By FAROOQ TARIQ
A right-wing wave swept Pakistan in the May 11 general elections. At the federal level, the conservative Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) will form the government, having won 35% of the vote.
Former Pakistani cricket captain Imran Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf, came second with 19% of the vote and surprised many. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the ruling party for the past five years, came third with only 15%—thanks to Sindh where it was able to fetch most of its votes.
Almost 62% of total votes went to right-wing and religious parties, for the first time in the history of Pakistan. Although the religious parties were not united in a single platform, the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUIF) still won 10 seats nationally. It also won 22% of the votes in Baluchistan and 1% in Khaiber Pukhtoon Khawa province, the two provinces bordering Afghanistan.
Unlike in the 2002 general elections, the JUIF will not be able to form governments in these provinces; however, it will form a considerable force of reaction. It will try its best to raise its support by opposing the provincial governments.
The elections took place despite consistent attacks by the religious fanatics on election rallies and candidates. The attacks left more than 200 dead in different parts of Pakistan, mainly in Khaiber Pukhtoonkhawa, Sindh, and Baluchistan.
Taliban and other fanatical groups were able to carry out deadly attacks despite all the security measures deployed by the police, paramilitary and military forces.
The PPP was punished for obeying the orders from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. During the PPP government, prices went up but were not matched by pay raises for public sector employees.
Private-sector workers were the most exploited part of the working class during the PPP government. It was a government littered with corruption and bad management in all sectors. The PPP vote dropped from 36% in 2008 to a little over 15%.
The PPP election campaign was restricted to newspapers and television, with no mass activity on the ground. It did not hold one major rally or public meeting during the election campaign. The PPP was able to retain Sindh support, securing 38% due to spending almost all federal state resources during the past five years on the province.
The right-wing PMLN got the best result, due to the PMLN Punjab government’s performance during the last five years. It was able to build a 27-kilometre-long Metro Bus route in Lahore and advocated such development projects in other cities.
Khan’s PTI was able to replace the PPP in Punjab due to the total bankruptcy of the PPP’s policies and the strategies of those parties with a more right-wing neoliberal program.
The Awami Workers Party, a socialist party formed by the merger of three left groups last year, decided to contest 12 federal seats, 10 provincial seats in Khaiber Pukhtoonkhawa (KPK), 10 in Punjab, and two in Sindh.
In KPK, AWP chairperson Fanoos Gujar was able to fetch more than 10,000 votes. In Faisalabad, a textile worker contesting the election on an AWP ticket got more than 3%. Although the election campaign gave AWP a chance to popularize its name and win some new members, it was unable to break through.
The AWP organized more than 60 corner meetings and received a sympathetic hearing from voters. However, the party was not seen as one of the top contenders in the race.
There have been many allegations of vote rigging made against almost all parties. The rich spent huge amounts of money in the election and violated the election commission’s code of conduct in almost all the seats. This included violating the condition of maximum expenditure of 1 million rupees one million (about $10,000) for provincial assembly and 1.5 million rupees for national assembly elections.
In Toba Tek Singh, where I unsuccessfully contested the seat for the AWP, the code of conduct was violated by other parties by setting up camps near polling stations, canvasing inside the polling stations, providing free transport to voters and spending millions of rupees on election campaign. Despite my making several applications to the district administrations, no effective action was taken to stop these violations.
Not much will change for the working class under a PMLN government. It might get worst. The PMLN is committed to implementing a neoliberal agenda with more effective means. The PPP government was unable to carry out privatization due to huge mass resistance.
The PMLN, with its mass support and no resistance from any major political party, will carry out the mass privatization of public-sector departments. It will use the excuse of needing to cut state losses on these institutions. It will try to do this in its first 100 days in power. Trade unions will have a hard time under PMLN.
The soft strategy of the PMLN towards the Taliban will pave the way for more right-wing forces to popularize themselves among the masses. The proposed talks with the Taliban are unlikely to produce positive results. The failure of talks could pave the way for a more aggressive military solution towards religious fundamentalism. This was the strategy adopted by the government in KPK since 2008, but it failed miserably and was wiped out politically. The PMLN will try to do the same with more sensitivity but will not succeed.
The fight against religious fundamentalism can only be carried by making fundamental changes in state structures, separating the state from religion, ending state subsidies for private religious educational institutions, nationalization of all madrassas (religious fundamentalist schools), and introducing far reaching reforms in education—including spending at least 10% of state budget on education.
From International Viewpoint, on-line journal of the Fourth International. Farooq Tariq is the general secretary of the Awami Workers Party.