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Elections 1997: From PML-N’s triumph to Musharraf’s takeover of 1999

PPP had been divided into factions following the killing of Mir Murtaza Bhutto during Benazir’s tenure

Benazir took oath as Pakistan’s Prime Minister for the second in 1993, but after being dismissed by President Ghulam Ishaq the first time, this time Benazir’s government was toppled by her own President Farooq Leghari in 1996.

Newspaper’s frontpage with news about dissolution of assemblies in 1996.—The News

The stage was set for an electoral battle between the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and a weakened Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Several factors contributed to the favourable conditions for the PML-N.

In 1997, Nawaz Sharif faced contempt charges in Pakistans Supreme Court, where he waved to supporters after appearing before the judges. His supporters later stormed the court and both the chief justice and president were ousted from office.—NPR
In 1997, Nawaz Sharif faced contempt charges in Pakistan’s Supreme Court, where he waved to supporters after appearing before the judges. His supporters later stormed the court and both the chief justice and president were ousted from office.—NPR

The PPP had been divided into factions following the killing of Mir Murtaza Bhutto during Benazir’s tenure, leading to disgruntled party workers. Moreover, the PPP’s top leadership faced serious corruption charges, further eroding public confidence. 

Nusrat Bhutto with Benazir Bhutto in this undated photo.—Agencies
Nusrat Bhutto with Benazir Bhutto in this undated photo.—Agencies

The interim setup, headed by Malik Mairja Khalid, appointed anti-PPP officials, and arrests of top PPP leaders added to the challenges faced by the party. Moreover, the PPP Shaheed Bhutto group announced support for the PML-N, while the Jamaat-e-Islami boycotted the elections.

These developments, combined with internal issues within the PPP, created a conducive environment for the PML-N to secure a majority in the polls.

Imran Khan leads a small rally during his door-to-door election campaign in a remote area of Kundal on October 3, 2002. —AFP
Imran Khan leads a small rally during his door-to-door election campaign in a remote area of Kundal on October 3, 2002. —AFP

The 1997 elections also marked the electoral debut of Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf, though the party failed to secure any seats.

Pakistan’s 7th and the 3rd general polls of the 1990s were held on February 3, 1997. 

Elections 1997: From PML-Ns triumph to Musharrafs takeover of 1999

The voter turnout was notably low at 35.4%, reflecting a sense of disillusionment or apathy among the electorate. As anticipated, the PML-N emerged victorious, winning 134 out of the 203 National Assembly seats, while the PPP managed to secure only 18 seats.

President Farooq Leghari administered oath to Nawaz Sharif as Pakistans Prime Minister for the second time in 1997.—Agencies
President Farooq Leghari administered oath to Nawaz Sharif as Pakistan’s Prime Minister for the second time in 1997.—Agencies 

Nawaz, with a two-third majority, returned as the Prime Minister, leading what would be considered the strongest democratic government in Pakistan’s history. The PML-N’s success extended beyond the national level, as they also secured victories in Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Punjab assemblies. In Balochistan, Nawaz’s close aide Akhtar Mengal assumed power.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif (left) and former president Pervaiz Musharraf. —AFP
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif (left) and former president Pervaiz Musharraf. —AFP

However, the political stability achieved by the PML-N government was short-lived. The longstanding dispute between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Musharraf, which had its roots in the Kargil war, reached a climax with a military coup on October 12, 1999.

Army men climb over the main gate of PTV HQ in Islamabad during the military coup of 1999. —Reuters
Army men climb over the main gate of PTV HQ in Islamabad during the military coup of 1999. —Reuters

Following the coup, Nawaz was sentenced to life in a plane hijacking case and corruption charges. Both Benazir and Nawaz were subsequently exiled, and General Pervez Musharraf assumed power, maintaining control for over eight years. 

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