Pakistan Elections 2013: Mapping the Violence

13 May, 2013    ·   3927

Portia B. Conrad analyses major trends in the violence witnessed during the elections campaign

Portia B. Conrad
Portia B. Conrad
Research Intern

Pakistan had its historic polls, but the election campaigning in much of the country was muted by high levels of violence. Over the last four months leading up to the elections, death tolls situated in violence have risen up to 1300. The list of terrorist attacks in the last month itself sums up to a large number - at least 118 people have been killed and 494 injured.

One must make a note of the difference in regular violence in Pakistan vis-à-vis the violence caused due to elections. The 2013 elections have taken the frequency and intensity of violence to another level. Who are the perpetrators, and who are the victims? What have been the major trends in the violence?

The Perpetrators
The election campaign was marred by threats and violence perpetrated by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Since the start of the election campaign, the liberal parties - the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), the Awami National Party (ANP), and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) - have been the primary target. Pakistani Taliban spokesman, Ahsanullah Ahsan, has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks.

Electoral Violence in Pakistan: Major Trends
On the day of the elections, there were several incidents of violence killing more than fifty people. However, the following trends could be observed overall:

• The right-of-centre parties had an advantage over their left-of-centre counterparts. Indeed, the ANP was targeted more frequently than any other party; the MQM was also increasingly so; and the PPP, ostensibly, was too scared to campaign properly.
• In Balochistan, the situation was dangerous as well as unpredictable, since only 284 of the 3,794 polling stations across the province were billed as “normal.” Of the remaining, 2,897 have been categorised “very sensitive” and 633 as “sensitive.”
• Punjab, the country's political heartland, remained clear of any electoral violence. The streets of urban and rural areas alike, were alive with the sights and sounds of frenzied campaigning, as competing political parties - except the ruling PPP - made a final push towards the poll.
• The Pakistan Muslim League - N (PML-N) did not get hit by violence as a large portion of its voters belong to the province of Punjab.
• Law and order remained an issue in Karachi; the rest of Sindh, however, was in a much better state when compared with the metropolis. It was also not easier to identify the level of electoral violence in Karachi, as the city was the primary focus of violence relating to ethnic, sectarian, and criminal factors. Over the last few years, Karachi has remained highly violent.

What are the implications of these trends?

Much of the violence took place outside the populous province of Punjab, creating an impression in the smaller provinces that they remain insecure and denied of a free environment to elect their representatives. Today, in the post-election scenario, it is unclear how far the elections would be taken as fully legitimate by the parties and the public opinion from the smaller provinces.

One must remember that violence had also cast a shadow over Pakistan’s last election in 2008. On 27 December 2007, Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister and the head of the PPP - then the leading opposition party - was assassinated after a campaign rally. Two months later, however, her party and the PLM-N emerged victorious from the campaign and formed a coalition government.

What has the State machinery then done for the security of the voters? The Election Commission appeared too weak, or perhaps politically indoctrinated, by the affluent classes not to take proper action against corrupt politicians. Apparently, the military had said that they would take charge of deploying 70,000 troops to protect polling stations, augmenting more than 500,000 police and security personnel. Candidates for the liberal parties complained that the violence had forced them to dramatically scale back their campaigning activities, leaving the field open for Islamist candidates to win over voters. However, despite the absence of a level playing field for all political parties, the caretakers and the executive agencies did go ahead with the election process.

Now, the post election political environment should not fail the nation that has struggled for democracy for most of its existence.