List of Political Parties in Pakistan
Political parties in Pakistan. Pakistan has a multi-party system with numerous political parties, in which often no one party has a chance of gaining power alone, and parties must work with each other to form coalition governments.
In any system of parliamentary representation, political parties form the primary unit of democracy. As such, they are instrumental in moving the process forward and determining the particular shape it assumes in a given socio-political framework.
Unfortunately in Pakistan, this role has not always been effectively played by the 96 or so registered political parties in the country. In addition, administrative intervention in the working of parties, and most recently the attempts made through a series of constitutional changes to diminish their significance alongside that of an elected parliament, can act only to make political parties a still less potent force.
Of the major political parties, the Pakistan Peoples' Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) have recently come under sustained assault from the military regime, which has been accused of resorting to harassment and victimization directed against their leaders. However, the previous record of the two parties and their leaders is not impressive either, with multiple accusations of corruption and an abuse of power leveled against them. The bar placed on electoral contest by the leaders of both parties, under the rules in place for the 2002 elections, and actions taken in an apparent attempt to weaken the two parties that have dominated general elections since 1988, has inevitably brought about significant changes on the political scene. The most important of these is the emergence of a new faction of the PML, known as the PML-QA, which is seen as the party backed by the regime and the largest PML faction in the country.
The forging of opportunist alliances, with parties once divided sharply on the basis of ideology now united mainly in an attempt to create a strong front against groups backed by the military authorities, signifies too what a limited role political conviction plays as far as parties in the country are concerned. Indeed, it was only weeks before the October elections that most parties thought it fit to put forward their manifestos or explain their ideological commitments in any detail.
Of the major parties in the country, only the right wing, fundamentalist Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) has been able to conduct regular, internal elections. Within most other parties, leadership has remained limited to a particular coterie, sometimes based on kinship networks, articulating only a narrow range of interests. Internal power struggles in the absence of party elections have led frequently to the fragmentation of political parties into factions or splinter groups, and this process has contributed in part to the steadily increasing number of political groupings present in the country. The provision contained within the Political Parties Ordinance of June 2002, in which various conditions have been set for the participation in the electoral process by political parties, including the conduct of internal elections, has resulted only in something closely resembling a farce with parties undertaking a largely cosmetic process to fulfill this requirement. As a result, almost all major parties elected their present leaders unopposed. In cases where some contest was witnessed, such as within the PML-QA, the challenge thrown to the leadership of Mian Azhar by Ijazul Haq was seen chiefly as a drama staged to indicate that a democratic contest had indeed taken place.
Political parties on the national scene today
For the October 2002 polls, over 120 parties applied to the Election Commission for the allocation of symbols. This statistic has altered only insignificantly since Pakistan's return to full representative democracy in 1988, and the parties constituting this figure comprised a vast diversity of groups, ranging from religious parties of the extreme right to parties of the left, such as the Mazdoor Kissan Party, formed in 1967 following the break-up of the National Awami Party (NAP). Under new rules in place for the polls, including the barring of parties headed by convicts, the need for parties to have conducted transparent internal polls, the requirement that the party represent an identifiable group of voters and so on, the Election Commission registered only 55 parties in the initial stage of the process with nearly 35 others registered after their filed appeals against the EC decision not to register them. A total of 96 parties will as such contest the 2002 elections.
The rules put in place for electoral contest by parties also meant that some parties, most notably the PPP, were in fact forced to contest under an altered name. A new party, calling itself the PPP-Parliamentarian (PPPP), headed by Amin Makhdoom Fahim but including virtually all PPP leaders, was formed days ahead of the date set for registering parties with the EC, and was duly registered by it. This manouevre, made to bypass the new laws put in place by the military regime, which have been widely criticised by groups in civic society, means that technically speaking at least, the PPP will not be contesting the 2002 polls.
The bar placed in January 2002 on some of the most extreme right-wing parties in the country has this time round eliminated groups such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), responsible for promoting a dangerous brand of sectarian militancy, the Tehrik-e-Fiqah Jafriya and several other sectarian forces from the list of registered parties. Others, thought to be responsible for similar sectarian violence, such as the Sunni Tehreek, however remain on the list while candidates seen as linked to the SSP and other banned groups are in some cases contesting either as independents or from the platform of the Muttahida Mahaz-e-Amal (MMA), a newly formed coalition of at least 12 religious parties.
A large number of religious parties remain on the list of parties taking part in the October 2002 polls. Indeed, over the last two decades, many new religious parties have cropped up. These include groups such as the Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) of Maulana Tahirul Qadri, a former PML-N ally who formed his own party in 1989, but failed to win a single seat in the 1990, 1993 or 1997 polls.
Although PAT’s manifesto puts forward a strongly orthodox ideology, the rise of religious groups with extremist agendas means that groups such as PAT and the older more established Islamic parties such as the Jamaat-i-Islami or the Jamiat-i-Ulema Islam (JUI) have assumed a reputation for being comparatively moderate in their views, despite the fact that they advocate policies which are often strongly discriminatory towards women and religious minorities. PAT was in fact denied membership of the MMA since it is seen as supporting the military regime and its pro-US line against militancy by religious extremists.
Despite significant street power, and in some cases the threat of terrorist violence, Pakistan's religious parties have failed to make any significant impact in terms of a presence in parliament. In the 1993 election, the three biggest religions groups and alliances -- the Pakistan Islamic Front (PIF), the Islami Jamhoori Mahaz (IJM) and the Muttahida Deeni Mahaz (MDM) managed to secure between them 1.3 million votes, making up a meagre 6.7 per cent of the total ballots cast. The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), the major component of the 1993 PIF, boycotted the 1997 elections, demanding accountability ahead of the polls. Other religious parties too failed to make a significant impact, with the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) standing virtually alone among religious parties within parliament, after it claimed two NA seats from the NWFP.
Unlike the 1997 elections, no party of any note has announced a boycott of the 2002 polls. Several smaller parties, such as the Qaumi Jamhoori Party (QJP), formed by the late Omar Asghar Khan in 2001 or the Millat Party (MP) formed by former President Farooq Leghari in 1999 after Leghari was removed from the presidency following a prolonged row with then prime minister Nawaz Sharif, will be participating in the polls for the first time. Like the National Peoples Party (NPP), formed in 1989 by former PPP leader Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi in the hope that it would provide an alternative to the PPP led by Benazir Bhutto, the MP is not expected to make a major electoral impact. The MP, the NPP and another breakaway PPP faction led by former NWFP chief minister Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, and known as the PPP-Sherpao, form a part of the pro-government Grand National Alliance (GNA).
Other smaller parties such as the Pakistan Democratic Party (PDP) of Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, who himself will not be contesting polls since he does not qualify another rules dictating that all candidates must be graduates, will also contest the elections. The PDP forms a loose alliance alongside other parties making up the anti-government Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD). However, major ARD member parties, such as the PPP and the PML-N were unable to reach seat adjustments, despite prolonged negotiations, and will in most cases contest polls against each other.
The PPP and the various PML factions are however expected, once again, to largely dominate the polls, as they have since 1988, when the country’s first democratic election was held after 11 years of military dictatorship under the late General Ziaul Haq. A new factor this time is the emergence of the Mian Azhar led PML-QA, which is seen by many as likely to claim the largest number of parliamentary seats among PML groups, with many former PML-N leaders now a part of this faction. Indeed, between them, the PPP and the PML have since 1988 dominated parliament, each time claiming over 70 per cent of National Assembly seats. While in the 1988 election, the PPP took 38.70 per cent of the votes cast, and the IJI (Islami Jamhoori Ittehad), an alliance including the PML-N, claimed a 30.60 share, this equation has since then shifted back and forth, favouring the PML-N in 1990 and 1997 and the PPP once again in 1993. In the 1997 elections, the PML-N in fact made its strongest ever showing, claiming a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly with its 137 seats and taking over 39 percent of votes cast in an election that saw a low turnout by voters.
The two major arrivals on the political scene in 1997, the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf of former cricket captain Imran Khan and the PPP (Shaheed Bhutto), led by the widow of the late Murtaza Bhutto, Ghinwa Bhutto, will again be trying their chances at the polls. The PTI has found itself somewhat unexpectedly locked in battle with the regime, following Imran Khan’s accusation that it was engaging in poll rigging and that the accountability process initiated by it was biased. While the PTI is not seen as a major electoral force, Imran Khan is seen as a possible new entrant to parliament from his seat in the southern Punjab.
The PPP-SB will again be taking on the PPP in its traditional stronghold of rural Sindh. With Ghinwa Bhutto unable to take part, as she does not hold a degree, the party is again thought unlikely to have any significant impact or slice away from the PPPP’s share anything more than the single NA seat it claimed in 1997.
The major contenders for political power
In the last four elections held since the return to full parliamentary democracy in 1988, following an eleven year long exercise in military rule, and later the controlled democracy of the 1985 party less polls conducted under General Ziaul Haq, the PPP of Benazir Bhutto and the PML-N of Mian Nawaz Sharif have been the dominant forces. Each time, in 1988, in 1990, in 1993 and in 1997, contesting independently or as a part of a broader alliance, the parties have between them acquired a share of the vote standing at around 70 per cent. Although both traditionally line up against opposite each other on the battlefield of Pakistan’s politics, for the 2002 polls the two have moved closer together as a result of their shared opposition to the Musharraf regime. There can also be no doubt that the ideological gulf between the PPP and the various PML factions is today an increasingly narrow one, despite their tradition of fierce rivalry. Both advocate mainly centrist policies, pressing for privatisation, while commitment to any agenda that could bring genuine social change, such as wide-ranging land reforms, is not brought up in any significant context in the manifestoes of either party.
However, largely on the basis of a reputation for left-leaning politics, gained in 1970 when the PPP, under the charismatic leadership of its founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, swept the polls advocating a policy of ‘roti, kapra and makan’ (food, clothes and shelter) for every citizen, as well as other pledges for land-reform and a redistribution of wealth, the PPP continues to proffer its commitment to the upliftment of the masses and the creation of greater social justice.
The Pakistan Peoples Party was founded in 1967 by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and a number of notable intellectuals, at a time when the agitation to remove the military dictator Ayub Khan was gaining momentum. Putting forward a socialist inspired agenda for change, the PPP played a major part in the protests against Ayub. By championing the cause of the poor and crying out for the rights of the common people, Bhutto responded both to economic need and the urge for political participation. In the 1970 elections which followed, the PPP swept polls in what was then West Pakistan, but in the eastern wing of the country, the Awami League of Mujibur Rehman, contesting on a six-point agenda which included greater autonomy for East Pakistan, gained a clear-cut majority, and by virtue of a larger number of parliamentary seats, the right to form the next government. A refusal by the mainly Punjabi military-bureaucratic elite which had ruled Pakistani since its inception to allow the formation of such a government led eventually to a bitter civil war. Pakistan was partitioned as the year 1970 came to a close, and the independent state of Bangladesh born in 1971.
Under Zulfikar Bhutto, the PPP ruled Pakistan till 1977, when a protest campaign by political parties, claiming rigging in the March 1977 polls, led to the overthrow of Bhutto and the army take-over by General Ziaul Haq. During the eleven-year martial law that followed, the PPP continued a struggle for the ouster of the dictatorship. After General Zia’s death in a 1988 mid-air aircraft explosion, the PPP, under Bhutto’s daughter Benazir, returned to power. However intervention by the President of the country, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, in 1990 cut short her tenure in office. The PPP sat on the opposition benches from 1990 to 1993, and was again elected to power in the 1993 general elections. The term of the second Bhutto government was terminated in 1996, this time by a President appointed by the PPP government, Farooq Ahmed Leghari. The 1997 elections brought for the PPP the poorest electoral result to date, with the party claiming only 18 National Assembly seats as opposed to the 137 taken by the PML-N, its main rival in the election.
In both 1990 and 1996, corruption and mismanagement were cited among the reasons for the government’s removal, with Benazir Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, among those against whom allegations were regularly made in the national press. Zardari today is serving his seventh year in jail. He has been convicted in only one of the 13 cases against him, and has been awarded bail in 11 of these cases. Benazir Bhutto has also been accused of pushing the PPP further in the direction of policies aimed at maintaining, rather than challenging the status-quo, under pressure from the military-bureaucratic establishment which has always dominated politics in the country. She has also been charged with conforming to the narrow class interests of the feudal and other wealthy elite who figure prominently within her party, and steering a course away from the original agenda for change, advocated -- but never fully pursued -- by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Benazir Bhutto is currently in self-imposed exile, and faces arrest on corruption charges related to various deals reached during her tenure in office if she returns. She has been declared an absconder by courts for failing to appear before them for the hearing of charges against her.
Her candidature for the 2002 elections, as a candidate of the PPPP was rejected, on the grounds that she was an absconder from justice, and thus barred under the new rules in place for the 2002 polls.Several splinter groups, led by disgruntled PPP leaders, have broken away since 1989 from the main body of the party, but have failed to make any significant impact at the polls.
The main challenger to the PPP, the PML, inherits the legacy of the Muslim League, the party which dominated the pre-1947 struggle for the creation of Pakistan on the basis of a separate homeland for the Indian Muslims, where their economic, religious and political rights could be protected. The question of economic domination by the Hindu majority of united India, and the issue of access to prime government jobs, also played a part in the struggle for Pakistan, which was spearheaded by Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Jinnah’s Muslim League dominated politics in Pakistan during the first few years after the country’s creation in August 1947. However, the failure to frame a constitution for the new country, or to conduct elections, tarnished the record of the party following the death of Jinnah in September 1948, with regional dissent, the fall of several weak governments and the rise of bureaucratic power leading up to the military take-over by Ayub Khan in 1958. During the years before military intervention, the Muslim League had struggled to combat internal strife within its own ranks, and faced opposition, notably in the minority provinces from more radical, regional parties, as well as confronting the ideological confusion over a future course of direction which followed the creation of Pakistan.
The post-Ayub period saw the rise to power of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and in the campaign against him, in 1977, the Muslim League played a part as a major member of the nine-party alliance pitted against the PPP. Under the dictatorship of General Ziaul Haq which followed, the Muslim League received considerable patronage, forming a major part of the un-elected Majlis-I-Shoora created by Zia. After the partyless 1985 elections, Mohammad Khan Junejo, a Muslim League leader selected for the job by Zia, assumed charge as prime minister. In May 1988, Junejo was unceremoniously ousted, after surprising his military masters by adopting an independently democratic stand on a number of issues. The rise of the industrialist and trader from Lahore, Mian Nawaz Sharif, as a Muslim League leader in the Punjab, begun during the Zia era, and by the time parliamentary democracy, with party participation, was restored in 1988, Nawaz Sharif had emerged as a significant leader, commanding the most powerful faction of the Muslim League, within the leadership structure, within which business, industrial and feudal interests were all well represented. Although the PML-N remains a party anchored strongly in the heart of the Punjab, during the 1993 elections it broke new ground by securing a respectable 26.7 per cent of votes in the interior Sindh, while an ideologically incomprehensible but electorally sound alliance with the left-leaning Awami National Party (ANP) helped it gain presence in the North West Frontier Province. In 1997, the PML-N claimed a massive share of seats in the National Assembly, winning 137 seats from across the country, including traditional PPP strongholds such as the interior Sindh. It also established a significant presence in the NWFP, while winning a smaller but still relevant share of votes in Balochistan.
After a tenure of two and a half years in office, during which Nawaz Sharif, as prime minister consolidated increasing power in his own hands, stripped the President of powers awarded to him under the controversial article 58(2-B) of the Constitution, forced President Farooq Leghari out of office and waged a battle with the Supreme Court leading to the removal of then Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, Nawaz was himself removed in the military coup of October 1999. Accused of attempting to hijack a commercial aircraft in which COAS General Pervez Mushrraf was a passenger, Nawaz was jailed and later found guilty of the hijacking charges. He and his extended family were exiled to Saudi Arabia in an agreement with the military government reached at the end of 2000. Since then, the regime has maintained the family is barred from participation in Pakistan’s politics for ten years under the terms of this secret deal.
The PML-QA, now seen as the most powerful PML faction, emerged after the exile of the Sharifs, and in fact was carved out from within the PML-N. Mian Azhar, a former governor of the Punjab and a close ally of Nawaz Sharif, who shared with the Sharif family a background as a trader and industrialist, had developed increased differences with the party chief during the PML-N’s second tenure in office.
Azhar was elected as leader of the new party in March 2001, as the new faction took formal shape. The PML-N repeatedly accused the regime of harassing its members and coercing them to line up with the Azhar-led faction, as a fierce war between the rival PML groups was waged. Ahead of the 2002 polls, a significant number of former PML-N leaders placed themselves in the PML-QA camp, with the two parties are lined up against each other in the electoral battle ahead. Other PML factions, formed over the years, too continue to exist, with the Pakistan Muslim League (Junejo) entering into an alliance for the 1993 polls with the PPP. Claiming 3.9 per cent of the vote cast, the PML-J under the leadership of Hamid Nasir Chatta helped bolster the PPP vote share in the Punjab. However dissent within the PML-J has split the faction once again, continuing a tradition of division on the basis of personal conflict or struggles for leadership, with the Muslim League today fractured into more than six factions, each signified by the addition of a separate initial before its name to distinguish it from other groupings.
Regional Divisions And The Politics Of Alliances
Although the political contest in Pakistan is often depicted as a battle between the two major parties, this is something of a fallacy. Notably in the smaller provinces, strong regional-based parties have existed since the creation of Pakistani, and this tendency has continued till the present date, providing perhaps some indication of the ethnic, and ideological, diversity in the country.
One of the parties which most effectively demonstrates the ethnic nature politics has frequently pursued in Pakistan is the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a party which holds almost total sway as far as electoral success is concerned in the Sindh capital of Karachi – Pakistan’s largest city, gaining over 5 per cent of the national vote in both 1988 and 1990, an astonishing figure given its narrow base. On both occasions this translated into 13 National Assembly, and 28 Sindh seats. The MQM boycotted the 1993 polls. In the 1997 polls, it again claimed a share of just under 5 per cent of the vote, which gave it 12 seats in the NA.
Representing the Mohajirs, or those who immigrated from India to Pakistan in 1947, the MQM, founded in 1978 by Altaf Hussain (today in self-exile in London), has powerfully mobilisted the search for identity of the mohajir population, and its feelings of resentment against perceived discrimination. Isolated from the population of rural Sindh by language and culture, the Urdu-speaking mohajirs, locked in a tussle for university places and government jobs, has carved out a distinct ethnic identity for itself in the years after Partition. Governed by both internal and extenal constraints which prevented integration, the mohajir sense of ethnicity has grown stronger, rather than weakened, over the decades since 1947. Since its fornication, the highly organised cadres of the MQM have articulated the demands of this ethnic group for an end to discrimination, and have established a powerful hold over the mohajir community of Karachi and other urban centres in Sindh. Despite accusations of indulging in terrorist acts, which resulted in a crackdown on Karachi under the last PPP government, the MQM remains the most powerful political force in the major urban centre of Sindhi. Originally called the Mohajir Qaumi Movement, the party re-named itself as the Muttahida Qaumi Movement in the 1990s. At around the same time, internal rifts within the party also led to the emergence of a faction opposed to exiled leader Altaf Hussain, which is known as the MQM-Haqiqi.
Rural Sindh meanwhile remains a stronghold of the PPP, with some limited, but ideologically committed support for the smaller, Sindhi parties who advocate greater autonomy for a province which has since Partition frequently raised a voice against political domination by the Punjabi-influenced centre.
In the North West Frontier Province, the anti-British activities of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s Khudai Khidmitgar movement had created considerable political activism in the years before Partition. After independence, the National Awami Party (NAP), created in the 1950s on a progressive, mainly secular platform advocating social reform, continued to exercise a strong influence over Frontier politics, in opposition to the Muslim League. The politics of NAP were inherited in the 1980s by its successor, the Awami National Party (ANP), which under the leadership of Asfandyar Wali, the grandson of Ghaffar Khan, remains a major force in the NWFP today. However, the party has been accused recently of increased opportunism, particularly in the formation in 1997 of an alliance with the PML-N, a party which, in ideological terms, seems to be diametrically at odds with the more radical policies of the ANP.
Other examples of the ideological chaos which exists within Pakistani politics come in the form of various alliances between parties that seem to share little in common. In 1993, the PPP, which still presents itself as a party advocating a moderate, tolerant brand of Islam, linked up with the JUI-F of Maulana Fazalur Rehman, whose madrassahs (religious schools) helped train the fanatical Taliban militias of Afghanistan. This marriage of convenience appeared to produce few results as far as the PPP was concerned, and the 1993 polls brought a mini-debacle for the party in the NWFP. The combined percentage of the popular votes for itself and the JUI-F plummeted from 33.4 per cent in 1988 and 43 per cent in 1990, to 26.4 per cent in 1993. In the 1997 polls, the JUI-F, contesting independently, claimed two NA seats. It will go into the 2002 polls as a part of the MMA alliance, which has limited backing from the PML-N.
On the other side of the divide, the ANP too suffered has a decline in fortunes over the years. In 1993, it was reduced to three National Assembly seats from the six it had held in 1990, while the PML-N made major gains in the province, winning 10 NA seats and 27.3 per cent of the vote. However, most of the PML-N gains came in the Hazara area, with fewer inroads made into the Pukhtoon regions which form the heartland of the province, and where the religions parties made some advances. The agreement between the PML-N and the ANP reached ahead of the 1997 elections again bolstered the ANP in its home province, with the party claiming 10 NA seats.
Of the three smaller provinces of Pakistan, it is Balochistan which appears to be most removed from the political mainstream in terms of electoral politics. The leading national parties have always struggled here, and in the 1993 elections, it was again the nationalist and regionalist parties which finished with seven of the provinces 11 National Assembly seats. Three of these went to the Pukhtoon Khwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) led by Mehmood Achakzai, representing largely the Pukhtoon population of Balochistan and speaking strongly for the rights of smaller provinces; two seats were claimed by Nawab Akbar Bugti’s Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP) and two by smaller Baloch parties. However, in terms of vote share, the PPP, once totally absent from the Baloch political scene, made its presence felt, with 18.4 per cent of the vote – the largest by a single party. The formation of the Balochistan National Party (BNP) by veteran leader Sardar Ataullah Mengal in late 1996 brought together several of the smaller, nationalist Baloch parties on a single platform. The BNP took 3 NA seats in 1997, while the JWP claimed 2, again indicating the extent to which regional parties hold sway in the province.
While in terms of numbers, the political parties engaged in the electoral contest in Pakistan is great, this does not represent, in ideological terms, a political diversity. The class base for most of the parties has failed to move beyond the traditional elite which wields influence in Pakistan's politics, and even when representatives from the middle-classes have emerged, as in the case of those making up the leadership of the MQM, they heave tended to articulate interests based on factors of ethnicity, other narrow categories, rather than on the basis of broader class interests. Moreover, in terms of ideology, the major political parties have been moving closer towards each other, and generally steering away from agendas advocating radical social change. The divide in terms of policy is narrower than ever before, and despite their vociferous attacks on each other, and the deep-rooted polarisation which often prevents them from coming together even on matters of common interest, the leading parties in the country represent a single force, rather than a range of groups articulating different, conflicting interests.The virtual disappearance of the left from electoral politics in Pakistan has aggravated this tendency, with conflict between parties based largely on rhetoric or highly personalised attacks on party leaders. The fact that, on the basis of political opportunism, members of one party are frequently willing to switch alliances and move to another group perhaps reflects the extent to which politics in the country have been stripped of ideological beliefs or commitment. And, even for the parties themselves, it is electoral pragmatism aimed at increasing vote banks and seat shares which for the most part dictates strategy, rather than the pursuit of the lofty ideals detailed in party manifestoes.
This remains as true for the October 2002 elections as those that preceded it, while the restrictions placed on outdoor public gatherings under rules put in place by the military regime have in fact further encouraged politics based on negotiations in drawing rooms rather than the putting forward of agendas that serve the interests of the citizens of the country. This factor perhaps also goes to explain the limited voter interest in electoral campaigning for the 2002 contest, leading to speculation that turn out will remain low on polling day, as voters continue to await a party that truly represents them and effectively articulates their concerns.
Parties active in national and provincial politics
Major parties and coalitions
Pakistan People's Party Parliamentarians (PPPP)
Pakistan People's Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) is an electoral extension of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), formed in 2002 by the PPP for the purpose of complying with electoral rules governing Pakistani parties. The Pakistan People's Party was founded on November 30, 1967 by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who became its first chairman and later Prime Minister of Pakistan. PPP is the largest political party of Pakistan. This party has been active in Pakistani politics since the separation of the East Wing from the rest of Pakistan. The party gained much popularity and support during the era of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The party won the 1971 elections on a socialist mandate of "Roti, Kapra, Makan" ("bread, clothes, shelter"). PPP took control of the country after the Indian-supported Civil War of 1971. After the first parliamentary term, PPP secured a landslide victory in the 1977 elections to rule for another five years.
Opposition parties claimed that the election was heavily rigged by PPP. Tensions mounted and despite an agreement reached between opposition and PPP, martial law was imposed in the country by Gen. Zia ul Haq. Bhutto was hanged in 1977 after a controversial trial, in which he was found guilty of murdering a political opponent. His daughter Benazir Bhutto was elected twice as the prime minister but her government was dismissed both times on corruption charges, none of them proven in the court despite many years of proceedings.
PPP was a socialist nationalist party when formed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, but it moved toward the right under Benazir Bhutto. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto wanted closer ties with China and more attention to the lower classes. Benazir Bhutto adopted conservative privatization policies in order to secure funding from the United States and the World Bank. Although twice elected Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto was criticized for corruption and extrajudicial killings.
The PPP currently holds 126 seats in the National Assembly and 27 seats in the Senate. It is the current government of Pakistan. It forms the provincial government in Sindh and is the official opposition in Punjab. In the Angus-Reid pre-election polls of 22 December 2007, it was in first place, with about 30% of the vote. It is strong in the rural areas of Sindh and Punjab.
Pakistan Muslim League (N) (PML "Nawaz group")
Pakistan Muslim League (N) (PML "Nawaz group") is a centrist conservative party that has been led from by Nawaz Sharif. It currently holds 90 seats in the National Assembly and 7 seats in the Senate.
Although twice elected as Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif was criticized for widespread corruption and extrajudicial killings. In the Angus-Reid pre-election polls of 22 December 2007, the PML/N was in second place, with about 25% of the vote. It is strong in Punjab province.
Pakistan Muslim League (Q) (PML "Quaid-i-Azam group")
Pakistan Muslim League (Q) (PML "Quaid-i-Azam group") is officially called the Pakistan Muslim League. It is the party behind past president Pervez Musharraf. PML (Q) is a centrist conservative party that forms the opposition.
It currently holds 53 seats in the National Assembly and 21 seats in the Senate. The PML (Q) formed from the split of the PML N following the arrest and exile of PML leader and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The PML (Q) absorbed some minor parties through power-sharing agreements in 2002 general elections, becoming the government of Pakistan. In the 2008 general elections the party lost seats and was no longer the government of Pakistan.
Although initially popular, Musharraf has been criticized for supporting the US invasion of Afghanistan and suspension of legal rights. In the Angus-Reid pre-election polls of 22-December-2007, the PML (Q) was in third place, with about 23% of the vote. It is strong in urban areas of the two large provinces (Punjab and Sindh).
Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM)
Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM)is the second largest party in sindh and the traditionally the third largest in the country, however it currently holds fourth highest number of seats in the National assemble while maintaining its second position in sindh assembly.
Established in 1984 and led by its self exiled leader Altaf Hussain, MQM started by attempting to represent rights and interests on Muhajirs in Pakistan thus named Muhajir Qaumi Movement however in recent years the party has attempted to attract national vote and changed its name to Mutahida Qaumi Movement. The party drives most of its vote bank from urban sindh in areas of high Muhajir population. MQM is the most left leaning major political forces in the Pakistan's politics. In the current national assembly it holds 26 seats and 51 seats in sindh assembly.
Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) is the oldest party operating in Pakistan. The party was formed in 1941 but its role in active politics started soon after independence in 1947.
The party was founded by Maulana Syed Abul Ala Maududi, a well-known scholar of the 20th century and the first personality to win the "King Faisal Award" for services in Islam. He was a staunch opponent of Muhammad Ali Jinnah (the founder of Pakistan) and actively spoke against the idea of the creation of Pakistan; however, he chose to move to Pakistan once the country was created, despite his opposition. Although the party has not participated in recent general elections, it has a strong following, especially among the religious groups around the country. The party is termed most democratic for holding elections for its party's president every five years. The party has never sworn in as full government but has ruled one of four provinces North-West Frontier Province as a coalition after the elections of 2002. The party is led by Syed Munawar Hasan. The party has major links with Islamic parties in Turkey, Malaysia, Egypt, Sudan, India and Bangladesh.
The Jamat-e-Islaami has 9 seats in the Senate and none in the National Assembly after its decision not to stand in February 2008 general elections.
In 1996 Imran Khan, disgusted with the state of national politics, decided to form Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, of which he remains the Chairman.
The PTI Agenda of resurgence articulates the long-neglected aspirations of the people and spells out the vision of a model, modern Islamic republic encapsulating policies and programs with clear objectives.
Jeay Sindh (JASQM)
Jeay Sindh (JASQM) is a Sindh party. The chairman of the party is Bashir Ahmed Qureshi. The party was founded by Sain G. M. Syed, a Sindh political leader with secular, socialist and nationalist views. The party has influence among Sindhi youth & educated people. A Freedom March organized by this party in Karachi on 7 November 2009 attracted about 600,000 people; according to a BBC report, it was the largest demonstration in the history of Pakistan. JSSF is the party's student wing. It also has a labour wing, Nameli Sindhi Prohiat Sangat. The party believes in non-violent political struggle; however, it does not take part in elections.
Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a coalition of six religious parties consisting of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) (Assembly of Islamic Clergy, Fazl-ur-Rahman Group), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (S) (Assembly of Islamic Clergy, Sami-ul-Haq Group) Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (Assembly of Pakistani Clergy), Tehrik-e-Jafaria Pakistan, Jamiat Ahle Hadith and a few more. The religious alliance forms the government in North-West Frontier Province. It leads the coalition government in Balochistan with PML Quaid-e-Azam. This group has broken up with JUI-F, which left to be a part of coalition PPP government and take part in the 2008 general elections.
MMA is de-centrist. It is strong in the two small provinces. It is legally ultra-conservative and economically socialist. It strongly opposes US military presence in Pakistan. In the Angus-Reid pre-election polls of 22 December 2007, the MMA was in fifth place, with 4% of the vote.
The MMA in the National Assembly is actually JUI-F who decided to use the name MMA at the general election in 2008 after the remaining parties in the MMA decided to not take part in the general election. It currently holds 7 seats in the National Assembly and 4 seats in the Senate.
The MMA that contested the 2002 general election has disbanded, according to the head of Jamaat-e-Islaami.
Awami National Party (ANP)
Awami National Party (ANP) has 13 seats in the National Assembly and 6 Senate seats. The NWFP province government is run by the ANP.
Minor political parties
Awami Muslim League
Awami National Party
Awami Qiadat Party
Balawaristan National Front (Gilgit Baltistan)
Balochistan National Congress
Balochistan National Democratic Party
Balochistan National Party
Balochistan National Movement
Combined Opposition Party (Pakistan) (COPP)
Communist Party of Pakistan
Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party
Federal National Movement
Green Party of Pakistan
Hazara Qumi Mahaz (HQM)
Hazara Democratic Party (HDP)
Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (Nifaz-e-Shariat)
Jamhoori Wattan Party
Jamote Qaumi Movement
Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mehaz
Kakar Jamhoori Party
Labour Party of Pakistan
Markazi Jamaat Ahle Hadieth
Mohajir Ittehad Tehrik
Mohajir Qaumi Movement Pakistan
Mohib-e-Wattan Nowjawan Inqilabion Ki Anjuman
Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA)
National People's Party (NPP)
National Workers Party
Pak Wattan Party
Pak Muslim Alliance
Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party
Pakistan Aman Tehreek (HND South Punjab)
Pakistan Awami Tehrik
Pakistan Awami Tehrik-e-Inqilab
Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC)
Pakistan Democratic Party
Pakistan Freedom Party
Pakistan Gharib Party
Pakistan Ittehad Tehreek
Pakistan Kisan Party 
Pakistan Mazdoor Kissan Party
Pakistan Meo Ittehad (PMI)
Pakistan Muslim League (F) - also known as Functional Muslim League or PML Pagaro Group
Pakistan Muslim League (Jinnah)
Pakistan Muslim League (Junejo) (PML Junejo)
Pakistan Muslim League (Z)
Pakistan Progressive Party 
Pakistan Qaumi League
Pakistan Seriaki Party
Pakistan Social Democratic Party
Pakistan Workers Party
Pakistan Youth Revolution 
Pasban Voice Against Injustice 
Pukhtoonkhwa Qaumi Party
Qaumi Inqilab Party
Qaumi Jamhoori Party
Qaumi Tahaffaz Party
Saraiki Sooba Movement Pakistan
Sindh Democratic Alliance
Sindh National Front
Sindh National Party
Sindh Taraqi Pasand Party
Sindh Urban-Rural Alliance
Tehreek Hussainia Pakistan
Tehreek Jamhoriat Pakistan
Tehreek Nifaz-e-Fiqh Jafariya Pakistan (TNFJ)
Parties in Parliament
Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians, PPPP – 120
Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), PML (N) – 90
Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-i-Azam), PML (Q) – 51 (the original Muslim League)
Muttahida Qaumi Movement, MQM – 25 (previously known as Mohajir Qaumi Movement)
Awami National Party, ANP – 13
Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, MMA – 6
Pakistan Muslim League (Functional) – 5
Pakistan Peoples Party (Sherpao) – 1
Mohajir Qaumi Movement – 1 (de facto group of Muttahida Qaumi Movement)
Balochistan National Party (Awami) – 1
Independent candidates – 19
Mohajir Qaumi Movement - 1