Print        

Pakistan’s Parliamentary Election and its Consequences for the Islamic Republic of Iran

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Hesamoddin Hojjatzadeh
Indian Subcontinent Researcher

Pakistan held its parliamentary election on July 25 with more than 100 million eligible voters. The election was held at a time that the country has been experiencing one year of political instability after unwilling resignation of Mohammad Nawaz Sharif from his post as prime minister in July 2017. Since that time, two transitional and caretaker governments led by Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Nasirul Mulk failed to restore stability to the country, nor to overcome Pakistan’s economic and security problems. This issue doubled the importance of Pakistan’s parliament election

Pakistan held its parliamentary election on July 25 with more than 100 million eligible voters. The election was held at a time that the country has been experiencing one year of political instability after unwilling resignation of Mohammad Nawaz Sharif from his post as prime minister in July 2017. Since that time, two transitional and caretaker governments led by Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Nasirul Mulk failed to restore stability to the country, nor to overcome Pakistan’s economic and security problems. This issue doubled the importance of Pakistan’s parliament election.

In economic terms, it seems that on the eve of parliamentary election, Pakistan was in for a full-fledged economic crisis. The government attributed the crisis to severe depletion of the country’s foreign exchange reserves, and for the second time, received one billion dollars in loan from China in May to increase total loans that Islamabad has received from Beijing in less than a year to five billion dollars. Under the US pressure and through support of some regional rivals, Pakistan was officially put on the blacklist of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in June. This development increased public discontent with the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party. On the other hand, it prompted this party and opposition parties like the Pakistan Peoples Party, which is led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which is led by the former cricketer, Imran Khan, to try to win people’s votes by giving major economic promises. Those promises included taking measures to improve business environment, reduce unemployment and fight corruption in the country.

In security terms, Pakistan is still facing the threat of extremism. In addition to some groups that are affiliated with al-Qaeda like Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, there are other terrorist groups affiliated with Daesh, which are easily massacring people across Pakistan. In one of the bloodiest examples of their suicide attacks in the city of Mastung near Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s Balochistan province, in the middle of July, 280 people were killed or wounded. It is noteworthy that under these crucial conditions and as the country has been put on the FATF’s blacklist, the country’s security forces removed Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, the leader of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jama'at group, which is affiliated with Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, from their terror list. The measure was aimed at allowing this famous extremist element to run in the election while the group that he is leading, along with Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, is among banned groups in Pakistan due to their hostility toward the country’s Shia Muslims.

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the leader of Jama'at-ud-Da'wah who had previously tried to form a coalition with the Pakistan Muslim League but his effort was rejected by the Election Commission of Pakistan, announced in July that one hundred members of his extremist group would run in the election. In historical terms, Pakistani people do not support terrorist groups, but extremist figures enjoy strong support of the country’s army. The army is still the most powerful force within the structure of Pakistan’s government and has been traditionally using Salafi and Wahhabi organizations in its proxy war with India in the Indian-administered Kashmir and also to promote extremism in the neighboring Afghanistan. The army also supports the Taliban and the Haqqani network in Afghanistan.

 

Conditions and positions of major rival parties in the election

There are three main political parties in Pakistan, every one of which is trying to win the public vote by giving a collection of ambitious promises through their election manifestos:

  1. The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz): The Pakistan Muslim League is currently going through the worst period of its life over the past several decades. Its leader, Nawaz Sharif, and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, have been sentenced to ten and seven years in jail, respectively, by the country’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on charges of financial corruption in the case known as the “Panama Papers.” They were arrested upon their return from London in the middle of July at the Lahore airport. At the present time, Shehbaz Sharif, the brother of Nawaz and the former chief minister of Punjab, has to justify the party’s inefficiency during five years that the Pakistan Muslim League was in power and convince the Pakistani people to vote for it. The only hope that the Pakistan Muslim League had before the election was to win the votes of Punjab province. Most political, security and military officials of Pakistan hail from Punjab and this province is the most influential in determining the outcome of any elections.
  2. The Pakistan Peoples Party: According to the election manifesto announced by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the party’s slogan was “we have to realize Benazir Bhutto’s promise for protecting Pakistan.” He promised that while making an effort to bolster democracy in Pakistan and regulate people’s relations with the government, his party would turn the parliament into an accountable institution with regard to developments in Pakistan and will do away with poverty in the country. In foreign relations, the party promised to end Pakistan’s isolation and neutral role in the region and the world. However, all reports showed that this party would get the highest number of votes in the Sindh province, which is its traditional base, but would not be able to form a local government without forming a coalition with the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, which is made up of six Islamist parties and organizations.
  3. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf: Before the election, analysts predicted that the party would win at least 110 parliamentary seats and, as such, gave its leader, Imran Khan, a better chance of becoming the prime minister compared to leaders of other Pakistani parties. It was said that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf would gain the highest number of votes in Punjab to inflict a heavy defeat on the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). “A New Pakistan” was the slogan chosen by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which listed eleven promises in its election manifesto. The most important of those promises included fighting corruption, doing away with private education systems in provinces and introducing a single education system to unite all Pakistanis, turning Pakistan into the world’s tourism hub, creating jobs, building inexpensive housing, and reforming the country’s agriculture system.

 

The consequences of Pakistan’s parliament election for the Islamic Republic of Iran

With the possible victory of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), the current conditions in relations between Islamabad and Tehran would continue in which Pakistan will try to maintain a fragile balance in relations with Iran and relations with Saudi Arabia and the United States. However, the army, which does not have good relations with this party, will continue to play a more determining role in Pakistan’s foreign policy than the government.

Historical experience shows that if the Pakistan Peoples Party forms the next government, expansion of relations with Iran would be on its agenda and this center-left party would be able to get the agreement of the army as well.

However, victory of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and premiership of Imran Khan would be good news for Tehran in general. Imran Khan has so far had good personal relations with the Islamic Republic and even in June 2017 asked Nawaz Sharif to resign his post because of his lack of support for Tehran in an anti-Iran meeting held in Riyadh. Imran Khan also supported Iran's nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and removal of sanctions imposed on Iran in 2015. However, some analysts believe that the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has very close relations with the army and this issue can bring those extremist groups, which consider Iran as their archenemy, into Pakistan’s politics and give them more maneuvering room. In addition, Pakistan is heavily dependent on Saudi Arabia’s financial support for repaying its loans and this issue gives Saudis a good opportunity to increase their influence along Pakistan’s border with Iran.

Riyadh recently announced that it would join the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor project to pave the way for strengthening of relations with Islamabad through investment in Gwadar port.

At any rate, we must wait and see to what extent the new government and parliament in Pakistan would remain committed to maintaining the balance in their country’s relations with Iran, on the one hand, and with its hostile rivals, including Saudi Arabia and the United States, on the other hand, and how they would reduce acts of violence against Shias in Pakistan.

 

 Photo CreditDNA

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.

طراحی و توسعه آگاه‌سیستم