My first interaction with the concept of an “independent” candidate came in 2002 when Shaikh Rashid held a political rally close to where I lived in Rawalpindi. This was an era prior to when cricket puns qualified as political banter - a time dominated instead by lively debates around who would win in a literal duel between an arrow (PPP’s symbol) or a tiger (PML-N’s symbol), or who was the “hunter” and “the hunted” in these hypothetical scenarios. So it came as an odd surprise when Shaikh Rashid suddenly put up a moon as his political symbol at this rally and declared the independent nature of his candidacy.
But I digress. Lets focus on the numbers:
As we discussed briefly in the Absolute Scale Tales post, more than 50% of the candidates who contested the 2013 National Assembly did not formally belong to a political party and entered the race as Independent Candidates. Given the dominance of the political parties of the news cycle and public discourse, this is an interesting statistic. Who are these candidates? Who votes for Independent candidates? Why would anyone vote for an Independent candidate?
While profiling all ~2,400 of these Independent candidates would be a tough ask, a more meaningful approach would be to understand the landscape in terms of their distribution across the country, their success and other characteristics of this group.
Let’s start with the broad numbers.
So, about 9 candidates per seat across Pakistan, and the highest number and percent in the tribal areas and lowest number and percentage in KPK.
Such a high level of interest from independent candidates to participate should technically mean that there is also corresponding demand from constituents for candidates who are not part of a political parties. So, how are they doing?
This is how Independent candidates fared in the 2013 election when compared with the three leading political parties:
Not bad! Their performance is competitive with the 2nd and 3rd largest party in terms of wins and runner-up candidates. But they also have about 10 times more candidates playing, so the conversion ratio isn’t great. A majority (~70%) of these candidates got less than 500 votes and curiously 9 candidates got 0 votes (they didn’t even vote for themselves).
The next question that arises is - where are independent candidates having the most success? Where did those 27 candidates win?
First, let’s see where did the 149 Independent Candidates who got 5,000+ votes contested their elections.
They are spread across 111 constituencies (out of 272). Independents won 27 of these seats (so about a 25% success rate) and were runners up in 44 of them. In this subset of constituencies, they are a force to reckon with.
About 2/3rds (71) of these 111 constituencies are in Punjab, where PML-N won 55 of these seats. 16 in Sindh, 10 in KPK, 9 in FATA and 4 in Balochistan and 1 Federal seat.
Out of the 27 seats won by Independents, 14 were in Punjab, 7 in tribal areas (where political parties were allowed to contest for the first time in 2013) , 4 in Balochistan and 1 each in Sindh and KPK.
Runner-up Independent candidates have a similar distribution, 29 of the 45 were in Punjab, 7 in Sindh, 5 in tribal areas, and 2 each in KPK and Balochistan.
Although the answer is pretty clear from the location mix (PML-N) - the natural line of inquiry is, which party did these independent candidates do the most damage to?
In relative terms, the number of seats (9) that PML-N lost to independent candidates was not crucial, but in absolute numbers, they took the biggest hit. This group of seats would be interesting to watch for the 2018 election as most of these victories were very close. The fact that 2 additional seats in Punjab were initially won by independent candidates and later won by PML(N) after a recount was ordered by the ECP - NA-103 and NA-108 - adds to this narrative.
As seen below, the victory margin for many of these wins for Independent candidates were low. For context, the overall median victory margin in the 2013 elections was 15% while the average was 20%.
As we add to this series looking at Independent candidates, we’ll look deeper into who these MNAs are and what characteristics can help us understand them better as a group. On the National Assembly’s website, only 9 ministers are still listed as Independent, so we will also see what happened after the seats were won. More on that in a future post.
Will you ever consider voting for an independent candidate? If so, why? Share your reasons with us.