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> Understanding Elections in Pakistan
January 25, 2008
Hotel Marriott, Islamabad

Download Calculus of Electoral Politics [PDF]
Download How Elections Are Stolen [PDF]
Presentation by Dr. Ijaz Shafi Gillani [PDF]

If Election 2008 is held as planned on February 2008, it appears as a foregone conclusion that the political forces supporting General (Retd.) Pervez Musharraf will not be in a position to achieve a scenario remotely close to a majority in the Parliament. These views were expressed by Dr. Ijaz Shafi Gilani, Chairman Gallup Pakistan at a PILDAT Briefing for Media and Election Analysts on Understanding Elections in Pakistan.


Unveiling the two monographs written by him and published by PILDAT titled “The Calculus of Electoral Politics in Pakistan 1970-2008” and “A Dispassionate Analysis of How Elections are Stolen & Will of the People is Defeated,” Dr. Gilani said that one paper looks at the electoral behaviour in the past 7 elections while the other records the rigging history in the last 7 elections.


Explaining the overall electoral landscape in the country based on the voting behaviours across provinces, the clusters of political parties that have shaped up as a result of the voting behaviour, the system of elections in the country and the uneven size of the provinces in terms of the overall electoral composition, Dr. Gilani said that until the tragic demise of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, the Election 2008 were expected to follow the general pattern of the 1997 elections. It is however too early to predict both the size of the sympathy vote and the vote bank that it cuts into, he said.


Defining the role of establishment as “rigging” in the past 7 elections, Dr. Gilani said that the establishment has been playing the role of a “balancer” in manoeuvring elections and its ultimate goal, it appears, since the 1970 elections, is to produce a “hung Parliament.” It has been making and unmaking electoral alliances to achieve this objective. However, this was defeated clearly in 1997 election when one party received 46% of the popular vote nationwide and 70% of the seats in the Parliament. Moreover, he explained that the First Past the Post or “Winner Takes All” system works against this.


Elections since 1970 show that there are four clusters of voters in Pakistan namely the PPP cluster, the Muslim League(s) cluster, the Religious Parties cluster and Regional parties cluster. Roughly 60 to 75% of votes are claimed by the first two clusters (PPP and ML) while the remaining gets distributed among the other two clusters as well as independents and miscellaneous. Coupled with this, there are fairly distinct patterns to elections in each one of the four provinces of the country that affect the overall results. The electoral system of "First Past the Post” or “Winner Take All” electoral system produces reasonably predictable and instinctively acceptable ratio between popular vote (ratio of votes polled) and parliamentary seats, when the game is uni-polar (one dominant player) or multi-polar (several important players). However, a bi-polar game can be very unpredictable and this is amply demonstrated in the pattern of our past elections. The unequal size of four (4) provinces in terms of population and as a result in the National Assembly is also a factor which can not be ignored as Punjab accounts for roughly 55% of the seats; Sindh: 25%; NWFP: 15% and Balochistan: 5% of the National Assembly.


Talking about the likely provincial picture for Election 2008, Dr. Gilani said that in Karachi, the MQM enjoys a predominant position and the situation is unlikely to change. In interior Sindh, the PPP retains its stronghold. The past elections show that the PPP edge has been progressively shrinking even though the runner-ups in all five (5) elections during the last twenty (20) years scored less than half of the votes polled by the PPP. However, this is where the sympathy wave may be at its most effective. It might restore PPP’s popularity to its earlier heights; however since PPP is already substantially ahead of runner-ups, the additional votes may not mean many more seats. It would be winning by higher margins. Balochistan, due to multi-polarity of voting structure combined with its small share of seats in the National Assembly, has little room for influencing electoral victory at the national level. In the NWFP, there is some room for manoeuvre as the voting structure is Quad-polar and the outcome of the election has generally been a product of alliances.


It is really the province of Punjab, due to its share in the seats, where the contest will be at its most unpredictable due to its bi-polar (turned tri-polar) structure of voting. In all elections since 1970, around 80% of the total votes were split between the two poles of the Muslim League(s) and the PPP. But a modest edge by one of the parties in voting ratios brings a massive swing in the seats in the National Assembly in its favour. Our research shows that an edge of up to 5% by one pole over the other still means a neck and neck outcome in the Assembly seats. But a further 5% edge, thus raising the total edge to 10% brings a massive swing that under the current strength of the Assembly could be as many as 100 or more seats in the National Assembly.


Going by past history in Punjab, the PPP vote is around 25%, the Muslim League(s) vote is around 55% and the balance 20% is shared among other parties and the independents. A split of 30%: 25% between two Muslim League factions creates a neck and neck situation between the PML-N, the PML-Q and the PPP. However a 5-10% en bloc rallying of votes from the small parties, or from within the key parties, in favour of the leading contender can bring a massive swing in its favour. The swing phenomenon in Punjab is further reinforced by the fact that, despite some exceptions, the competitive positions of the key contenders as well as smaller parties are spread out fairly uniformly throughout this populous province. Since Punjab accounts for more than half of all seats in the National Assembly and because of the bi-polar turned tri-polar character of its voting structure, the most interesting electoral decisions are going to be made here, by voters as well as leaders of both large and small parties.


The sad assassination of Benazir Bhutto has lent a new element of unpredictability to the crucial race in Punjab. The 2002 electoral races in Punjab are mostly tri-polar. Whose share will the possible sympathy wave in favour of PPP eat into: PML (Q) or PML (N), or both? That is uncertain, but quite crucial to the electoral outcome under the new circumstances.