No Religious Party Won In Pak Polls, And Thereby Hangs A Message

SRINAGAR — Even though emergence of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf of Imran Khan as the single largest party in Pakistan elections was along expected lines, the defeat of religious parties was not. Hardly anyone could have predicted their complete rout and thereby hangs a message. And which is that a lot of analysis about Pakistan is wittingly or unwittingly informed by prejudice or overwhelmed by a longstanding stereotypical view of the country – and not necessarily for no reason.  

Some examples of the loss of the tall religious and leaders are stunning. In Lower Dir, the otherwise stronghold of Jama’at-e-Islami, the  PTI leader Bashir Khan defeated Jamaat-i-Islami chief Sirajul Haq by a margin of nearly 17,000 votes. It was one of the biggest upsets in the election. Jama’at could win only one seat each in the National Assembly and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly.

Overall, religious parties, including Jamaat-u-Dawa led by Hafiz Saeed, had fielded a record 460 candidates in the elections. Saeed’s party had fielded 265 candidates, all of them lost.

But apart from the PTI which emerged the single largest party by far, mainstream parties like the PML-N and Pakistan People’s Party did do well and stay very well in the reckoning in Pakistan’s political landscape. Nor has Pakistan chosen the candidates with a deeply polarising political agenda, unlike even the United States which in Donald Trump has elected a leader with a divisive agenda.   So, the election outcome has been the opposite of the stereotype of Pakistan as a country where religious parties rule the roost.


Although it is still premature how Imran Khan, a legendary cricketer, will eventually turn out in power, his election has been a refreshing change. In the PML-N and the PPP, his party has defeated two parties headed by two powerful families. Certainly, Khan has tapped into his massive fan base which extends even beyond Pakistan’s borders. He made the fight against corruption one of his central election planks. And considering Sharif and many of his party leaders are mired in corruption charges, Khan’s message resonated with people. Even the PPP, the other major political party headed by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari suffered from similar charges, making Khan the only politician with a clean image. The former cricketer has also completely altered Pakistan’s electoral scene which up until now was split between the PML-N and the PPP.  

Religious parties, on the contrary,  have never enjoyed political power in the country, except, of course, through their immense street power. So, their rout in elections doesn’t write their challenge off. They have, anyways, blamed their loss on the powerful Pakistan military, a charge that has found takers even beyond Pakistan. But the fact that the religious parties have never been in a driving seat in the country, a tradition that was only reinforced by the latest election, is a political reality that cannot be ignored. On the contrary, in India, the rightwing groups have grown from strength to strength in recent decades. These groups have brazenly pandered to the majority community and spawned hatred towards the minorities. In that sense, Pakistan polls hold a lesson which shouldn’t be overlooked.



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