By Imran Khalid
Sep 19, 2018
THE voting data of 2018 elections in Pakistan have divulged an interesting trend as far as the performance of the religio-political parties is concerned. In elections each time since 1977, with the exception of the atypical episode of the 2002 vote when the religious sentiments were smartly exploited against the US by the religio-political parties in the aftermath of the 9/11 situation, the vote bank of the traditional religio-political parties has shown the signs of gradual shrinkage while suddenly there is an upsurge in the popularity of a different kinds of religious party which arrived on the scene just few months back — Allama Khadim Hussein Rizvi’s Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan.
A cursory glance at the data shows that all the old and considered-to-be-well-entrenched religio-political parties, including the Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazlur Rehman, Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan – Noorani and the Sunni Tehreek, are fast losing the support in their respective strongholds. This trend is not surprising at all. But nobody could have imagined as near as in October 2017 that the Tehreek-e-Labbaik would suddenly emerge as the most potent religious force on the political horizon backed by a very handsome vote bank that is scattered in almost every constituency in Pakistan.
The 2018 election data reveal interesting trends of the religious vote. All the religio-political parties, including big alliances and smaller splinter groups, together secured around 5.1 million votes in total, amounting to 9.6 per cent of the total valid votes cast in the 2018 elections. The most striking feature is the fact that the Tehreek-e-Labbaik, a nascent party that contested the general election for the very first time within the first year of its existence, has suddenly overshadowed all the chronic custodians of religion who have been the self-proclaimed flag-bearer of Islam for the last seven decades in Pakistan.
The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, an amalgamation of five religio-political parties, fielded candidates in 191 national assembly constituencies and 404 constituencies of the four provincial assemblies. On the other hand, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik contested in 178 national assembly constituencies and some 388 provincial assemblies. But the results are astonishing.
The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, which won 12 national assembly seats and 19 provincial seats — all from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan only — and secured 2.5 million votes while the Tehreek-e-Labbaik alone captured 2.2 million votes but managed to win only 2 Sindh assembly seats. The difference between the two on overall votes is less than 3,50,000 but the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal succeeded to win a lot more seats in the centre and two provincial assemblies compared with the Tehreek-e-Labbaik.
This proves one phenomenon that the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal parties have their support concentrated in a few areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, while the Tehreek-e-Labbaik’s supporters are more or less homogeneously distributed in all parts of Pakistan. This explains why the Tehreek-e-Labbaik, despite winning almost the same number of votes as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, failed to win a reasonable number of seats in the legislature.
The second interesting feature of the religious vote is that if we minus the factor of independent candidates, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik emerged as the fourth ‘single’ largest party in Pakistan on the basis of number of valid votes, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal is not a single party but a five-party alliance. The Tehreek-e-Labbaik garnered 18,76,265 votes from Punjab, 4,14,635 votes from Sindh, 78,125 voters from the KPK and 11,00 votes from Balochistan.
Strangely, in spite of being the third largest vote gainer and receiving more votes in Punjab than the Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarian, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik could not bag a single seat while the Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarian was able to win six seats with lesser votes — the drawback of scattered votes. Factually speaking, the religious parties have never captured a tangible number of votes in any general elections. The only significant success achieved by the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal was in 2002 when, after the US intervention in Afghanistan, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal successfully capitalised on the already simmering anti-American sentiments and registered unprecedented electoral success.
This was the only time when these religious parties were able to make some palpable scores — 3.1 million votes (12.28 per cent of valid votes). In 2008, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal and other religious parties together were bitterly humbled by a massive decline and hardly captured 0.9 million votes (2.85 per cent of valid votes). However, these religio-political parties regained some lost ground in 2013 although they were contesting mostly in individual capacity. In 2013, all the old and traditional religio-political parties, including Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazlur Rehman (1.45 million votes) and Jamaat-e-Islami (0.95 million votes) together secured around three million votes (6.68 per cent of valid votes), but their vote bank has significantly shrivelled to 2.5 million (4.8 per cent of votes) in 2018.
So the voting pattern of 2018 makes a loud statement; there is gradual dwindling of support for traditional religio-political elements while the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan is fast emerging a new Islamic political entity in Pakistan. In 2017, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan suddenly popped up on the political scene with massive protests in opposition to ‘blasphemy’ changes in the Elections Bill 2017. The mysterious arrival of the Tehreek-e-Labbiak Pakistan, under the leadership of Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi, with the backing of the influential quarters, is a new phenomenon in the religious segment of Pakistani politics and it is likely to be further nourished in the coming days so as to utilise it as per the ‘situation’.
Although Allam Khadim Hussain Rizvi launched his election campaign under the new 12-point party manifesto, which is obviously not different from any other Islamist party as far as the ‘sincere intentions’ are concerned, but the voters have not voted him for his new manifesto or some ‘revolutionary agenda’. Instead, the voters, primarily belonging to the Barelvi sect, supported him because of his ‘emotional’ attachment to the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat slogans — the finality of Prophethood of the Prophet Mohammad.
Reportedly, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal invited him to join hands in the 2018 elections, but Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi declined to be part of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal and decided to contest the election as a single entity. He knew well that by joining any alliance, he would not be able to categorically prove his statistical strength among voters. By going alone, and expectedly winning more votes than any other religio-political party, Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi wanted to use the 2018 elections to emphatically establish the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan as the biggest Islamist party so as to have a better bargaining position in the future. This is exactly what happened.
Although the Tehreek-e-Labbiak Pakistan has not won more than two provincial seats, he has snatched a reasonable number of votes and practically damaged the PML-N in some of the closely fought constituencies. Technically speaking, both former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Khadim Hussain Rizvi belong to the same school of religious thoughts and there is every evidence that some of the disgruntled supporters of the PML-N, who are seriously convinced that Mian Nawaz Sharif was the main culprit behind the blasphemy aspect of the controversial Election Bill 2017, have actually preferred to vote for the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan rather than other political parties with more secular and liberal leanings like the Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarian and the PTI.
The supporters of old religio-political parties, like Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazlur Rehman, are mostly drawn from an exclusively traditional and fixed religious pockets and they are mostly confined to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, but the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, apart from religious voters, has attracted the attention of general voters that had been so far supporting the liberal and progressive political parties. This is perhaps the main difference between the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan and older religious parties. The supporters of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan are scattered in a reasonable number in almost all the constituencies.
Till the late 1970s, Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan, under the leadership of Shah Ahmad Noorani, remained the main representative of this sect, but during the Zia period, it gradually lost its supporters to Pakistan Awami Tehreek of Allam Tahir ul Qadri, who, despite utmost efforts to lure the voters of the Barelvi sect and present himself as a sole spokesperson for them, failed miserably to register any respectable electoral success and eventually moved to Canada in utter disappointment. Allama Tahir ul Qadri, in spite of his periodic sojourns in Pakistan, has not been able to make a revival while the Tehreek-e-Labbiak Pakistan has very quickly filled the chronic void left by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan but in a very different — and violent — way.
The disproportionately aggressive tone of Khadim Hussain Rizvi is anti-thesis to the extreme softness and sophistication of Maulana Shah Ahmed Noorani. But this aggression contains a charm for his emotional supporters and Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi is using this aggression very effectually to entice his target audience. The results of the 2018 general elections have set a new tone for the religio-political elements in Pakistani politics, but more than anything else, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan has established its nuisance credentials to play an ‘effective’ role in the future power politics in Pakistan.
Dr Imran Khalid is a freelance contributor from Karachi, Pakistan.