June Issue 2013

By | Cover Story | Published 6 years ago

The results of the 2013 elections once again flouted the myths and assumptions that the Pakistani right-wing and Islamists have been touting since the days of military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq. The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and the now defunct sectarian outfit Sipah-e-Sahaba, which contested on the platform of Muttahida Deeni Mahaz (MDM) as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ), thought they would be able to hoodwink voters with fallacious slogans such as: “Pakistan is a citadel of Islam.”

The ASWJ could not win a single seat. Its chief, Maulana Mohammad Ahmad Ludhianvi, who used to claim in public rallies that the next assembly would consist of “slaves of sahabas,” lost his native seat of Jhang (NA-89) to Sheikh Mohammad Akram, a candidate of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). NA-89 used to be a confirmed seat for the ASWJ; its slain former chief, Azam Tariq, won as an independent candidate from jail in the 2002 election.

On the other hand, JI — which in the past has come into power through backdoor or state-sponsored alliances such as the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) or Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) — could secure only three seats in the National Assembly, despite the fact that the party has been politically active since 1941. This time around, the party contested the election independently and learnt its true worth. Three of its stalwarts — Liaquat Baloch, Hafiz Suleman Butt and Dr Farid Paracha — suffered such a humiliating defeat that their surety bonds were confiscated.
Self-appointed father of the atomic bomb, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan’s party, the Tehreek-e-Tahafuz-e-Pakistan (TTP) — an acronym much more commonly used to describe the Pakistani Taliban — suffered the worst debacle. TTP fielded 200 candidates and all of them had their surety bonds confiscated. Interestingly, the JI and TTP endorsed each other’s manifestos.

Lesser known religious parties such as the Sunni Ittedhad Council, Sunni Tehrik, Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM) and the Shia Ulema Council (SUC) also performed dismally.

The Shia MWM party, which was hoping to win around a dozen seats on the basis of its countrywide campaigns and sit-ins against Shia killings, managed to get only one seat in the Balochistan Assembly.

The only religious party that was able to perform slightly better than other mainstream political parties was the JUI-F, which secured 10 seats in the National Assembly. It even outperformed Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), which secured just five seats. However, even the JUI-F could not make a government alone or in coalition with anyone in Khyber Pakthoonkhwa or Balochistan, as it did in 2002. Furthermore, Maulana Fazlur Rehman was embarrassed when Nawaz Sharif diplomatically announced that he respected the mandate of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which secured 35 seats in KP, and would not be part of a JUI-F/Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) alliance. Paying no heed to the Maulana’s demands, the PML-N is poised to form a government in the centre without his support as most independent candidates have also joined the PML-N.

Pakistani voters have proven that they are a ‘silent majority’ that can overthrow a fulminating minority of jihadis, Islamists and sectarian zealots through the democratic process. In total, the religious parties secured just 2% of the total votes, a positive sign. Now, it is the duty of mainstream parties to address their grievances. Otherwise, they are likely to lose their votes, paving the way for a possible swing towards communal politics.

Mohammad Shehzad is an Islamabad-based journalist and researcher.