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Pakistan: Political Dynamics In Run-Up To General Elections – Analysis


By Dr Subhash Kapila

Pakistan’s politically churning dynamics in the run-up to its General Elections mid-2018 throws no surprises in the continuance of Pakistan Army’s obsessive fixation to prevent the return of Former PM Nawaz Sharif and an equally determined PML-N under Nawaz Sharif in a confrontationist mode with the Pakistan Army to return to power.

Objectively, one could assert that despite any failings of Former Nawaz Sharif, the run-up to General Elections 2018 could be said as a battle between the Pakistan Army desperately clinging to its traditional hold on Pakistani politics and a desperate effort by Pakistan’s largest political party the PML-N under Nawaz Sharif against the entrenched Establishment subverting constitutional democracy taking roots in Pakistan.

With such desperate stakes on both sides, it can be expected that Pakistan may witness a violent run-up to General Elections 2018. In particular concern to India, the possibility of diverting domestic political attention and dents in Pakistan Army’s image, the Pakistan Army could escalate border tensions with India.

Pakistan Army has succeeded so far in preventing former PM Nawaz Sharif from completing his full five year term in earlier two tenures and now in July 2017 in his third term by a ‘Judicial Coup” in which the Pakistan Army enlisted the Supreme Court for getting Sharief out. Pakistan media reports now suggest that Pakistan Army may not let the PML-N Government with Nawaz Sharif’s successor incumbent PM Shahid Khaqqan Abassi also complete its full term.

Speculation is also on in Pakistan that Nawaz Sharif may opt for the calling of early elections to forestall Pakistan Army’s political plans and play the ‘victim’s card’ while still hot and can be played to effect in Pakistan’s majority province—Pakistan Punjab.

Pakistan Army’s political instruments in subverting democracy in Pakistan by cutting short Former PM Nawaz Sharif’s completion of his five year term include enlisting of his political adversaries like PTI leader Imran Khan and PPP led by the Bhutto’s. The latter is not an active player but waiting whether the Pakistan Army can succeed in installing Imran Khan as the next Prime Minister.

Pakistan Army’s armoury to prevent the return to power of Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N is the use of various Islamic retrograde groups to create violent disturbances to further destabilise Nawaz Sharif’s brother Shah Baz Sharif in power in Punjab where he is strongly entrenched.

With the above as a brief background of the political power-play in Pakistan one should now examine the results of Pakistan’s General Elections 2013 to see the relative political strengths of Pakistani political parties.

Pakistan General Elections-2013

Party ……………. Contested…..Won
PML-N …………. 214…………… 129
PPP ……………… 229 ……………. 37
PTI ………………. 232 ……………. 27
Independents .. 268 ……………. 27
MQM …………… 204 ……………. 19
JUI ……………… 1076 …………… 13

No indicators are available to suggest that in the period 2013-18 major political successes have been achieved by the PPP or PTI which could severely change these relative strengths. At best PTI with Pakistan Army’s patronage may be able to narrow the lead somehow Pakistan Punjab is Pakistan’s heartland and the core of Pakistan. Punjab’s voting in the PML-N by enabling it to win 80% of the seats of Punjab relative to the other two contenders needs to be recounted and reflected below.

Pakistan General Elections 2013—Seat Positions in Punjab

Party ……… Contested …. Won
PML-N …..  146  ………….. 120
PPP ………..  120 ……………..  3
PTI …………  141  …………….   8

Recent by-elections in Punjab indicate that Nawaz Sharif’s party still continues strong in Punjab. PTI and PPP can only nibble negligible seats in Punjab’s areas contiguous with Khyber Pakhtunwa and Sindh.

The Pakistan Army and its ISI intelligence wing can be assumed to be in the picture of the above electoral pattern. Surely, the Pakistan Army would have plans to re-write by any means, fair or foul, to prevent the return of PML-N to power in Islamabad. It is no mean co-incidence that last week Pakistan’s Supreme Court decreed that Nawaz Sharif cannot even continue as Chairman of the PML-N. Pakistan Army’s “Judicial Coup” is secured further.

Never has Pakistan witnessed the Supreme Court targeting the persona of one political leader and especially one who won a thumping electoral verdict in General Elections 2013.

The Supreme Court’s decision initially and the recent one of ordering his removal as Chairman of the Party has been criticised in Pakistani English newspapers editorials. In n an editorial in the DAWN, the Supreme Court decision has been termed as “regrettable and deeply disturbing”. Two other quotable remarks need to be reproduced from this Editorial damning the Judiciary and denting the impact of the contrived judgements against Nawaz Sharif:

  • “The judgements of the Supreme Court of Pakistan need to promote the rule of law and Constitutional democracy, not add to national confusion.”
  • “The responsibility of the judiciary is to interpret law, not invent it.”

Similar analyses indicate that it is unconstitutional and violates ‘Human Rights’. Also argued is the fact that such a decision has long term adverse effects on Pakistan’s political dynamics.

Media criticism also focusses on the political crucifixion of Former PM Nawaz while the Former Army Chief and President, General Musharraf is still going around scot free. Why the inactivity there?

Former PM Nawaz has been Prime Minister of Pakistan three times—(1) 1990-93 (2)1997-1999.and now the last one (3) 2013-2017. On earlier two occasions he bounced back despite being forced into a long exile by General Musharraf. All indicators in current political analyses within Pakistan point out that Nawaz Sharif and his PML-N Party will bounce back again despite the collusion of the Pakistan Army-Supreme Court Judiciary combine.

The onslaught of the Pakistan Army-Supreme Court judiciary should have led to an exodus of defections from Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N Party but it has not taken place. This indicates that Nawaz Sharif continues as the undisputed leader of the Party despite the contrived disqualifications.

In conclusion, it needs to be emphasised that in a country like Pakistan where Pakistan Army objectives supersede Constitutional democracy, anything can be expected to impede return to power of Former PM Nawaz Sharif. The big question that will hover over the horizon in the run-up to General Elections 2018 is that can the Pakistan Army with the Supreme Court in tow over-rule the electoral mandate that the Pakistani masses give in July 2018 if given in favour of PML-N and Nawaz Sharif?

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SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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