakistan and most of the activists and supporters of the religious groups who are taking part in the 2018 election have been a PML-N voter in the past. This was also because Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the major opponent of PML-N in the past, was considered a party having Left-wing leanings. PPP founder Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had come with the slogan of "socialism as our economy" in 1970 General Elections. As many as 123 religious scholars of that time had issued a decree against Zulfiqar calling him an “infidel”.He later became prime minister of the country twice.

Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Mohamad Hafiz Saeed inaugurates an election office of the newly formed political party Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek in Lahore, Pakistan. AP

Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Mohamad Hafiz Saeed inaugurates an election office of the newly formed political party Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek in Lahore, Pakistan. AP

The leaders of Milli Muslim League (MML), a political arm of the Hafeez Mohammad Saeed-led banned outfit Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) who are now contesting the election under the banner of Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek (AAT), have publicly said more than once that they have voted for PML-N in the past, but now disliked Nawaz because of his stance regarding having good relations with India.

The election pattern that emerged during the by-poll of a provincial Assembly constituency in Chakwal district in Punjab, shows that the candidate of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA) — the group is registered with the ECP as Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) — got a considerable number of votes.

In the by-poll of PP-20 that was held on 9 January, 2018, TLP candidate Chaudhry Nasir Abbas got 16,576. The concept that emerges out of this is that the candidates of these religious groups, though may not win, would benefit the candidates of PML-N opponents especially in constituencies where the victory margin between the PML-N and other candidates in the 2013 election was very tight.

The religious parties who are in the election this time belong to different schools of Islam and political analysts assert that has also divided the religious vote bank on the sectarian basis.

TLP led by Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi belongs to the Sunni Barelvi school of Islam. Tehreek-e-Labbaik Islam (TLI), a breakaway faction of TLP, is led by Dr Ashraf Asif Jalali and also belongs to Sunni Barelvi school of thought. Both are contesting election with the symbols of crane and cannon respectively. Both TLP and TLI are contesting elections over making the blasphemy laws stricter and are attracting the vote banks of Sunni Barelvis.

Pakistan General Election 2018

TLP came into being in 2016 with the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of former governor of Punjab Salman Taseer, and rose to prominence from Punjab after the last PML-N led federal government made a controversial change in the declaration for electoral candidates regarding the finality of the prophethood of Mohammad. The declaration seeks from the Muslim candidates that they believe in the finality of the prophethood of Mohammad.

The activists of MML, who are now contesting the election from the platform of Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek belong to the Salafi school of Islam as the JUD chief Saeed and his followers belong to the same school of thought. They are trying to grab the votes of the Salafis in Pakistan.

Activists of banned Ahle-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) who are now contesting the election from the platform of Rah-e-Haq Party belong to the Sunni Deobandi school of Islam. They are trying to secure the votes of Sunni Deobandis. Mohammad Ibrahim Qasmi, the leader of Pakistan Rah-e-Haq Party, is also a Deobandi.

Islami Tehreek Pakistan (ITP) led by Allama Sajid Ali Naqvi is a representative organisation of a group of Shia Muslims and is contesting the election under the banner of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). Another religious political party Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith Pakistan is also contesting the election under the banner of MMA and belongs to Salafi school of thought.

Similarly, Pakistan Sunni Tehreek (PST) led by Mohammad Sarwat Ijaz Qadri belongs to Sunni Barelvi school of thought.

Tahir Malik, an Islamabad-based political analyst, said that the entry of hard-line religious groups into the politics was not only surprising but raised questions on the capability of the Election Commission of Pakistan to allow their registration as political parties.

“Their politics revolves around incitement to religious sentiment and to strengthen the existing blasphemy laws which are not genuine issues of general masses," said Malik.

Supporters of 'Jamaat-e-Islami' religious party in Karachi. AP

Supporters of 'Jamaat-e-Islami' religious party in Karachi. AP

He believes that many of these religious groups are basically interest groups and added that these had remained part of the street movements in the past right from 1977’sTahreek-e-Nizam-e-Mustafa to Khadim Hussain Rizvi led movement against the controversial amendment in the declaration of electoral candidates.

Malik said that the entry of hardline religious groups into the election race has divided the vote bank on a sectarian line. These groups will not only impact the vote bank of PML-N but also mainstream religious political parties including Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazlur Rehman (JUI-F) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) who are contesting the election under the banner of MMA.

Malik also says that in Karachi, a shift has been witnessed in the voting patterns. Earlier, a majority of the people voted based on ethnicity, but now their focus has shifted towards religion.

Malik, however, says that the impact of religious parties will depend on the voter turnout. "If turn out is better than the previous election, then the mainstream parties might also increase their vote bank."


Updated Date: Jul 24, 2018 22:04 PM

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