Khawaja Akbar |
On July 25, the people of Pakistan will go to the polls for the third time in just over a decade, ensuring a peaceful transition of power between successive civilian governments. This is an unprecedented development in a country that has witnessed multiple military takeovers, since its independence. A positive spill-over effect of uninterrupted democracy, has been the development of political polling. Research firms such as Gallup and IPOR Consulting are conducting sophisticated surveys that describe the preferences of the public, allowing political junkies like me to get an insight into the upcoming elections, without having to marry someone with spiritual abilities or rely on TV pundits that tend to picture themselves as the Oracle from Matrix.
In this article, I will be discussing IPOR’s national survey on the political situation in Pakistan that addresses some of the most important questions, regarding the upcoming elections. The survey was conducted between June 13- July 04, 2018. Let’s begin with Nawaz Sharif’s claim that angelic forces or “Khalai Makhlooq”, were behind his dismissal from the Prime Minister’s office. 53% of the public doesn’t agree with Nawaz, while 39% support his claim nationally. However, on a provincial level, Punjab (48%) and Balochistan (55%) give more credence to Sharif’s accusation while an overwhelming majority in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) (66%) and Sindh (62%) reject his assertion.
Next, Pakistan Muslim League-N’s (PML-N) election slogan: “Vote ko izzat do”. Nationally, 47% dislike it whereas 49% favour it. Provincially, the slogan garners greater support in Balochistan (61%) and Punjab (60%) and roughly the same percentage of people are against it, in KP (64%) and Sindh (59%). Unfortunately, this highlights the growing segmentation of our country, as national leaders draw their strength from a particular province and lack national appeal.
PPP and PML-N have become increasingly provincial over the past decade. Fortunately or unfortunately, ANP, MMA, and MQM (including its splinter groups) will seemingly have a negligible impact nationally.
For Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), the most troubling figure is the public’s perception of Imran Khan, as a potential prime minister. 44% believe that he will do a poor job due to his lack of experience, whereas 46% think he will be a “good” chief executive. The disapproval rating for Khan, indicative in the above numbers, as a prime minister is disturbingly high, even though his likability number stands at 53%. Marrying twice in the space of five years, at the tender age of 60 not 16, might have something to do with the above numbers. It is possible that his erratic decision over the past few years has dented the public’s confidence in him, although they still like him on a personal level.
On the other hand, Shahbaz Sharif has a considerably better rating with 56% viewing him positively in the role for the top job nationally, while only 37% view him unfavorably. This might also explain the younger’s brother lack of eagerness, in protesting his brother and niece’s jail term. But will his strategy beat the curse that has haunted Prince Charles for decades? We will find out in less than a week.
Surprisingly and contrary to popular opinion, Bilawal Bhutto and Maryam Nawaz have the lowest likeability ratings. 60% of the voters dislike Bilawal. 51% dislike Maryam and 49% do not like Nawaz Sharif. That’s a wakeup call for sycophants (aka GEO) who have been comparing Nawaz to Nelson Mandela and Maryam to Fatima Jinnah.
Looking at voter profiles, PML-N have a significant lead with respect to women voters, 8% more than PTI (maybe the Mariam effect), and those over the age of 40. However, PTI maintains a 10 point gap with voters who have an intermediate qualification or higher (only 20% have intermediate education or higher in Pakistan) and a 4 point lead vis-à-vis voters between the age of 18-25. Across all provinces, the three major issues that concern voters include: Unemployment, load-shedding and corruption. Additionally, over 60% of the people believe that the country is heading in the wrong direction, while 35% are optimistic about the future.
44% believe that he will do a poor job due to his lack of experience, whereas 46% think he will be a “good” chief executive. The disapproval rating for Khan, indicative in the above numbers, as a prime minister is disturbingly high, even though his likability number stands at 53%.
This is a worrying statistic for incumbents as people tend to vote for change, when they believe the country’s future is looking bleak. If anyone from the security establishment is reading my piece, they would be happy to discover that more than 70% of the country is satisfied with the law and order situation and remain optimistic about the future with respect to safety and security. Lifafa Please? Time to move to the most important part of the survey. The publics voting preferences provincially and nationally.
In Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif’s has the support of 76% of the population, down 6% from last year. However, only 50% said they would vote for PML-N in Punjab and 31% intend to vote for Khan. In contrast, 64% of KPK’s population approved of PTI’s performance, down by a massive 15% from last year. Out of the 64%, 45% plan to vote for PTI and PTI’s provincial position is strengthened by the fact that the combined vote of PML-N (12%), ANP (8%), MMA (6%) and PPP (5%) amounts to only 31% in the province.
The fact that PML-N is failing to challenge the PTI on their home turf, allows PTI to focus on Punjab, having to spend few resources to hold on to KPK. This is a strategic error on part of the PML-N. They would have been able to better defend Punjab, had they put up a fight against PTI in KPK, forcing PTI to divert funds. PPP leads in Sindh with 35%, as PTI lags behind with just 18% of the vote. Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P) ranks fourth with only 7% of the vote, behind PML-N’s 10%. Even Nostradmus would not have been able to predict the dramatic change in MQM’s fortunes, who were the undisputed kings of Karachi, just a decade ago.
Balochistan is turning out to be a hotchpotch of various parties with PPP at 16%, MMA at 12%, PKMAP at 10% and PTI capturing 8% of the vote. These statistics highlight how the province has been ignored by the major parties, partially a result of the democratic system, as small number of national assembly seats reduces the attractiveness of political investment while increasing the cost-benefit ratio of campaigning.
51% dislike Maryam and 49% do not like Nawaz Sharif. That’s a wakeup call for sycophants (aka GEO) who have been comparing Nawaz to Nelson Mandela and Maryam to Fatima Jinnah.
Looking at the national picture, PML-N holds a slim lead with 32%, down by 5% from an year ago. Whereas, PTI gains 2% and moves to 29%. PPP hold their ground at 13% of the national vote. Isolating Punjab’s preference vis-a-vis national elections, PTI has gained 7 points in the past year, moving from 24% to 31% whereas PML-N has lost 7 points during the same time period, moving from 57% to 50%.
From the above statistics, it is quite evident that PTI will retain KPK. PPP will hold on to Sindh. Balochistan will have a coalition government, most likely led by PPP. And PML-N will win more seats within Punjab than PTI and looks likely to hold on to its provincial government.
On the national level, PTI is emerging as the only national party in terms of representation in all provinces, but whether they will manage to win more NA seats than PML-N is too close to call. PPP and PML-N have become increasingly provincial over the past decade. Fortunately or unfortunately, ANP, MMA, and MQM (including its splinter groups) will seemingly have a negligible impact nationally.
Therefore, if election day results are in line with IPOR’s survey, we can expect to see a coalition government in the centre. Most importantly, this will be the result of the peoples’ choice and not the “Establishment” as portrayed by some. Even the best of political engineers can only influence the reality on the ground to a certain extent but they cannot completely dictate the eventual outcome. No “Khalai Makhlooq” can takeaway Sindh from PPP in this election cycle, or snatch KPK from PTI. Nor can they eliminate PML-N from Punjab, which will remain a force provincially, at least for the next 5 years.
Personally, the best statistic for Pakistan in this report is peoples’ willingness to vote in 2018, compared to earlier elections. Whereas 23% of the people reported not to have voted in the last election, only 5% claim they are unlikely to vote this year. Around 93% of the public intends to vote on July 25 and this is an abject rejection, of all those elements that claim Pakistan’s democracy is under threat. Without getting into a debate regarding the accuracy of polls or the testing methodology, we can safely assume that democracy is truly taking root in Pakistan and irrespective of who rules for the next five years, the future remains bright as the current generation seems to have embraced this political system with open arms.
Khawaja Akbar is a part-time lecturer with an interest in history, politics and economics. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.