Breaking down Pakistan's election results

About the author
Kanishk Tharoor is associate editor at openDemocracy.

Unofficial results are in from Pakistan's Monday election, and they don't make pretty reading for President Pervez Musharraf or his allies. With the bulk of the vote counted, Musharraf's Pakistan Muslim League (Q) is almost certain to be in the future opposition. Winning a plurality of seats in the National Assembly, the late Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party is likely to spearhead the new government. It will most probably form a coalition with Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (N). However, inside sources in Pakistan report that Sharif's pompous celebration of electoral results has irked many in the PPP camp, leading to rumours that the PPP may consider cobbling together a ruling alliance without Sharif's party.

Below is a partial table of the returned results of seats won in the National Assembly and each of the four regional assembles (Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and the North-West Frontier Province). Apart from the three major parties - PPP, PML-N, and PML-Q - this table includes counts for the Awami National Party (the secular Pashtun nationalists operating in the west of the country) and the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (an umbrella alliance of Islamist groups).

 

Party National Assembly Punjab Sindh Baluchistan Frontier
Pakistan Peoples Party 87 78 65 7 17
League (N) 66 101 0 0 5
League (Q) 38 66 9 17 6
Awami National Party 10 0 2 1 31
Majlis-e-Amal 3 2 0 6 9
Total seats 272 293 130 51 96


A clean and "smooth" election

In the run-up to the election, opposition parties spread tales of impending vote-rigging by the ruling PML-Q. It appears, perhaps to their credit, that Musharraf and his allies eschewed the typical dirty tactics that marred Pakistani elections in the past. Observers have yet to report major irregularities and visiting politicians, including US senator John Kerry, seemed satisfied with the conduct of the vote.

Election day was also expected to witness tremendous carnage after Islamist militants had attacked political rallies across the country in preceding weeks. At the end of the day, 18 people had been killed in election-related strife and terrorist strikes. The total casualties are significantly lower than initially feared, thanks in large part to the nearly 500,000 security personnel mobilised on the day.

Voter turn-out was strikingly low in some areas (5-10% in Baluchistan) and high in others (up to 69% in parts of northern Punjab), with an estimated national average of 45.9%, a figure higher than the last two elections.

End of the road for Musharraf?

The vote signalled the comprehensive rejection of the Pakistani president. Even popular politicians like Sheikh Rashid Ahmed (the railways minister) in Rawalpindi were found guilty by association and soundly defeated. The rest of Musharraf's cabinet fared little better, with the interior and defence ministers amongst others losing their seats in what amounted to the annihilation of the PML-Q's leadership in Punjab.

Musharraf's vociferous opponents are crowing at his demise. "Musharraf should be preparing for Turkey," said Aitzaz Ahsan, a celebrity human rights lawyer, referring to where Musharraf spent part of his childhood. The president had hoped to stay in office and work with whatever government came into being. This may be impossible, particularly if Nawaz Sharif's party, which ran on an uncompromising anti-Musharraf platform, is part of the next ruling coalition.

The anti-Musharraf vote should not necessarily be construed as tied to a broader repudiation of the president's support for the US-led "war on terrorism". Many American media outlets suggest that "anti-US" sentiment swayed the polls against Musharraf. Though certainly unpopular in Pakistan, the "war on terrorism" is not such an all-encompassing force as to subsume Musharraf's recent history of incompetence and authoritarianism in the mind of the Pakistani voter. All roads do not lead to Washington; some roads are just in Pakistan.

Defeat for the Islamists?

An item less reported in the western press is the abject performance of Islamist parties in the election. The MMA, the major alliance of Islamist parties, won only three seats in the National Assembly. In 2002, the MMA won 63 seats in the country's parliament. Tellingly, the godfather of the MMA and the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Islam, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, lost in his constituency. The Islamists were expected to do well in the northwest, where Pakistani forces have been fighting Taliban and al-Qaida-allied militants in recent months.

In the supposed Islamist heartlands of the North-West Frontier Provinces and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Islamists won less than 5% of the vote. Instead, the secular Pashtun nationalist ANP made huge gains after a costly week in which the party's candidates and supporters came under routine attack from militants. The secular PPP also made large gains in the region.

It should be heartening to fighters of the "war on terrorism" that secularists can triumph in the rugged "havens" of al-Qaida and Taliban-sympathy.