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    Elections 2008: Benazir Factor May Affect the Results
    Tuesday, January 29, 2008 (10:39 PST)
    Elections 2008: Benazir Factor May Affect the Results

    The assassination of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairperson Benazir Bhutto is likely to have far reaching impact on the results of 2008 elections. Pakistan Muslim League (Q) president Ch. Shuja’at Hussain had claimed before Bhutto’s assassination that PML would win 110 out of 148 national assembly (NA) seats in Punjab alone. Ch. Shuja’at and former chief minister of Punjab Ch. Pervaiz Elahi also claim that they have fielded the most influential candidates who are campaigning more than any other party. They are of the view that five years massive development and recruitment drive in the public sector will make their success possible. In the meanwhile, independent experts believed [before Benazir assassination] that PML (Q) could hardly win 80 to 90 NA seats in Punjab.

    However Benazir Bhutto’s assassination has changed expert opinions because of sympathy vote for PPP. The PPP had got 7.39 million votes in 2002 elections with only 63 NA seats. On the other hand PML (Q) got 7.30 million votes with a 15 seats lead over PPP. Almost 21 PPP MNAs had joined PML (Q) government through floor-crossing. Most of them held high positions in the government and have been given tickets by Q league. PML (N) suffered a major setback in 2002 elections because a large number of its former MNAs had defected to PML (Q). It still managed to win 14 seats by getting 3.32 million votes despite all-out opposition by the government. PML (N) had got 8.84 million votes in 1997 elections. 

    The major upset in 2002 elections was the unprecedented success of Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) that had a clean sweep in NWFP with 3.29 million overall votes and 52 seats in the National Assembly. The main reasons of MMA success were US invasion of Afghanistan, Pashtun grievances and the unity in religious parties for the first time in Pakistan’s history. MQM maintained its hold in urban Sindh by securing 17 seats with 0.92 million votes in 2002 elections. 

    Former chief minister of Sindh Dr Ghulam Arbab Rahim and Pir Pagaro’s Functional Muslim League Sindh chapter president Pir Sadruddin have said PPP will get lesser NA seats in Sindh in elections 2008 because 18 to 20 seats would go to MQM while the Functional Muslim League will also win 10 to 12 seats with some independent candidates. They claim PPP would hardly get 25 seats from Sindh. They base their claim on the fact that PPP opponents have mostly won Local Bodies elections in 2005 and they will play a decisive role in forthcoming general elections too. PPP Sindh president Nisar Khoro refutes the view by saying that PPP had badly lost in Local Bodies elections preceding 1988 general elections but the party got a clean sweep victory in general polls.          

    Political situation has drastically changed in rural Sindh after Bhutto’s assassination and fewer seats are likely to go to PPP opponents. MQM is not likely to get just as 17 seats it got in 2002 elections. If the polling does not get suspended because of violence then the PPP will clean sweep in rural Sindh. 

    Baluchistan’s political landscape is set to remain unchanged though PPP vote bank might go up in Quetta and other major towns because of Benazir’s death. Out of total 14 NA seats in Balochistan PPP is not likely to get more than 1-2 seats like past.

    Election results of NWFP are more unpredictable because MMA is divided into two groups. Jamat-e-Islami is boycotting while Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam (JUI) is contesting elections. Awami National Party (ANP) is eyeing some major role in the centre if it wins in the NWFP. PML (Q), ANP and Sherpao can jointly cause a major loss to JUI if all three political parties collectively win half of the total 35 NA seats in the province. The JUI circles are, nonetheless, claiming more seats than before. This question, however, remains important that to what extent PPP manages to get the sympathy vote in NWFP. 

    Another technical view about the forthcoming elections is the percentage calculation of sympathy vote for PPP. Assuming that it adds 10 percent votes to PPP’s existing vote bank, the party can easily win 110 seats out of 272 seats in the parliament bases on 2002 statistics. PML (Q) and PML (N) can win 42 and 62 seats respectively. PML (Q) thinks that sympathy vote is limited to urban population only and it is going to affect PML (N) only. PPP has been getting at least 18-20 percent votes ubiquitous at an average and if a good candidate fetches 15 percent votes with personality cult, the seat is safely won.

    The ratio of PPP votes to the total cast shows that the PPP got 38.52 percent, 36.83 percent, 37.85 percent, 21.90 percent and 24.8 percent of the total vote cast in 1988, 1990, 1993, 1997 and 2002 elections respectively. Thus PPP’s ratio has been varying from 39 percent to 24 percent of total vote cast. This time the much talked about sympathy vote is likely to increase this ratio in PPP’s favour. The party can also get special benefit on the seats reserved for women. PML (Q) sympathisers hope that the after-effects of Benazir’s assassination will diminish soon and PML (Q) leaders in the central Punjab are strong enough to withstand the sympathy vote effect. Prior to Bhutto’s murder, all political experts foresaw a hung parliament from the results of general elections. Now if the PPP really makes the expected gains, a PPP-led coalition government can be formed. Previously a political alliance of PPP and PML (Q) was also being speculated but after Bhutto’s assassination, this possibility has decreased. The formation of a ‘national government’ also does not seem workable at this stage. For coming to power in the centre, the PPP will have to make uneasy adjustments with political rivals. PML (Q) still hopes to form a coalition government with JUI. How far Benazir factor affects the election process and to which extent the results are skewed by it, remains to be seen as yet.

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