Pakistan’s 2018 elections may have few surprises

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The PML-N government of Nawaz Sharif began its tenure in early June in 2013. That mean’s five years of the current dispensation will end in early June 2018 — after that we will have 90 days of a caretaker government and general elections (unless they happen earlier due to an unforeseen circumstance, or don’t happen at all, also because of any unforeseen circumstance) no later than early September of this year.

I will write in more detail about the prospects of the major mainstream parties in the coming election at a later time. However, there has been much talk of late about the ‘mainstreaming’ of religious groups other than the parties such as Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam etc. in an effort to include them in the political mainstream.

The first such example that comes to mind is the Milli Muslim League which many observers seem to think is an offshoot of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD). Last week, the MML won a big victory in its effort to be recognized as a political party when the Islamabad High Court ruled that a ban by the Election Commission of Pakistan on the MML was of no legal effect and that the League could now be registered as a political party under the electoral laws of Pakistan.

It’s information secretary Tabish Qayyum is at pains to point out that the party has nothing to do with the JuD

In the NA 120 Lahore bye-election held in September 2017, the MML backed an independent candidate who came in 4th with 5,822 votes. He received more than 5 times the votes that the PPP’s candidate got. The seat, a long-standing PML-N stronghold, was won by Begum Kulsum Nawaz Sharif with over 61,000 votes and the PTI’s Yasmin Rashid came in with over 47,000 votes.
The MML-backed candidate did relatively well given that the party is very new. One can only surmise but it would be fair to assume that some pro-PTI voters would have voted for him.
Then take the case of the Tehrik-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), whose effort to present itself as a political party has gained considered momentum of late. In recent days, it’s banners have sprung up in many major cities — asking people to go online and register with the party, in preparation for the coming election. This is the same group that shut down a major highway connecting Islamabad with the rest of the country for 20 days, resulting in a botched government crackdown on the protesters.

The TLP fielded a candidate in the NA 154 Lodhran bye-election held earlier this year and he managed to come in 3rd obtaining a very healthy total of 9,981 votes. Clearly, the TLP will be able to win a health amount of votes in the coming election in Punjab and even in parts of Sindh (such as Karachi).
Of course, the debate over mainstreaming will continue, but the argument that such groups do represent at least some Pakistanis and hence should be allowed to contest elections can hardly be denied.
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