Elections in Pakistan: Rigging or Kingmaking?


Another election has been concluded in Pakistan, leaving behind allegations of pre- and post-polls rigging, cries of foul play, and call for widespread agitations from the losers. It has been the case every time–call it hidden forces, establishment, or aliens whatever you want. Why is it that the losing parties and even vast majority of people are suspicious of the election results? Let us stroll down the alleys of Pakistan’s political history.


After the independence of the nation it was led by its founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, but after his tragic death followed by the assassination of his loyal friend, the reins of the government went into the hands of the powerful military. In absence of any notable politicians and ignorance of the people they enjoyed the utmost authority for more than two decades. Only one sincere politician of this era was the sister of Jinnah, but she was sadly removed quite brutally out of the way.

The one figure emerged from that era was ZA Bhutto. Raised under direct supervision of the military, the blue eyed boy called field marshal Ayub Khan his father. So after directly ruling the country, the military decided to transfer its legacy to its son by holding first national level elections in 1970. Everything went smoothly in West Pakistan but the people of the East Pakistan had some other ideas. ZA Bhutto won in vast majority in the west part but had no presence in East Pakistan where a local and ethnic political party, Awami League, clean swept.

Now the kingmakers were in a fix. Sheikh Mujeeb refused to come to terms with them–had they respected the mandate of Awami League they would have lost authority. So the establishment used delay tactics. This delay in the transfer of power process caused concern, especially in east part of the country, and resulted in widespread agitations and civil disobedience. The military tried to set straight the Awami League by disqualifying their elected members holding by elections and making sure that no one from the outcast be elected again, which resulted in violence that was dealt with force by, allowing long waited enemy India to use situation into her favor. India imposed war at the borders and helped local militant groups against the Pakistan Army, resulting in East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh. The reason for mentioning this was to show how the powerful establishment chose to break the country instead of transferring the power to its rightful owner.

ZA Bhutto was a genius and crafty politician. He avoided locking horns with the establishment while gaining substituent influence in political arena. In the 1977 elections ZA Bhutto took authority in his own hands and manipulated elections to an overwhelming extent, resulting in massive agitations and widespread anarchy. Several religious parties also joined the protest upon the Khatm-e-Nabuwat issue igniting the emotions of the common people; the establishment, looking for an opportunity to fix him, supported the opposition. When things got out of hand the establishment imposed Martial Law, thus ending civilian rule in just six short years.

The military directly ruled the country for almost a decade with no mentionable political parties or politicians present, ZA Bhutto was executed and other leadership of PPP dispersed along with Benazir Bhutto, who was in exile. In 1985 the ruling general announced elections on non party basis; the prime objective was to keep PPP out of the political game. However, these elections brought a whole new generation of politicians into the mainstream, and Nawaz Sharif was one of them. The military handpicked this promising young man with dominant traits. He was provided with a mentor (Gen. Gillani) the best in the game after being groomed was awarded Chief Minister Ship of the Punjab.

The dictator developed disliking even to his own puppet assembly and dummy prime minister. In just 3 years, he dissolved assembly, dismissed the PM, and announced new elections dates. But he could not live long enough to see that day and died in a air crash a month later. Gen. Aslam Beig assumed command of the military and Ghulam Ishaq Khan became president and announced that elections will be held at its fixed date. Benazir Bhutto was warmly greeted at her return from exile to Pakistan, and the establishment sensed the danger and established IJI: an 8-party political alliance in order to balance off the chance of PPP getting majority.

The result was a split mandate. Though PPP won highest number of seats as compared to other parties it didn’t have a majority so it was forced to form a government with the help of MQM and independent candidates. The military negotiated with Benazir and allowed her to assume the office of the prime minister after she gave assurance that she will make no deduction in military budget, and retain Ghulam Ishaq Khan as president and Lt. Gen Yaqoob Ali Khan as foreign minister. But the establishment kept on pressuring the newly elected government via IJI inside and outside the parliament.

In Punjab, IJI had formed a government and elected Nawaz Sharif as chief minister of the province. He, with the help of the establishment, created difficulties for the federal government. The province and the centre were in a state of conflict all the time. A failed attempt to remove the government was made in late 1989 through a non-confidence vote.


In just two short years Benazir proved a non cooperative and puppet president. The military dismissed her and dissolves assemblies, 1990s elections were announced but under control of the military Intelligence, which openly funded and supported the IJI (an alliance of PML and other right wing parties; created to balance out PPP popularity by establishment). It gained a simple majority because the establishment had learnt till then that total mandate is adverse to the obedience of the civilian government. Nawaz Sharif, a trained and tamed politician, became Prime Minister, this time winning the confidence of the kingmakers.

This faithful workhorse began to rebel after tasting the fruits of power. In early 1993 the PM appointed a new army chief with his own will and declared to reduce the presidential powers. His ambitions caused anger among the sources of power which was further fueled by the power tug between PM and President, which resulted in total chaos and shut down of administrative machinery. Moreover, the opposition announced nationwide agitation (the Long March). The military high command held negotiations between the two parties, which resulted in PM recommending the president to dissolve assemblies.

In July 1993, caretakers were appointed again and new elections were held in OCT 1993. This time the establishment trusted in PPP, granting it simple majority in the house which combined with independent candidate and one other small parties it formulated a government in the centre. Later in November presidential elections were held and Farooq Lughari was elected as president, a name PPP trusted of one of its own, but in just three years the military became dissatisfied from the government on number of issues and president on the dictation of GHQ dissolved assemblies it was carried out in a military coup-like manner by taking control of the major government buildings and shutting down means of communications.

New elections were held in 1997 and Nawaz Sharif was granted with heavy mandate, but heavy mandate was not easily digested by Nawaz himself as he start exercising his own free will. After taking oath of office, he first of all disarmed the president by taking away his power of dissolving assemblies and removing of prime minister via constitutional amendment using parliament, then he went on replacing chief of the army staff from the one in is good books, neglecting seniority and other institutional traditions. After that he appointed Rafique Tarar, a political non entity as president. Then he decided to crush under foot the judiciary by pressuring the Chief Justice to quit office. The establishment then decided to take the bull by horns and waited for the perfect moment, as he tried to depose of another army chief, the establishment struck hard: a military coup removing him and throwing him behind the bars.

The military decided that enough is enough now it will keep authority directly in its own hands for a while as the international developments in the region, especially US-led attacks on Afghanistan were in their favor. Gen. Musharraf become chief executive, suspending the constitution and imposing martial law. Later in 2001 he, by removing dysfunctional president Rafique Tarar, became president. The following year he held an uncontested and unchallenged referendum enabling him to stay in the office as legally selected president for 5 more years.

After issuing LFO and making sure that his position is solid he announced election in 2002 under military rule. The result was obvious PML Q a party created and supported by the dictator himself won majority it formed government with the support of a religious alliance: MMA backed by the military to keep out the two political forces PPP and PML N out of the game as their leadership was in exile. This formulation of political government by PML Q along with MMA, MQM, and forward block of PPP clearly demonstrated the influence of unseen forces in politics.

Musharaf enjoyed utmost authority with complete domination of the politicians. He replaced three Prime Ministers with no reason at all and had no opposition, but his downfall began in 2007 when he tried to replace Chief Justice by making him to resign but at his refusal he suspended him and launched a reference against him in SC. This mistreatment of the Law triggered widespread agitation, especially among lawyers who mobilized civil society and political rivals sensing the opportunity plunged into it, after a operation at a local madrassa in Islamabad he lost the support of the religious allies also, with situation slipping rapidly out of hand Mussaruf in a state of desperation imposed the state of emergency on 03rd of November, 2007 it worsened the situation even more. Assessing the intensity of the situation military command took matters in its own hand forcing Musharraf to vacate the office of army chief on 28 Nov 2007 and take oath as a civilian president.

The unseen forces struck a deal with PPP for next government; Musharraf was instructed to issue NRO so that the exiled politicians would return safely. The establishment had planned execution of Benazir Bhutto PPP’s chairperson, which would result in getting PPP sympathetic vote. Everything went smoothly as planned and PPP not only formed next government with ease but stayed in for 5 years as it didn’t imposed any threat to un-seen forces.

2013’s elections were marked by terror attacks and violence. Nevertheless it was a transfer of power from a civilian to civilian government for the first time. PML N won majority of the seats and established its government, Nawaz Sharif was elected third time as prime minister. One would have thought that he has learned his lesson but now but he had not, he again indulged into serious confrontations with the establishment over foreign policy, Indo-Pak relations and operation against terrorists. The establishment soon realized what a hefty mistake they have made and tried to rectify it by implying measures to keep him under limits: Nationwide protests by political opposition were arranged, sit-ins in the capital was organized that lasted almost two months, but after getting assurances of obedience the establishment loosened its grip. But only a few months later establishment decided to get rid of the elected prime minster as he was too rigid to come to terms. This time it decided to use legal procedure, the case of corruption was launched against Nawaz Sharif and were asked to provide money trial of the huge riches he has, the result was obvious: first supreme court disqualified him to hold any public office then the NAB court sentence him 10 years imprisonment.

He could be removed using electoral process but establishment used the heavy hand to made him an example for the others. Now in 2018 generous pre- and post-polls rigging is made to an extent that that even common man has started questioning the credibility of the polls, the unseen forces, the aliens have become more noticeable now; but will the new thoroughbred of the establishment deliver the expected results?


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