Pakistani elections 2013: Will anything change?

No political voice for working class

Finally, the nightmare of the current government appears to be coming to an end. The PPP led coalition government which came to power after the 2008 general elections has completed its five years term, thus becoming the first elected government to complete its full term. The working masses will breath a sigh of relief to see the back of the PPP led government. This was the worst government not only for the working masses but also for the middle classes and big sections of the capitalist class. The government failed to solve or even marginaly reduce the problems faced by the working class and the poor. Poverty has increased, the prices of essential daily used items including food has skyrocketed, religious intolerance and militancy has increased, the energy crisis has worsened, the economy is facing the threat of a meltdown, the social crisis has intensified, and unemployment and hunger are on the rise. The life of ordinary working class people and the poor has become like a living hell in last five years. According to the new United Nations Development Progress Report, Pakistan stands in 146th place out of 186 countries on the human development index. It is now equal to Bangladesh and just ahead of Angola and Burma. Pakistan has one of the lowest levels of investment in education and health-spending a mere 0.8% of GDP on health and 1.8% on education. Countries like India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and even the Democratic Republic of Congo spend more on education and health than Pakistan. This report says 49% of the population lives below the poverty line. The PPP led government has done nothing to improve the situation for the large swaths of the population. On the one hand the working masses continue to suffer but on the other hand PPP leaders, their cronies and allies have become billionaires. The looting and plunder of state resources has reached unprecedented levels. One corruption scandal after another appeares in the media almost on daily basis. This undoubtedly was the worst performance of any civilian government in the history of Pakistan.

Whose is who in the Pakistani Politics?

Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N)

This faction of Pakistan Muslim League (PML) was formed in 1993 when the PML split into two main factions. This centre right party is led by two term Prime Minister and leading industrialist Nawaz Sharif. It has strong support in the urban areas of Punjab and the Hazara region in KPK province. Nawaz Sharif was considered as a pro-establishment politician until 1999. Following the 1999 military coup, he changed his stance and became an anti establishment politician. He is the main critic of the military’s involvement in politics. This is a pro business party which supports a free market economy and neo-liberal economic policies.The PML-N is likely to win the forthcoming elections. Its main leadership comes from the urban capitalist and upper middle class which is concentrated in the Punjab Province. It enjoys the support of big business, traders, and the urban poor, some layers of urban workers and big sections of both urban and rural middle class.

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)

The PPP was formed in 1967 and presented itself as a “pro working class party” with a “socialist program and slogans”. The PPP had the strong base amongst the working class and urban poor in the cities and small farmers and peasantry in the rural areas. It was the most popular party in Pakistan. Its founder Chairman and first elected Prime Minister of Pakistan was hanged in 1977 by than military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq. Benazir Bhutto took over the party after her fathers’ death and twice becomes prime minister before being killed in a suicide attack just before the 2008 elections. The PPP won the elections in 2008 and formed a government in the centre and three provinces. Now this party is led jointly by her husband and President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari and his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. This party has completely transformed from a radical, progressive, populist force which presented itself as a “pro working class and poor party” into a pro feudal and capitalist party fully dominated by big feudal lords and capitalists. PPP has become a centrist party leaning further and further to the right.

There is hardly any difference between the PPP and PML-N on policies and party programs. Its main support base is now in rural Sindh and in Southern Punjab.

Awami National Party (ANP)

The ANP was formed in 1970 as a radical leftwing Pashtun nationalist party led by a Pashtun nationalist Abdul Wali Khan. Its main base is in the Pashtun areas of KPK province – the Pashtun belt of Baluchistan province and in Karachi. This party was a main coalition partner of the PPP in central goverbnment and led the provincial coalition government in KPK province. This party had the support among the important sections of the urban and rural middle class, urban working class and peasantry but it has been transformed into a Pashtun bourgeois nationalist party. This party now represents the interests of the Pashtun capitalist and feudal classes.

Jamat-e-Islami (JI)

JI is the main Islamic religious party in the country. It was formed in 1941 as an “Islamic revolutionary party” – similar in some respects to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. JI remained the traditional ally of the establishment and benefited a lot from this. This party is mainly based in the cities in Punjab and also Karachi in the Sind. It also enjoys support in some small towns and rural areas of KPK province. Traditionally it is a middle class based party and likes to form an alliance with the PML-N in elections. JI was the instrumental in the anti communist campaign launched at the behest of American Imperialism in the 1960s and 1970s. JI is responsible for the killing of many left wing student and trade union leaders and left activists. Karachi was JI stronghold before the emergence of MQM in 1980s.

Muthida Quami Movement (MQM)

MQM is a Karachi based ethnic linguistic political party which represents big sections of the Urdu speaking urban bourgeoisie and middle class of the cities in Sindh. MQM emerged on the political scene in 1980s when it won the local elections in Karachi. MQM claimed itself to be the champion of the rights of Urdu speaking population in Sindh called Muhajirs. MQM use violence to maintain its’ firm hold on Karachi and other cities of Sindh province. It was a close ally of General Musharaf from 2002 to 2008 and then became an ally of the PPP led government. MQM in the past was considered an anti establishment party and a military operation was launched against it in Karachi and Hyderabad in 1991-92. Another operation was launched against the MQM in 1994-1995. MQM has a history of joining every government since 1988. It has then left them for one reason or another. Now the MQM is considered a close ally of Pakistani ruling elite.

Pakistan Tehrik-e- Insaf (PTI)

The PTI was formed in 1997 by the former cricketer turned politician, Imran Khan. Imran Khan is one of the most popular sports personalities in Pakistan who led the cricket team to win the cricket world cup in 1992 in Australia. His political support started to grow in 2011 and many influential politicians started to join his party. He succeeded in organising a massive rally in Lahore on 30th October 2012 and his popularity started to increase.

Imran Khan is cleverly mixing Islamic and populist slogans to attract layers of upper middle class youth. His main slogan is “change”. PTI is a right wing populist centrist party with both a liberal and Islamic face. PTI has a base of support in the urban centers of central Punjab, especially among the educated upper middle class layers. In KPK province, PTI is popular in the Pashtun areas especially among the most conservative layers of both urban and rural population. The PTI has a liberal face for the educated upper middle class youth of central Punjab and a very religious conservative face for the KPK and tribal areas.

Pakistan Muslim League Quid-e-Azam (PML-Q)

PML-Q is an other faction of the Muslim League created by military dictator General Musharaf in 2002. It is also known as the “King party”. This party was a combination of different influential political families from the rural areas of Pakistan. Now only handful of influential individuals remain with this party. PML-Q is an ally of the PPP and jointly contesting the elections against the PML-N.

Jamiat Ulmai Islam (JUI-F)

JUI-F is a religious conservative pro Taliban party which is mainly based in the Pashtun areas of KPK and Baluchistan province.

Interim Set-up

The interim governments in all four provinces of Pakistan and in the center have been installed to conduct the elections and to run the affairs of the state untill the new government came into power. The election commission has announced elections on May 11, 2013.

These interim governments have been selected by the ruling and opposition parties in the center and the provinces. This is the first time in the history of Pakistan that interim governments are not hand picked by the establishment. In 1988, 1990, 1993, 1996, 2002 and 2008 the interim governments were formed solely by the establishment led by military generals. Unlike the past, the election commission is also chosen by the both opposition and the ruling parties. The establishment always used the election commission to rig the elections and to form governments of their own choice. But this time the situation is somewhat different. In the past the establishment also used these interim governments to make agreements with imperialist international financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank.T his time the interim government has refused to sign any agreement. There is no big controversy around the selection of these governments and the election commission. The election commission is headed by a highly respected ex judge from the senior court known to be an “honest, principled and un corruptible person”. He stood stood against the military dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq. The interim government in Punjab is headed by an internationally renowned journalist and ex- Marxist Najam Sethi. Constitutional amendments and Supreme Court decisions have given new powers to the election commission. The Supreme Court and election commission have announced they will disqualify bank defaulters, dual nationals, fake education degree holders, and tax and utility bill defaulters. The superior courts and election commission seems determined to strictly implement the election laws and rules. The political parties have been forced to change their candidates in many constituencies. The election commission has also prepared a new computerised voters list after striking off nearly 20 million fake or double registered voters. The old voters list was a major source of rigging in the elections as it contains the unverified votes in vast numbers.

Now the scene is set for the next general election in the country. Even a few months ago, it was not clear that the elections will take place on schedule. There was a lot of doubt regarding the elections. The dark clouds of uncertainty and doubts have gone and the stage is set for the general elections.

Political vacuum

The already existing political vacuum in the country has grown to new levels. Clearly, the gap between the priorities of the ruling class and the needs of the working masses has been growing daily. The state and the ruling class of Pakistan is now in such a crisis that there is an almost complete disconnect between the ruling class and the masses. This disconnect has resulted in a vacuum and it is chaos that has simply filled it. The vacuum attracts and sustains forces like Imran Khan on the one hand and the religious extremists on the other. The vacuum also allows terrorists and other reactionary forces to create even more chaos. They themselves then feed on that chaos in a spiral of a vicious circle.

Different forces on the right are vying to fill this vacuum and gain popularity through right wing populist slogans and demands. In the absence of a strong left and workers movement the right wing forces have been able to make some gains amongst sections of the frustrated middle classes and the poor. The left and the trade union movement has so far failed to play any important role. The workers movement is lacking political and ideological clarity, organizational strength, revolutionary leadership. There is no mass workers party with a clear socialist program and strategy to challenge the rotten and corrupt elite. There is no party to attract millions of workers, youth, women, peasants, poor and middle layers who are looking for an alternate.

The fear factor

The election campaign has just begun. But intelligence agencies and the Ministry of the Interior has already warned that Taliban and other militant groups are planning to attack the important buildings in the federal capital Islamabad and other cities. They are also planning to attack the leading politicians of different political parties. Many analysts believe that the election campaign might become very violent. Election related violence is common place in Pakistan. However, this time it seems likely that it will be obn a bigger scale.

The elections in parts of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (KPK) and tribal areas, Karachi and Quetta are going to be more violent than in the rest of the country. The Taliban has already started to attack possible candidates and activists of the Pashtoon nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) in KPK and Karachi. The provincial president of ANP Sindh and Senator Shahi Syed has confessed to the media that Taliban groups in Karachi have forced them to close down 30 offices in different areas of the city. More than 300 leaders and activists of ANP in KPK have been killed in last five years. It will be hard for the main leaders of the ANP to campaign openly in public and address small rallies and public meetings.

PPP leaders are facing the same situation in KPK province. This will be the first campaign in which the PPP will be without a charismatic leader like Z.A.Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto. Because of security concerns top PPP leaders like President Asif Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will not physically participate in the campaign but will address the public rallies via telephone while sitting in a safe place.

The situation in some areas of Baluchistan is also very volatile and dangerous. It will be hard for candidates to properly organize their election campaign in these areas. The assassination of one or a few top leaders can change the whole political scenario. The situation can become much more volatile, chaotic and uncertain. This can also affect the results of the elections. The law and order situation will play an important role in the turn out of the elections. Low turn out will benefit the big parties and their strong candidates. High turn out will benefit the smaller parties and their relatively new candidates. Parties like Imran Khan’s PTI are pinning their hopes on a high turn out.

The changed mood

The mood in society has changed since the 2008 elections. In 2008, the vast majority of people wanted to defeat the pro-Musharaf forces. The people overwhelmingly voted in favour of the PPP, PML-N and other anti Musharaf parties. There were high hopes that the new democratic government will work for their betterment and welfare and would change the anti poor policies implemented by General Musharaf’s regime. The failure of the PPP led government dashed these hopes. These high hopes have turned into big disappointment. Even “democracy” has been brought into question. The working class and poor are facing more problems and worst nightmare under “democratic rule” than compared to the Musharaf era. some sections of the working masses might come out to vote in the coming elections but not with any enthusiasm and and with very little hope. Large numbers of people might not come out to vote and are likely to abstain. On average 55% – 60% of eligible voters stayed away from the elections between the 1988 to 2008 elections. That clearly means that a majority of the population has no trust on the election process or that it will resolve any of their problems. This time around the turn out might be bit higher. One factor is that some parties boycotted the last elections in 2008 but are now contesting the forthcoming elections.

There are some sections of society that still hope that change can be brought through the elections. These sections will come out to vote either for the Imran Khan led PTI or the Nawaz Sharif led PML-N. They will vote to prevent the PPP from coming back to power. Both the PTI and the PML-N will get protest votes from those sections of society who are disillusioned with the PPP and its allies.

No voice for working class

All the major parties participating in the elections are representing the different wings and factions of the ruling class. They all defend the rotten capitalist and feudal system but in different ways. The PML-N, PTI, PPP, JUI, ANP, MQM and JI represent the forces of the rich and powerful. There is no mass party representing the interests of the working class and poor.

The big problem at the moment is the low level of political consciousness and workers struggles. The political consciousness is contradictory. On the one hand the working masses want to get rid of the present system and there is wide spread anger and discontent in society. On the other hand the working masses have no clear alternate to fight for. The working masses know what they do not want but they do not know what they want. They also lack a clear class consciousness at the present moment. It is true that the divide between rich and poor has increased to unprecedented levels and there exist an anti rich sentiment amongst sections of the masses. However, this has not yet developed into a clear independent class consciousness. But undoubtedly the urge and thirst for change has started to grip the minds of the working masses.

The present situation clearly manifests the need for the formation of a new mass party of the working class and the poor. The working class needs a political alternative with a clear radical socialist program and a revolutionary leadership to further the struggle to break with capitalism and establish a genuine workers democracy. The trade union movement and the left in the country have a responsibility in this regard. Time is running out. Such an initiative is urgent. This is the most important task facing left forces and especially the revolutionary left. Socialist Movement is striving very hard to full fill this task.The SMP urgently invites left groups and the activists of the trade union movement including the genuine trade union leaders to take a joint initiative in this regard.

The emergence of the working class movement as an independent force can transform the whole situation.

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April 2013