“The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.” Although Karl Marx’s words about the capitalist democracy were written more than one and a half centuries ago, they are true in the case of Pakistan today.
In Pakistan’s general election on 25 July all the parties ran expensive and intense campaigns. A very heated atmosphere existed. However, the result was something not many had expected. There is widespread suspicion of vote-rigging with military involvement. After the poll, the election results were released over a period of two days. This also indicates wrong-doings. According to the results, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) won 117 of the total 270 seats contested, more than a three-fold increase on its 2013 general election result.
The pro-capitalist incumbent Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) came a distant second, winning only 64 seats, while the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), a party that had mass support in the past did not improve from their past loss and won to just 43 seats. Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), an alliance of religious parties, secured only 13 seats and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) won 6 seats. The Grand Democratic Alliance, formed in the run-up to this election, managed to win 2 seats. Independent candidates won 12 seats. The Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid e Azam Group) (PML-Q) won 4 seats of the national assembly, up from 2 in the 2013 election. The results for the final two national assembly seats are still awaited.
According to the Election Commission of Pakistan national voter turnout for the polls was 51.85%, a fall on the 2013 turnout of 55%.
All the mainstream parties, shocked by the results, have united to raise concerns about the credibility of this election. PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif held a press conference along with the other party leaders on polling night and said that the elections were not free and fair, and rejected the election results. The same rhetoric came from Bilawal Bhutto, PPP chair, and Fazlul Rehman, Chief of Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) who lost his seat. Rehman made the call for an all-parties conference immediately.
Free and fair elections have not taken place – but the parties are only complaining because they did not get the results they expected.
The EU Chief Observer Michael Gahler, while releasing the EU EOM’s preliminary statement on the election, said “Candidates with large political appeal and financial means, the so-called ‘electables’ were reported to often dominate the campaign. Uneven rules on campaign spending further undermined candidates’ equal opportunity.”
Money played a huge role in the elections and nobody from Pakistan’s Electoral Commission or other state institutions took any steps against the massive violations of election rules. In many constituencies, voters were given money for their votes.
The Election Act 2017 allows Rs. 4 million spending in the national assembly constituency during the campaign but most of the ruling class candidates spent more than Rs. 10 to 20 million approximately. Working class candidates are squeezed by this.
In short, it was a political battle among the ruling class; all the mainstream political parties are the parties of the ruling elite. They were using the rhetoric of corruption against each other, but the real-life issues of the working class and the common people were not part of their agenda or their election campaigns.
In the past, PTI Chief Imran Khan has often said that they will never be allied to the politicians and the parties who were allied with General Zia, and who have since been in power. The PTI had as it partners in government in KP the Jamaat-i-Islami, which was pivotal to Gen Zia’s efforts to consolidate his rule and to acquire a certain staunch religious identity for his regime. And now before the elections, the PTI accepted a lot of “electables” from all the other parties including the remnants of Gen Zia’s: Imran Khan wanted to make a “new Pakistan” with the mafias’ people in his party.
Imran Khan’s aim was to become prime minister of Pakistan – for that he abandoned all that he said in the past. After all this and given the sort of “open field”, in relation to the number of “electables” he had, he still did not manage to win a simple majority to form the government. The PTI needed 137 seats in the National Assembly to form a government. So now they face the choice of sharing power with others or taking independent candidates into their party.
This election itself has made no change in the lives of the working class and the common people of Pakistan. And no substantial changes are likely to result from it. Imran Khan will continue with the neoliberal economic policies based on the free market economy. This will result in an increase in the poverty and hunger which in turn will continue to increase the gap between the rich and the poor.
The Barabri Party Pakistan fielded its candidates in 15 seats in different parts of the country. Throughout the one month’s campaign, all of them campaigned to introduce the party programme across the country. Party Chairman Jawad Ahmad contested for three national assembly seats against Imran Khan, Shahbaz Sharif & Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
Building a challenge to the ruling elite
The aim of Barabri Party Pakistan challenge in this election was to introduce a programme among the masses that could aid the building of a challenge to the ruling elite of the country who have made the political process exclusive to the top 1% of the country. Barabri Party Pakistan and its leadership are determined to organise the working class, middle class and the poor masses under its umbrella to fight back against the control of the 1% on all the resources of the country.
Imran Khan claims to be a moderniser and promises to reduce poverty and get rid of corruption. These promises attracted many city youths when his party PTI, was first set up. Though his victory is heavily shadowed by the involvement of the military, vote rigging, etc, there is also a genuine expectation that they will get rid of the deep-rooted corruption that exists among the political elite. No mainstream party is exempt. But Imran Khan will not succeed in delivering any of his promises without directly confronting the limitations of capitalism.
The Pakistan economy is facing a crisis. It is also locked in a geopolitical nightmare. Increasing Chinese influence through the ‘one road, one belt’ initiative inside Pakistan is heavily contested by the west and US. The situation in Afghanistan on one side and the potential development of tensions with India on the Kashmir border on the other side present major challenges for the government. Already the Indian authorities are signalling that they do not welcome Khan’s victory as they see it as a victory for a military-led foreign policy. He is already dubbed ‘Taliban Khan’ in the Indian media.
In order to deliver on any of his promises, Khan will have to confront the political and capitalist elite in the country as well as the military establishment. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen as it is the very same forces that brought him to power. Substantial changes in the lives of working people mean that it is crucial now to build the mass party of the workers, peasants, youth and poor and arm it with a far-sighted programme based on the power of the working people to establish an economy that will plan for the benefit of everyone in Pakistan and in the region.