Pakistani general election, 1997
207 of 237 seats in National Assembly
104 seats needed for a majority
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General elections were held in Pakistan on 3 February 1997 to elect the National Assembly of Pakistan and the four provincial assemblies. The election featured a fierce contest between ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) led by incumbent Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the PML(N) led by conservative leader Nawaz Sharif. Nawaz Sharif was highly benefited and aided by the controversial death of populist leader Murtaza Bhutto, the worsening economy at home, and won the election in a landslide, receiving the highest number of votes ever won by a nonincumbent prime ministerial candidate. Sharif subsequently became the 12th prime minister of Pakistan.
The election took place after the previous Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government of Benazir Bhutto was dismissed by President Farooq Leghari for concerning matters of national security. Benazir Bhutto's government suffered with financial mismanagement, corruption charges, racial tensions in her native province, issues with Supreme court, the serious violation of the constitution, and leaders in PPP, notably Murtaza Bhutto, who were determined to end Asif Ali Zardari's involvement in government affairs.
The Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) of Nawaz Sharif won a landslide victory in the election, for the first time in the history of Pakistan. Sharif was sworn in as Prime Minister on 17 February. Voter turnout was 36.0%.
The PPP won the largest number of seats in the 1993 election and Benazir Bhutto became prime minister at the head of a coalition government. However, on 5 November 1996, President Leghari, a former ally of Bhutto, dismissed the government 2 years early for alleged corruption and abuse of power. The allegations included financial mismanagement, failing to stop police killings, destroying judicial independence and violating the constitution. A number of PPP party members were detained including Bhutto's husband Asif Ali Zardari who was accused of taking commissions for arranging official deals.
A former speaker and member of the PPP Miraj Khalid was appointed interim prime minister. The National Assembly and provincial assemblies were dissolved and elections called for 3 February 1997. Bhutto denied all the charges against herself and petitioned the Supreme Court to reverse her dismissal. However, the court ruled in January that there was sufficient evidence for the dismissal to be justified legally.
Expectations in the lead up to the election were that up to 90 people, possibly including Bhutto and Sharif, might be prevented from standing in the election due to the caretaker governments campaign against corruption. However, by the end of December 1996 the government was forced to acknowledge that they were unable to find sufficient evidence to act against leading politicians. As a result, the election once again became mainly a contest between the PPP and the PML-N.
Over 6,000 candidates stood in the election, with 1,758 standing for the National Assembly and 4,426 for the four provincial assemblies. Major campaign issues included corruption, the economy, ethnic and religious conflicts and growing terrorism. However, there was little enthusiasm for the fourth election in 8 years with polls showing only about 20% would vote. Predictions of a challenge by a new anti-corruption party, the Movement for Justice, founded by former cricketer Imran Khan, faded as Khan attempted to fend off personal attacks on PML(N) and Nawaz Sharif. Most forecasts expected Sharif's PML-N to win the election, with them drawing larger crowds than the PPP and appearing to be supported by the army. Opinion polls showed the PML-N leading the PPP by about 40% to 20%.
The results saw the PML-N win a landslide victory, winning by the largest margin since the 1977 election. Bhutto's PPP was routed, and came second nationally with only 18 seats, and for the first time failing to win any seats in Punjab. Khan's Movement for Justice failed to win any seats. The turnout, at around 36%, was the lowest ever in the history of elections in Pakistan.
|Pakistan Muslim League (N)||8,751,793||45.9||137||+64|
|Pakistan Peoples Party||4,152,209||21.8||18||–71|
|Pakistan Muslim League (J)||624,286||3.3||0||–6|
|Awami National Party||357,002||1.9||10||+7|
|Pakistan Peoples Party (Shaheed Bhutto)||377,228||2.0||1||New|
|Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F)||325,910||1.7||2||New|
|Balochistan National Party||124,754||0.7||3||New|
|National Peoples Party (Khar)||85,121||0.4||1||0|
|Balochistan National Movement||72,354||0.4||0||New|
|Jamhoori Wattan Party||66,128||0.3||2||0|
|Muslim Ittehad Pakistan||49,601||0.3||0||New|
|Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (S)||48,838||0.3||0||New|
|Pakistan Democratic Party||47,153||0.2||0||New|
|Muslim League (Qayyum)||37,723||0.2||0||New|
|Pakistan Awami Party||31,615||0.2||0||New|
|30 other parties||88,429||0.5||0||–|
|Source: Nohlen et al.|
Nawaz Sharif described the results as reflecting the country's desire for an end to chaos. Benazir Bhutto had threatened to not recognise the results if the PPP lost, but despite alleging that election officials had rigged the election by filling in extra ballots, she did not call for protests, saying that Pakistan needed political stability. International observers from the European Union and the Commonwealth of Nations said the election met basic conditions but would not describe it as 'free and fair'.
Nawaz Sharif was confirmed as prime minister by the National Assembly receiving 177 votes against 16 for the PPP candidate Aftab Shaban Mirani. He took office on the 18 February with a new cabinet named on 26 February.
- Dieter Nohlen, Florian Grotz & Christof Hartmann (2001) Elections in Asia: A data handbook, Volume I, p680 ISBN 0-19-924958-X
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