Pakistan elections: Islamists lose —despite intimidation

Divided over whether to boycott the polls, Islamist parties were among the biggest losers in Pakistan’s general elections. Islamists participated in the 2002 elections under the banner of the six-party Muttehida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), and secured 66 seats in the National Assembly. The MMA also formed its own government in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and was a major coalition partner in the Baluchistan government. But this time, the alliance fractured. Jammat-e-Islami, the largest Islamist party, and two other MMA member parties boycotted. Only the Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI) of former parliamentary opposition leader Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, a friend of President Pervez Musharraf, and two other minor partners participated. The JUI won only five National Assembly seats—down from 48—and also faced harsh reversals in the NWFP and Baluchistan.

The secular-opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is leading in the National Assembly with 87 seats followed by 67 for the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif (whose manifesto invokes “basic Islamic principles of peace, moderation and justice” while denouncing “extremism and terrorism”—a clear repudiation of the Islamist bloc).

The leftist Awami National Party (ANP), which was wiped out by the MMA in the 2002 elections, has regained its stronghold in the NWFP assembly—winning 31 seats, up from 10. The PPP stands second with 17 seats. The JUI won only 10 seats in the 99-member NWFP assembly—where it had been the ruling party, with 59 seats. The JUI won only seven seats in the 51-member Baluchistan assembly, where it had been a major ruling coalition partner with 14 seats.

The electoral debacle has heightened tensions within Islamist camp. JUI leader Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman blamed Jammat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussein Ahmad for their defeat. “Qazi’s boycott appears to be a setback to the MMA in these elections,” he told reporters. “He and his team should confess to have committed a blunder that has shattered the MMA.”

Imtiaz Hussein, a Peshawar-based political analyst, told, “People this time have cast their votes, especially in NWFP against Musharraf’s supporters, whether it is PML-Q or the JUI.” (, Feb. 23)

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, who heads the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q), said his party would “accept the results with an open heart” and “sit on the opposition benches” in the new parliament. The PML-Q appears to have kept only 38 seats in the 342-seat National assembly. Opposition parties won 153 of the 272 seats contested in the elections. (WP, Feb. 20) (As we’ve noted, the Majlis-e-Amal broke with Musharraf’s PML-Q over his support for the US GWOT, while some Majlis-e-Amal member parties such as the JUI appeared to play both sides.)

The results came despite widespread intimidation, especially in the deeply conservative northwest. AP filed a chilling report from Khazana, NWFP, where village elders voted before the elections to bar women from participating. None defied the order, said Farida Begum, a local election official who oversaw a special polling place established for women: “Everything is available for women to vote. We are here but no one is coming so we are just sitting and gossiping.” Similar scenes were reported at several other villages in the area. (AP, Feb. 19)

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