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The Friday Times

Published Date: Feb 15, 2013

Cutthroat campaigns

Three
out of five scenarios forecast by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute
(SDPI) predict another term in power for the People’s Party, but it has to rely
heavily on coalition support like it did after the 2008 general elections.

The next elections are likely in less than four months, if the democratic
process is not disrupted. Surveys show that the popularity of all mainstream
political parties continues to fluctuate.

According
to one probable scenario, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) – along with its
allies Awami National Party (ANP), Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) and the
Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) – will secure 38.1 percent of the total
votes cast, compared with a possible grand anti-PPP alliance securing 29.5
percent, said Dr Abid Suleri, executive director at the SDPI. This scenario
assumes Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) will not join the anti-PPP
alliance.

Another
possibility is that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the PTI form
an anti-PPP alliance and are supported by Jamaat-e-Islami and other likeminded
groups. They would secure 45 percent of the total votes polled and beat the
PPP. But it looks unlikely given the political animosity between the PML-N and the
PTI.

Earlier,
an International Republican Institute (IRI) survey showed that PML-N was the
most popular party in Pakistan, followed by the PTI and the PPP.

The
most recent SDPI survey shows the PPP is in the lead, followed by the PML-N and
the PTI.

Of
those respondents who confirmed to be registered voters, 29 percent said they
wanted to vote for the PPP, 24.7 percent said they would vote for the PML-N,
and 20.3 percent said they would vote for the PTI.

"Surveys
are carried out regularly. That’s no big deal. But we will sweep the
polls," said Shafqat Mehmood, the PTI spokesman. PML-N spokesman Ahsan
Iqbal questioned the authenticity of the SDPI survey. Both the PML-N and the
PTI believe they are set for a big victory.

PTI
claims 87 percent of the people of Pakistan were angry with those who had
"repeatedly betrayed them, plundered the national wealth and brought the
country on the edge of a deep chasm". Their spokesman said the survey was
not to be taken seriously, and that his party had its own mechanism of gauging
public opinion.

Ahsan
Iqbal said the survey contradicted the results of previous surveys done by the
IRI and Gallup Pakistan. Both the surveys had shown PML-N to be the most
popular political party in Pakistan. He said the SDPI survey was carried out on
an ethnic basis, which made it faulty. "Voters in Pakistan are divided
along provincial lines." Ahsan Iqbal said voters were so angry with the
incumbent government that they would never give them another chance.

The
PML-N is likely to win around 120 seats in Punjab, seven in Sindh, 10 in Khyber
Pakhtunkhwa and three in Balochistan, he said, easily getting to the 172
required to make a government, with the support of its allies.

The
SDPI survey analyzed allegiance of voters on ethnic lines showing 55 percent of
Sindhi voters would vote for the PPP. Poverty, corruption, the power crises,
illiteracy and extremism were found to be the five issues most crucial to the
voters. But none of these issues secured more than 17 percent votes, indicating
a divided electorate.

A
promising trend was that 94 percent of the respondents said they had registered
to vote in the elections. Traditionally, turnout remains low in general
elections in Pakistan.

Dr Suleri said politics in Pakistan were uncertain. He said no single party
would win the elections or get a simple majority, but the PPP and its allies
were likely to get another term. Whoever formed the government, he said, would
have to deal with a very strong opposition.

Amir
Mateen, an Islamabad-based analyst, said political parties would do anything
that would help them win the elections. He said PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, who
had claimed he would follow principles, has now gone back to the traditional
politics of ‘electables’. PTI chief Imran Khan had promised he would reject
traditional politics, but eventually welcomed many traditional politicians in
his party.

The
ruling PPP has raised the issue of the South Punjab province just before the
elections, apparently for political leverage.

General
elections in Pakistan have usually been unpredictable. In 1988, the PPP braved
all odds to come into power. Similarly, it upstaged the show of pro-Musharraf
political forces in the 2008 general elections. Analysts expect the 2013
elections to be cutthroat.