At the time of 1988 elections, the Pakistan Muslim League, headed by Mohammad Nawaz Sharif, was part of eight-party Islamic Democratic Alliance (Islami Jamhoori Ittehad) which also had as other components the Jamaat-Islami, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam and the National People’s Party of Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi and smaller religious and regional organizations. The election results showed the PPP emerging as the single largest party with 94 of 237 seats in the National Assembly that included 20 seats reserved for women and 10 for non-Muslim minorities.The IJI bagged 55 seats but Mr Nawaz Sharif chose to serve the Punjab as the chief minister. The PPP formed the coalition government and Benazir Bhutto was elected as the prime minister. The IJI nominated Khan Abdul Wali Khan as a compromise candidate to be the opposition leader in the National Assembly while the ruling party promoted Malik Meraj Khalid as the speaker. It was during this PPP government that bad governance and corruption raised its ugly head so unabashedly as to give Mr Asif Ali Zardari, a federal minister in Benazir’s cabinet, the title of “Mr 10 per cent” that came to be known internationally. These social evils made so striding a headway as to force the opposition move a vote of no-confidence against the Benazir Bhutto government. The move was defeated at a National Assembly session in October 1989 but not without making a deep impact on the country’s political and democratic growth. It was upon the heels of this no-trust motion that President Ghulam Ishaq Khan charged the PPP government with corruption and lack of governance and dismissed the National Assembly and the first Bhutto government.
1990: The next general elections were held on October 24 and 27, 1990 and the PML(N) was still part of the IJI and its candidates were returned from 105 National Assembly seats as against 45 secured by the People’s Democratic Alliance (PDA) of which the Pakistan People’s Party was a part. The PDA also had the membership of Air Marshal Asghar Khan’s Tehrik-i-Istiqlal, Malik Mohamms Qasim’s PML(Qasim) and another PML faction headed by Khawaja Khairuddin.
This time around Mohammad Nawaz Sharif accepted the challenge of leading the country as its chief executive. Benazir Bhutto was nominated as the opposition leader. Mr Nawaz Sharif took over in a peaceful, constitutional transfer of power–the third prime minister since Zia’s death in August 1988 — ushering in an era of democracy. Nawaz Sharif’s ascendancy also marked a transition in the political culture of Pakistan–a power shift from the traditional feudal aristocracy to a growing class of modern and moderate entrepreneurs. This transition mirrored the socio-economic changes that had been at work in Pakistan, moving the country gradually from a feudal to an industrial society. This shift in political system is the singular largest political contribution made by the party headed by Nawaz Sharif.
Election results also showed Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) emerging as the third major party with 15 seats, followed by six each by the Awami National Party and Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam and eight by regional political parties. Independent candidates won 21 seats. Gohar Ayub Khan was elected as the speaker. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif 0allowed foreign money exchange to be transacted through private money exchangers. Before that one could buy foreign exchange only from government bank not exceeding the amount of 1,000 USD. This was of immense benefit to the common people as a high percentage of the population has relatives living abroad and usually also receive remittances from abroad.
The opposition to the Nawaz Sharif government started when almost all other political parties of the country formed the Grand Democratic Alliance with Nawabzada Nasrullah Khah Khan as president and Hamid Naser Chatha as secretary-general in addition to the PPP launching its campaign as the “Long March”. The opposition pressure mounted on President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and he dismissed the National Assembly on April 18, 1993 and sent the Sharif government packing. The PML-N moved the Supreme Court and it restored the National Assembly and the Sharif government on May 26. But the SC order invited the interference from the armed forces which held negotiations with Mr Nawaz Sharif asking him to step down. The talks culminated at the resignation of Mr Nawaz Sharif who also, in turn, got Ghulam Ishaq Khan removed from the Presidency. This closed the chapter of another democratic government as a consequence to extraneous reasons.
1993: A fresh call to the electorate resulted in new elections that were held on October 6, 1993 and that once more saw the further weakening of the political and democratic process. The Pakistan People’s Party emerged the single largest party with a share of 86 seats in the National Assembly. This tally was closely followed by the PML-N score of 73 seats while the PML (Junejo) bagged six seats. Three seats each went to Islamic Democratic Front (IJM), the Aweami National Party, the United Religious Front (Muttahida Religious Front), the Pakistan Islamic Front, the Pakhtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party. Two seats went the Jamhoori Watan Party and one each to the Balochistan National Party (Hayee) and Balochistan Natioinal Party (Mengal) and one each to the National Democratic Alliance the Pakhtoonkhwa Qaumi Party and the National People’s Party. As many as 15 independent candidates were also returned to the lower house of parliament. The MQM did not contest NA elections but chose to show its heavy presence in the Sindh Assembly.
The election led to a hung parliament and created the weakest government so far. Benazir Bhutto was elected the prime minister and Nawaz Sharif posed her a permanent warning as the opposition leader. Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, the incumbent prime minister, was elected as the NA speaker. Benazir Bhutto was already treading a fragile corridor because the difference of seats between her party and that of Nawaz Sharif was as thin as 13. Still her party’s political denomination featured all the elements like mounting corruption and worsening governance that cost her the first government 15 years ago.
That is why Nawaz Sharif launched Tehrik-e-Nijat (The movement to rid of Benazir’s government) and this ultimately led to its dismissal. An ironic aspect of this dismissal of the National Assembly was that it was prompted the then president Farooq Leghari, once a trusted lieutenant of Benazir who sent her to the Presidency as a safeguard for her and the PPP’s government after the office was vacated by Ghulam Ishaq Khan. During that movement, Nawaz Sharif traveled through the length and breadth of Pakistan. He had also embarked on a train march from Lahore to Peshawar as part of his campaign to oust Benazir. It is also an irony that as sworn in as Prime Minister for the first time in 1988 at the age of 35, but was removed from office 20 months later under the order of then-president Ghulam Ishaq Khan on grounds of corruption. In 1993 also President Farooq Leghari sent her government and the National Assembly packing on the same grounds. Benazir went into a self-imposed exile in Dubai in 1998.
Then came the caretaker government of Malik Meraj Khalid, also a PPP stalwart and National Assembly speaker of the first Benazir Bhutto government with the mandate to hold fresh elections.
1997: The 1997 elections, held on February 3, 1997, was the PML-N sweeping the polls bagging 137 of 237 seats in the National Assembly. The main opposition Pakistan People’s Party was squeezed to an extent of getting only 18 seats, only two from the largest province of Punjab. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement followed the PPP close on its heels to win 12 seats while the Awami National Party came up with 10 seats. The Baluchistan National Party secured three seats while two each went to JUI (F) and the Jamhoori Watan Party. The parties with one seat each were the PPP(Shaheed Bhutto) and the National People’s Party. The number of independent winners this time was 21, the highest so far.
With a two-thirds majority, the PML-N and its chief Nawaz Sharif were best placed to give the country after decades a powerful and stable government that guaranteed a sustainable democracy and accomplish a pro-people agenda that the PML-N had proclaimed the same year. Nawaz Sharif became the prime minister for the second time and Benazir Bhutto was elected the opposition leader till she went into exile a year later. Makhdoom Amin Faheem replaced her in the office.
Repealing the controversial Eighth Amendment through the 13th Constitutional Amendment that stripped the president of his powers, under Article 52(b) derived under the Eighth Amendment, to dismiss the prime minister and dissolve the National Assembly was a major service that Nawaz Sharif’s second government rendered to strengthen democracy. He added another milestone to the constitution when parliament adopted the anti-defection Fourteenth Amendment Bill. The Ehtesab Act, 1997 was also adopted to proceed against corruption and corrupt practices. The stupendous Lahore-Islamabad motorway was also appreciated by all segments of society. And above all, this was during this term that Pakistan carried out its nuclear tests on May 28, 1998, in response to the Indian detonation of its five nuclear devices. The Nawaz government had found it imperative for Pakistan to carry out these nuclear tests to provide an effective defense and deterrence against Indian adventurism. A nuclear Pakistan emerged in the world map and has proved to be a genuine defense and deterrence particular when Indian frenzy touched new heights during Mumbai attacks of November 2007 and, several international reports suggest that India had decided to launch an offensive against Pakistan but abandoned the aggressive design only because of Pakistan’s nuclear capability.
However, Gen Pervez Musharraf on October 12, 1999, staged a military coup to bring to an end the second term of Nawaz Sharif’s government. After the dismissal of the elected and representative government, Gen Musharraf sent Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif to the 16th century Attock Fort, where they passed 14 months in isolation. Musharraf also proclaimed a state of emergency in Pakistan, suspending the constitution and proclaiming as the chief executive. During the incarceration period, the Sharifs brothers were sentenced to two concurrent life terms on the charges of hijacking and terrorism. Mr Nawaz Sharif was also convicted for corruption and a court banned him for life from political activities. The two brothers were still in the desolated fort when sent on exile to Saudi Arabia along with their brother Abbas Sharif and other members of their families on Dec 10, 2000. In 2007, the family decided to return home. Mr Nawaz Sharif moved the Supreme Court for permission and it ruled on June 23, 2007 that he and other members of his family and the families of his brothers can return home. After that Nawaz Sharif announced that he would return, along with Shhbaz Sharif, on September 10, 2007. But the Musharraf regime barred the two brothers from coming out of the Islamabad airport. They were sent back by another flight. The Sharifs succeeded in returning home in the second attempt on Nov 25, 2007.
The results of elections since two decades from 1988 saw that the emergence of Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N made a qualitative change and lent stability to the democratic polity. Not only the PML-N bagged more seats in 1990 and 1997 elections than the PPP tally of National Assembly berths in 1988 and 1993 but also caused a paradigm political shift from traditional feudal families to urban centers and promoted the middle class’ participation in elected institutions. No doubt this change has given a new direction to the national political order. In fact, the PM-N is the only party that has swept polls, not once but twice since 1988. This is by no means a small achievement and it demonstrates beyond doubt that PML-N electoral performance has been the most outstanding among a host of political parties.
The election results also show that the people and the electorate understand that the PML-N cultivates greater concern for democracy than other parties. The PML-N conduct has demonstrated that there are no permanent friends and foes in politics and this the PML-N substantiated when Mr Nawaz Sharif signed the Charter of Democracy with the PPP’s slain chairperson Benazir Bhutto in London on June 14, 2006.