It recently came to light that Balochistan’s new Chief Minister (PML-Q's Mir Abdul Quddus Bizenjo) won his Provincial Assembly seat PB-41 with a total of 544 votes - not by a margin of 544 votes, that number was the total votes cast in favor of him. The reason this was enough to secure his seat was that the total number of votes cast for this seat were 683, a mere 1% of the registered voters in that constituency.
This stand-alone statistic compels one to think that 544 votes for a seat in a provincial or national-level elected body are “too few”. It also begs the question: in a country of 220 million (and 86 million registered voters), why is the bar for being a people’s representative so low?
Lets indulge this train of thought a little more and discuss a few questions that might help illustrate the competition for National Assembly seats in the 2013 election:
1. What was the lowest number of votes cast for someone who won a National Assembly seat in 2013?
3,468 votes. Muhammad Jamal ud Din of JUI-F won NA-42 this way. The total turnout was 11% at about 12K votes, but it was a tough race (unlike PB-41) as 3 other candidates got 2,000 or more votes.
2. How many National Assembly seats were won by candidates with 10,000 or fewer votes?
NA- 36, 39, 41, 42, 46, 271. No prizes for guessing that the first 5 are located in close proximity of each other. If we ask the same question about 15,000 or fewer votes, NA-43 and 47 also join the list.
So where are these low-hanging fruits? Except NA-271 which is in Balochistan, all these seats (NA-36 to 47) are TRIBAL AREA seats (I through XII) where political parties were allowed to field their candidates for the first time in 2013.
3. What about other parts of the country? Is this what low voter turnout looks like in absolute number of votes?
The answers is No to the second question - what we have discussed so far is not representative of the entire country. The median number of votes won by the winning candidate for a National Assembly seat in 2013 was 88,350 - average was 84,720.
As shown in the table below, the winning candidate on average won with close to 100,000 votes on average in Punjab and Sindh. The candidates have a ton of backing!
4. Was that just enough to sail through or was that an overkill? How many votes did the winning candidate actually need?
Technically, votes cast for the runner-up +1.
The median for votes cast for the runner-up candidate is 48,188 votes - and the average is 49,580. We’ll be looking at victory margins in greater details in a separate post but it’s interesting to look at it from an absolute sense. On average, runners-up got about 35K fewer votes than the winner. So, overkill seems like a better description.
5. What about all the other candidates - how many were they? About 46 million votes were cast for 272 seats, what does that translate to in terms of votes per candidate?
About 4,500 candidates competed for the 272 seats, so that’s about 170,000 votes per seat and 10,000 votes per candidate. However, as the runner-up versus winner comparison should have indicated, most of the votes were cast to the top 3 candidates.
6. Makes sense so far. So are 20% of candidates getting 80% of the vote and validating the 80/20 rule that runs the world?
Turns out its actually 90%. About 800 (272 X 3) out of the 4,500 candidates (less than 20%) get 90% of the vote. Close enough.
7. Ok, one last question for now (we can't write about elections without getting into how political parties fared). So, how many votes did the parties get in total and per seat that they contested?
So, 46 million votes in total were cast in 2013. About 15 million votes for PML-N and about 15 more million for PTI and PPP combined, and the remaining 16 million for everyone else. Of the 16 million, 6 million votes were cast for “Independent” candidates - we begin looking at these ~2,400 candidates (more than 50%) in greater detail in a separate post.
Per seat - this is what the picture was in 2013.
I hope you now have a clearer picture of the scale of these elections, and a sense of how the votes are generally distributed among candidates. Are there any other details you think are worth highlighting? Any additional questions that pop up in your mind? Ask away in the comments below.