Islamabad, Pakistan – Five days after Pakistan’s general election, two opposing parties, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), have both announced plans to form a government – with the PTI allying with religious parties and the PPP supporting the rival Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN).
The PTI leadership on Tuesday announced that its independent candidates would try to form a federal government and one in Punjab province by joining a coalition with the minority party Majlis-e-Wahdat-Muslimeen (MWM).
The party also said its candidates in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province would ally with another religious party, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), to form a government.
Thursday’s elections delivered a split mandate with no party securing a majority in the National Assembly. Independent candidates affiliated with jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s PTI won the most seats. But to form a government, they still need to be part of a political party or a coalition.
In announcing the coalition plan on Tuesday, PTI spokesperson Raoof Hasan said he had been mandated by Khan to approach all political parties other than the “PPP, PMLN and MQM”, or Muttahida Qaumi Movement.
“Imran Khan has a clear message that formation of a government is the right of who had won the elections,” Hasan said at a press conference in Islamabad.
Former cricketer Khan was ousted from power in a parliamentary vote of no confidence in April 2022. The PTI was also forced to field its candidates as independents after its electoral symbol, a cricket bat, was stripped from it in January for violating election laws.
Khan has maintained he will not engage with three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s PMLN or former Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s PPP, calling them “corrupt”.
Alleged vote tampering
In Thursday’s polls, PTI-backed candidates emerged on top with 93 seats in the National Assembly whereas the PMLN was the single biggest party with 75 seats. The PPP was the third highest with 54 seats.
To form a government, a party or coalition needs a simple majority of 134 seats in the National Assembly out of the 266 that were voted on during the general election.
Besides the 266 directly elected seats, an additional 60 seats are reserved for women and 10 for minorities.
Those seats are distributed among parties according to the ratio of seats they won, but independents will not receive these quota seats.
While two parties can form a coalition and still retain their individual identity and policies, independent candidates, once they join a party, must adhere to that party’s discipline and decisions.
The PTI has insisted that its singular majority was stolen in the election due to alleged tampering and vote manipulation.
Barrister Gohar Ali Khan, the PTI’s interim party chief, said on Tuesday that the PTI believes it has won 180 seats, instead of 93. “We will share a white paper with all the details,” he added.
Neither Hasan nor Gohar Ali Khan said who would be the party’s candidates for prime minister, speaker and deputy speaker in parliament.
PPP support for PMLN
Hours after the PTI’s announcement, the PPP said it would join hands with the PMLN in its own effort to form a government but said the PPP decided against taking any role in the cabinet.
Bhutto-Zardari, the PPP chairperson, said his party would endorse the PMLN’s candidate for the position of prime minister and would align with it.
He said he would not be putting his name forward for the premiership.
“We do not have the mandate to form a government in the federation, and therefore, I will not be putting myself forward for the candidacy of the prime minister,” he said during a press conference in Islamabad on Tuesday.
Bhutto-Zardari expressed his desire to see his father, former President Asif Ali Zardari, return to that position while also announcing the party would put candidates forward for Senate chairperson and speaker of the National Assembly.
“We ran this election on the manifesto based on public importance, and we want to restore political stability and want to end this environment of political toxicity,” the PPP chairperson said.
‘Politics of confrontation’
Political analyst Benazir Shah said the decision by the PPP seems to be a smart move.
“The PPP has been trying to make inroads into Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, for the past few years. This is an opportunity for them to spend the next five years mobilising their party in the province, especially since these election results show weakening of PMLN’s vote bank,” she told Al Jazeera.
“The PPP has its eyes set on 2029, not on 2024.”
Regarding the PTI, analyst Mehmal Sarfraz said it was incumbent on the party to ensure its winning candidates join the MWM so party discipline applies to them and they cannot jump ship.
However, she questioned Imran Khan, for refusing to engage with other political parties.
“This is not about any principle. This is about Khan’s narrative of hate against these parties and his divisive politics. It is unfortunate that PTI is not willing to talk to any other mainstream political party. Democracy is also about co-existence and tolerating other’s point of view, but PTI’s politics is essentially ‘either with us or against us’,” she told Al Jazeera.
Shah concurred, saying that while the election results show that Pakistani voters want to see the PTI in office, it appears Khan is still adamant on “politics of confrontation”.
“His refusal to sit with the PPP to form a government signals that Khan is still not ready to sit with political parties in the larger interest of democracy,” she added.
Sarfraz believes that, given the circumstances, the PPP made the right call by joining the PMLN alliance, adding that it is the PMLN that needs the PPP, not the other way around.
“No party has the numbers to form a government on its own. Ideally, the PPP would have wanted Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari to be the leader of the opposition. But options are limited, especially because of the PTI’s rigid stance. So this is effectively the only thing they could have done,” the Lahore-based analyst said.