Coalition Struggles and Military Risks in Pakistan’s Majority-Less Politics

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National elections in Pakistan, no single party secured an outright majority, necessitating the formation of a coalition government. Concerns have arisen regarding the delayed release of election results, adding to the uncertainty surrounding the government formation process.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by former Prime Minister Imran Khan, along with independently backed candidates, currently holds a leading position with 101 seats. However, they still fall short of the required mandate to form a government independently. Both of the main political parties must seek alliances with smaller parties to attain a parliamentary majority. Failure to do so within three days may prompt military intervention as per constitutional provisions. This political scenario unfolds against the backdrop of Pakistan’s significant economic challenges.

Pakistan held elections on Thursday, February 8th. Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) officially announced the results on Friday morning after approximately 12 hours. According to the latest update released on Sunday, PTI-backed independents are leading with 101 seats, but they will need to form a coalition with another party to establish a government. The rival party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), led by Nawaz Sharif, holds second position with 75 seats. Should either of these two parties seek to form a government, they must seek support from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which holds an advantageous position with 54 seats. The PPP has proposed party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari as a candidate for prime minister. Additionally, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has secured 17 seats, while other parties collectively hold 17 seats.

Out of the 266 seats in the National Assembly of the country, 265 seats were contested in the polls, with one seat suspended. The election commission declared the postponement of results for one seat, leaving results announced for 264 seats. Minimum of 134 seats is required to form the government. In addition to these directly contested seats, there are 70 reserved seats, with 60 allocated for women and 10 for minorities. These reserved seats are distributed among parties in proportion to their victories in directly contested seats.

Election commission’s announced results indicate that independent candidates have secured the highest number of seats, primarily with the backing of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Notably, Imran Khan’s party was barred from participating in the election, and their electoral symbols were not utilized. As a consequence, they are now obligated to either align with a coalition or establish one themselves, and subsequently report their decision to the commission. Furthermore, the country’s Supreme Court has mandated that they notify authorities within three days of affiliating with any group.

Imprisoned Imran Khan, while declaring victory, encouraged his supporters to celebrate and emphasized the need to leave the past behind and move forward. This raises the question of whether independent candidates can unite to form the next central government or not.

Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif also asserted victory in the election. In his victory speech, he proclaimed that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) emerged as the single largest party both at the national level and in the province of Punjab during the general elections. Strategically, Nawaz’s assertion is significant, as he highlighted that the PML-N emerged as the largest political entity post-elections, attributing this outcome to the exclusion of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) from contesting as a party.

Ahmed Bilal Mehbub, the president of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), stated that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is evidently unable to establish a government independently without forming alliances with major political parties such as the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) or the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). This is due to their failure to secure the necessary number of seats to command a majority in the lower house of parliament.

Even if the results of the remaining seats favor a single party, it would still not be sufficient to form a government. This is because independent candidates currently hold the lead in terms of seats won.

According to constitutional rules, independent candidates must declare within three days of the announcement of final results whether they intend to join a political party or remain independent. Ahmed Bilal Mehbub stated that it is indeed possible for PTI-endorsed independents to rejoin PTI within this timeframe, although there may be complications involved. However, he mentioned that PTI-backed candidates can still secure the post of Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly even if they choose not to join any party. This requires them to submit a petition to the Speaker of the National Assembly, expressing their support for one of their nominated candidates.

Meanwhile, the former president of the country, Asif Ali Zardari, has stated that the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is open to negotiation with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), with the condition that PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto be appointed as the prime minister. Additionally, Zardari mentioned that PPP would consider forming a coalition government with Sharif’s party if other key ministries are allocated to PPP. Therefore, it can be said that the formation of the next government hinges on the support of the PPP. Meanwhile, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) has reached an agreement with the PML-N and has initiated robust efforts to form the government.

A delegation led by PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif visited the Lahore residence of the PPP Chairman. Both parties held extensive discussions concerning the prevailing political landscape of the country. As per a statement from the PML-N, the meeting concluded with both parties reaching a consensus to “safeguard the country from political instability.” PML-N sought cooperation from the PPP during this meeting. In response, the PPP stated that they would deliberate on the proposal and provide their response on Monday, February 12th.

On the other hand, the party is continuing its protest and agitation in the field to exert pressure on the commission. They are also pursuing legal action by filing complaints regarding the election of candidates supported by the PTI. Yesterday, protests took place in several cities including Lahore and Islamabad, during which some individuals were arrested. Tragically, two workers of the National Democratic Movement (NDM) were fatally shot during a protest against Fall Deri. Additionally, 15 people, including the team leader, sustained injuries. The NDM has alleged that the police opened fire during the protest in Mamiramshah Cantonment in North Waziristan, located in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of the country.

Barrister Gohar Ali Khan, chairman of the PTI, has refuted any discussions with Pakistan’s two major parties, the PPP and the PML-N. He explicitly stated that pro-Imran independent candidates are not aligning with any political faction. However, Imran Khan remarked that if they are unable to form a government, they are prepared to assume the role of the opposition party.

Meanwhile, the PTI candidate Wasim Qadir has defected from Imran Khan’s party and joined Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N. Wasim Qadir, who was backed by the PTI, emerged victorious in Lahore’s NA-121 constituency. In light of the escalating tensions surrounding the elections, a Section 144 has been imposed in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, to prevent the potential spread of protests and violence.

Economically beleaguered Pakistan is in dire need of a stable government. However, the nation is poised to witness a fragmented government, with no single party securing a majority in the elections. This poses a risk to IMF loan assistance. The military has issued a call for national unity to address the country’s crises. In the event of political parties failing to form a government, there is potential for military intervention, as the military remains the most powerful institution in the country and has historically staged several coups. The formation of the government is shrouded in uncertainty, with no party garnering enough support to establish a majority. Consequently, some analysts express concern that Pakistan may witness a return to military rule if political parties fail to forge a consensus.

Author’s bio: Tajul Islam, a senior journalist and Special Correspondent of Weekly Blitz writes on a broad-range of issues in local and international media. Follow him on X @tajulraj1

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