Pakistan Elections 2013:

Will the Provincial Governments and Sharif be at Loggerheads?

17 Jun, 2013    ·   3997

Anu Krishnan on whether the challenges in provinces other than Punjab will be dealt effectively with the PML-N at the centre

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz won Pakistan’s landmark elections of 2013, securing an iron grip on Punjab province. Nawaz Sharif’s decisive victory in his native Punjab was marked by his popularity with the rural population as a competent businessman. The numbers ensure that Nawaz Sharif can form a government without an unruly coalition. The other provinces - mainly Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, however, have voted in different parties opposed to the PML-N. What does this mean for Nawaz Sharif’s plans for Pakistan, as he prepares to tackle the economic and energy crises? On the other hand, can the challenges in each of the provinces other than Punjab be dealt effectively with the PML-N at the centre?

The Woes of the Provinces
The PPP acquired 29 seats in the Sindh Provincial Assembly. The PPP’s victory emerges from the fact that it was the best possible alternative for rural Sindh in terms of nationalistic sentiments, a feature rooted in Sindh politics. The crisis in Sindh is violence, which has been on a rise in the last few months. Declining rates of law and order management in the province is another matter of concern.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Imran Khan’s PTI ousted the incumbent Awami National Party by securing 37 seats. The ANP was one of the secular parties which were strongly hit by the violence perpetrated by the Tehreek-e-Taliban before the elections. The PTI was thus chosen as the best possible alternative in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which is embroiled in militant attacks and Taliban insurgency. Imran Khan’s Pashtun ethnicity also powered his victory in the province which has a Pashtun majority. The Taliban insurgency, which has garnered strength, remains the key concern in the province. 57 of last year’s major terrorist incidents occurred in the province.

A neglected, deprived Balochistan with no economic or political might, despite being the biggest province, exercised their franchise miserably. With a voter turnout of less than 2%, a coalition has been formed between the Pakhtun-khwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), PML-N, and National Party. Beset with religious extremism and separatism, Balochistan is in desperate need of strong representation in the National Assembly, which can bring an end to the continued neglect of the general public in the province. Poor governance has left the province with little to cheer about; the security situation has only worsened in the recent past, despite the presence of security forces. Balochistan is also home to most of Pakistan’s natural resources, underlining the need for good governance that can effectively tap these resources to benefit the public.

Indications from the Current State of Affairs
With these opposing parties gaining the majority in the rest of the provinces, Nawaz Sharif will find it difficult to ensure consensus and effectively implement his plans across the country. This was also the first election since the 18th Amendment to Pakistan’s Constitution, which vests more autonomy with the provinces. The reforms Sharif intends to bring in, vis-à-vis taxation, subsidies, and free market might not find harmony with the provincial governments. Pakistan’s ongoing power crisis undoubtedly calls for stringent measures that will include cutting subsidies, raising the price, and dismissing cronies of the previous government. Some of these may very well be termed ‘unpopular’ and ‘anti-people’ by the opposing provincial governments.

How far can Nawaz Sharif’s government address the challenges in provinces other than Punjab? Internal security has gone for a toss in Pakistan, given the extent of violence in Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and Sindh. Sharif’s relations with the army are still sour; it remains to be seen if the ghosts of the past will continue to haunt the present. Neither is Sharif known to take hard line measures against perpetrators of violence. Talks that have been advocated with the TTP will only go so far, since attempts to negotiate with the TTP have only helped it emerge stronger.

As for Balochistan, choosing National Party’s Dr Abdul Malik as the Chief Minister, despite PML-N having emerged the single largest party, is perhaps a right step in terms of cabinet formation. The National Party, which demands control over Balochistan’s resources and a chief minister from the party, ensures good representation of the aspirations of the people, despite the low voter turnout. Sharif’s strategy of accommodating other parties to pursue his plans is tested here; the National Party is opposed to the Chinese Government taking over the Gwadar port. After nominating the National Party president as the chief minister, Sharif has appealed to the party to gravely reconsider their stand on the issue.

In his first speech this year as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Sharif has accepted the mandate of the PTI in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the other parties in Balochistan. If his speech is to be believed and proves to be more than the usual rhetoric, all the provincial governments will be considered equal and Sharif will attempt to broaden his appeal beyond his Punjab base. Sharif is aware that exclusion from the centre can do no good to any of the provinces, but to what extent will he be able to forego his party’s interests remains to be seen.