Pakistan’s Religious Parties Wiped Out in Elections, Again

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In Pakistan’s recent elections, the religious parties and groups failed to perform as well as many predicted or thought they would. Part of it has to do with the fact that majority of Pakistanis do not vote for religious parties when they have real alternatives.

In a recent column, security Muhammad Amir Rana notes that “performance of religious parties in the general election has been one of the worst — as it was in the national polls of 1997. In 2024, JUI-F only secured three National Assembly seats, similar to the 1997 results.”

According to Rana, “several factors contributed to JUI-F’s electoral defeat. These include internal differences, flawed candidate selection influenced by the leadership’s favouritism, and alleged ticket selling. There was a significant error of perception that the establishment had determined a governance role for the party in KP and Balochistan. The ascendancy of the Taliban in Afghanistan had bolstered this perception, leading the party leadership to believe it had the establishment’s support. However, the establishment could only utilise the party by ‘granting’ it a share in power. Additionally, the JUI-F overlooked the fact that these elections were against the status quo, which the establishment is seen to protect. The JUI-F secured a few votes in Sindh without any significant success; the major contributing factor in this performance was that the mainstream political parties hardly made serious attempts to challenge the PPP in the province.”

The performance of the Jamaat-i-Islami, Rana notes, “is a stark reminder that the party and its leadership are losing traction rapidly. The reliance on electoral tactics from the 1980s and 1990s is common among religious parties, who have yet to craft an appealing narrative or a compelling manifesto for the public. Clearly, the JI needs to undertake deep introspection and strategise to leverage its unique grassroots strengths for electoral success, prioritising local body elections, given its extensive welfare network and trained human resources. One notable example is the surprising victory in Balochistan of a JI candidate, who won a provincial assembly seat due to his renowned welfare work, which resonated with the voters. In Karachi, while the party benefited from the MQM’s boycott of the last local body elections, its perceived suitability for local governance also played a significant role in its success. JI can carve out a niche on the mainstream political landscape by focusing on local bodies in urban constituencies for at least the next two terms.”

While Rana notes, there was hype surrounding the TLP’s electoral prospects “the party has yet to impact the political landscape, except for securing a seat in Punjab and a few hundred thousand votes across Pakistan. Its performance shows that the strength of the religious partitas lies in their ideological narratives and sectarian sloganeering; when a conducive environment is not available to exploit public sentiments, these parties fail miserably. Interestingly, the TLP tried to project itself as a mainstream political party, offering an inclusive manifesto, with women’s participation, and highlighting inflation and price hikes in its election campaigns. However, the party failed to understand that mere sloganeering doesn’t qualify it to become a mainstream party.”

Yet, Rana warns, “this is not the end of the road for religious parties in Pakistan, as their institutions will continue thriving on the resources of the state and donations of the people.”

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Author: Naseer Baloch