Pakistan Elections 1997:
One Step Forward
The 1997 elections in Pakistan continued the established pattern of political alignment in the country. During the campaign, electoral dynamics remained firmly couched in the decade-long tradition of non-issue and non-policy politics, political rhetoric notwithstanding. One of the most conspicuous elements of the election campaign was voter apathy, reflecting general cynicism about what was considered by large sections of the population to be a futile exercise in mass mandate. On the other hand, the landslide victory of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), led by MianNawaz Sharif, represented a formidable change because it paved the way for substantive changes in both constitutional and institutional terms. The newly-elected government of Nawaz Sharif stripped the president of his power to dissolve the National Assembly and dismiss the cabinet. This action promises to bring an end to the series of dissolutions of assemblies and dismissals of governments by presidents in 1988, 1990, 1993 and 1996. Institutionally, it restored parliamentary sovereignty.
The circumstances leading to the dissolution of assemblies in November 1996 that paved the way to the holding of fresh elections in February 1997 were similar to those preceding earlier dissolutions. In each case, the dissolution of provincial assemblies by governors under Article 112 (2)(b) followed the dissolution of the National Assembly by presidents under Article 58 (2)(b). Legal suits were filed in the higher courts against the dissolution of assemblies in all five cases. Presidents typically focused on corruption and misrule as reasons for their action. A concerted effort to discredit the outgoing government through the state-run media followed in each case. Except in 1988, caretaker prime ministers formally took control of the government's machinery: Mustafa Jatoi in 1990; Balkh Sher Mazari