While a PPP/PML-N alliance may be the primary coalition in the government, it is not the only one. None of the country’s parties won a majority of the National Assembly, “and negotiations are continuing between rivals keen to forge a coalition big enough to hold power in the 342-seat parliament.” PPP has reportedly also been in coalition talks with the MQM, and, most notably, with the Awami National Party (ANP), the secular political party that essentially replaced the religious coalition, the MMA, in NWFP. On Saturday, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported that the top leaders of both the PPP and ANP agreed to form a coalition government in that province, since the two parties had gained a majority.
In my coverage of the results of the elections, I have so far neglected to highlight the significance of the MMA defeat in the NWFP. The religious coalition originally held 46 of provincial parliamentary seats, but only won nine on Monday – partly because of the religious parties’ boycott of the elections (with the exception of the JUI), and partly due to the voice of the people, unhappy with the poor governance demonstrated by the MMA. According to a significant piece in yesterday’s Christian Science Monitor, “It is an important development in the province nearest Pakistan’s tribal areas, known to host Al Qaeda and the Taliban and the new focus of US anti-terror policy. The ANP is expected to marshal all the province’s resources – police, politics, and the law – against extremism, whereas the mullahs had refused even to condemn suicide attacks.”
The Monitor interviewed some NWFP residents, who voted for the ANP not as a veto of religious politics, but as a desire for a government that is both fair and ethical. The Monitor commented on the significance of the province as a whole, noting, “As a province, it cannot set military policy – that is the job of the National Assembly and the Army. Nor does it play a direct role in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where militant warlords rule much of the territory; FATA policy is determined in Islamabad. Yet the NWFP is the first bulwark against the spread of terrorism into the heart of Pakistan, and under the mullahs’ watch little was done to check it.” A member of the ANP’s central executive committee, Lateef Afridi, reasoned, “Everyday you hear about a music store being bombed or such-and-such a place being attacked by the Taliban…That created a panic in the minds of the people.” Moreover, noted the Monitor piece, “The notion of negotiation [referring to negotiating peaceful solutions to the proposed military options in fighting the Taliban] is ingrained in the Pashtun mind – a legacy of the jirgas, or councils, that have ruled Pashtun tribes for centuries – and it has great popular support here. The MMA’s mullahs ran afoul of public opinion by abandoning such principles, residents say.”
Ultimately, the victory of the ANP and the subsequent PPP-ANP coalition in the NWFP is a marked change from a religious coalition that advocated Islamic law and poorly governed the province. What is more significant is that their success represents the success of the political process. In Pakistan, we have never allowed an election cycle to play itself out – on the national level the process has always been disrupted by coups, takeovers, and the like. In Monday’s election, the people of the NWFP, who themselves voted in the Islamic coalition, voted the MMA out of power. Democracy is not just one cycle of elections – it is the accountability of the victors after said elections. The success of the ANP within this context is therefore more noteworthy.