More than a hundred parties are taking part in 2018 elections, but the real contest is amongst the three main political parties
Campaign comes to an end today
By Ashfaq Ahmed, Deputy Editor, UAE
Dubai: The election campaign for the 2018 general polls is coming to an end tonight (12midnight) with thousands of candidates canvassing people to vote for them on July 25.
Though the campaign trail for major parties has been a bit lacklustre affair compared to previous elections due to bomb blasts at some rallies causing causalities, leaders of the major political parties did not budge as they continued to hold rallies till the last minute.
This election is unique as the three major political parties are competing with one another in a race to form the national government and also trying to take over power in the four provinces.
More than a hundred parties are taking part in 2018 elections, but real contest is amongst the three main political parties: Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Either of these three main stream parties is expected to form the next government.
Some other smaller but significantly strong parties, which play key role in every elections and can enter into an alliance to help the bigger parties in forming the government include the Karachi-based Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM); Pakistan Muslim League-Q ; Grand Democratic Alliance (JDA); grand alliance of religious parties called Mutahida Majlis Amal (MMA), secular group Awami National Party (ANP); Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP); Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) and Balochistan National Party
Violence, Sharif corruption case put Pakistan on edge ahead of elections
The elections to choose Pakistan’s next prime minister are rife with tension that, analysts say, could erupt into political upheaval in the nuclear-armed nation that is a key player in US-driven efforts to fight terrorism in the region.
Emotions are high over a corruption case that put ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif in prison this month. Wednesday’s elections for control of the National Assembly are expected to be a close contest between Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N party and former cricket star Imran Khan’s Pakistan Movement for Justice party.
After a recent string of suicide bomb attacks at political rallies killed nearly 160 people in less than a week, including a candidate from Khan’s party on Sunday, 371,000 soldiers will be at polling stations around the country – what some see as a necessary layer of security and others regard as proof that the nation’s military, which has staged several coups in the past, intends to control the results in a still-fragile democracy.
Against that backdrop is the possibility that Khan, 65, who is seen as a favorite of Pakistan’s armed forces, will prevail.
Anything but an overwhelming victory by either side is likely to be marred by allegations of fraud and a struggle for control of the government – pulling attention away from a foundering economy, a looming debt crisis and foreign policy concerns that include US attempts to end the war in neighboring Afghanistan, analysts say.
“There is a higher likelihood than there has been in the past that this could end up in a political crisis that makes governance virtually impossible,” said Moeed Yusuf, a South Asia expert at the U.S. Institute for Peace.
Khan, a fiery orator who casts himself as a crusader against government corruption, has seized on the case that ensnared Sharif – a three-time prime minister – and his daughter Maryam Nawaz, 44.
They both returned home from London this month to turn themselves in after they were found guilty of hiding money through the ownership of luxury London apartments and other offshore properties, a case that stemmed from the leaked 2016 Panama Papers.
Sharif, 68, received a 10-year sentence, while his daughter got seven years. Both are appealing their prison terms.
Khan and his supporters say the case shows how the halls of power in Islamabad have long been addled by corruption at the expense of the nation’s tattered economy.
“The difference now is that I speak to a public that understands issues like corruption and how it impacts their lives,” Khan wrote on Twitter this month. “They now understand (the) correlation between corruption & poverty, unemployment & inflation.”
His message has resonated with the country’s growing urban middle class, which is mostly young and conservative, said Michael Kugelman, a senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center in Washington.
“These young urban conservative middle-class folks, they see the established parties as corrupt, out of touch and not really interested in providing for the common people,” Kugelman said. “That is a key constituency to capture.”
Sharif’s party is reeling from the fact that its charismatic founder is in prison and disqualified for life from holding office.
But the party remains formidable, particularly in populous Punjab province – home to 141 National Assembly seats – which lifted Sharif to power in the 2013 elections. To control the government outright, a party needs to win at least 172 seats.
Before turning himself in, Sharif energized his base by alleging that the corruption charges were part of a move by the armed forces to push him out.
As prime minister, Sharif was often at odds with the military and advocated for policies its leaders were against, such as normalizing relations with India, the country’s bitter foe.
Rock the vote: Pakistani political music keeps the party going
As the crowd swells with anticipation for their leader Shahbaz Sharif’s arrival a DJ blares the anthem “Respect the vote”, while supporters chant slogans and sway to the synth-driven dance track.
“We are enjoying it a lot,” shouts Nauman Khan over the ear-splitting volume as he dances with friends at the rally in Punjab province, days ahead of Pakistan’s national elections.
“We really like the songs of Nawaz Sharif,” he screams, referring to Shahbaz’s brother, the jailed former premier who continues to inspire his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supporters from behind bars.
Pakistani political rallies have been transformed in recent years to festive blowouts, designed to entertain as much as inspire supporters to vote.
The formula was first perfected by Asif Butt – better known by his stage persona DJ Butt – an erstwhile wedding DJ who first shot to fame when he played a rally for cricketer-turned-opposition leader Imran Khan in 2011.
It was there that the Lahore-based DJ began to perfect his craft, playing contemporary songs to warm up the crowd and musical interludes to the speeches on stage – injecting some dramatic theatre into long stretches of oratory.
“Imran Khan is a quick learner. He understood quickly where he had to pause for music and where he should continue speaking,” says Butt.
The mashup was a hit, paving the way for continued collaboration between Butt and Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) during the 2013 election season as the party reached out to younger and more urban voters.
Political parties in Pakistan have used music as a way of spreading slogans and unifying supporters since the rise of pop music in the late 1980s, following the end of a military dictatorship.
But increasingly, and thanks to DJs like Butt, the rhythms of political rallies are filling a vital space in the deeply conservative Islamic country, providing the music-obsessed masses with a space to dance and cut loose.
Play to the crowd
Butt’s career resembles that of an ambitious upstart in the country’s chaotic political landscape.
He has played to crowds numbering tens of thousands, spent time in jail, and even manned the decks during a riot as police cracked down on a PTI protest with batons and tear gas.
Butt’s blueprint for success is simple: play to the crowd.
In Punjab, he belts out tunes to suit the province’s homegrown Bhangra dance style. In the rural northwest he sticks to traditional folk tunes, while in urban areas the playlist is exclusively pop.
“DJ Butt and the PTI are the spiritual heads of this,” says pop culture writer Ahmer Naqvi on music’s shaping of Pakistani politics.
His success has since sparked a cottage industry, with political parties across the country hiring DJs on the campaign trail to attract voters.
At a PTI rally in Lahore, portions of the crowd resemble a mosh pit as men spin in circles, hands flailing in response to deafening political anthems.
“The younger generation likes music at Imran Khan’s rallies because there is enthusiasm and fervour in it,” says PTI supporter Muhammad Ali.
“And there’s DJs there and the music is good.”
But not all are fans.
Back in Punjab province’s Pindi Gheb, Sharif supporter Abdul Ghaffar slams the “singing and dancing” witnessed at Imran Khan’s rallies for involving both men and women.
“We don’t have anything like dancing by women in our public meetings,” he scoffs.
Sharif needs to be taken to hospital
The political party of Pakistan’s jailed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has asked authorities to urgently move him to a hospital, saying his health has deteriorated.
Monday’s comment by Pervaiz Rashid, spokesman for the Pakistan Muslim League, came as doctors were due to examine Sharif, who has a history of heart disease.
Sharif underwent an open-heart surgery at a hospital in London in 2016.
He has been held at a jail in the city of Rawalpindi since July 13, when he returned from London to face a 10-year prison sentence on corruption charges.
Rashid says the party isn’t “seeking any concession” for Sharif but that he has a right to be treated by his doctor.
Tensions and violence have escalated in Pakistan ahead of parliamentary elections on Wednesday.
Sharif denied personal doctor as health worsens: party
Pakistan’s jailed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is suffering from high blood pressure but has been refused permission to see his personal doctor, his party said Monday.
Sharif was convicted in his absence overseas on corruption charges and arrested upon his return to Pakistan earlier his month, ahead of elections on Wednesday.
Members of his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) have said the powerful military is trying to influence the vote against his party.
The former premier is widely believed to have returned to face a 10-year prison sentence to rally his embattled party ahead of a close contest with its main rival – the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, led by cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan.
“Caretaker Prime Minister Nasir-ul-Mulk and chief minister of Punjab province Hasan Askari were approached with a request to provide access to Sharif’s personal physician but all requests went down the drain,” PML-N spokesperson Maryam Aurangzeb told AFP.
“Nawaz Sharif, who is also a heart patient, has been quite unwell since Saturday after his blood pressure went up,” Aurangzeb added.