Pakistan elections: Politicians and parties to watch

Pakistan held general elections on 11 May in what will be the first democratic transfer of power in a country with a history of military coups. The BBC profiles the main politicians whose parties are competing for the popular vote.

Nawaz Sharif - opposition leader

Image caption Nawaz Sharif said the alleged US memo was a "treasonous act"

Twice prime minister, Nawaz Sharif remains the main political force in the Punjab, the most populous region of Pakistan. He is president of Pakistan's second largest party, the PML-N.

Mr Sharif, one of Pakistan's leading politicians over the past 30 years whether in government, opposition or exile in the Middle East, is tipped to perform strongly.

His party draws its electoral support from central and northern Punjab and held 92 seats in the outgoing federal parliament.

President Asif Ali Zardari

Image caption Mr Zardari has suffered from health problems which recently took him away from Pakistan

One of Pakistan's most controversial political figures, Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), came to power in September 2008 on a wave of public sympathy following the assassination of his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

His time in power has been one of unrelenting political and social turmoil, growing instability, militancy, persistent allegations of corruption and economic mismanagement.

His leadership has seen a marked deterioration in Pakistan's relationship with Washington, with the US questioning whether Islamabad is doing enough to tackle militancy.

The PPP government did manage to push through some crucial legal reforms and made a serious effort to improve ties with arch-rival India. But progress was slow, many say due to opposition from the military and jihadist groups. Mr Zardari's term ends in September.

Imran Khan - leader of Movement for Justice

Image caption Imran Khan has popular support but it may not translate to electoral success

The former international cricketer founded his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) party in 1996, but struggled to make any significant headway until recently.

It secured only one seat in the 2002 election (won by Khan himself) and boycotted the 2008 vote in protest at the deposition of the chief justice by then president Pervez Musharraf.

But over the past two years, Khan has held a series of well-attended rallies which have thrust him into the public eye.

BBC correspondents say a high turnout could see the former cricketer, who is popular with the urban middle class and young voters, sweep Punjab province.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari

Image caption Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was still a student at Oxford University when his mother was assassinated in 2007

The son of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and murdered ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was barely 19 when he inherited a role in a dynasty whose history is steeped in power and bloodshed.

Three days after his mother's assassination in December 2007, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari took over her position as chairman of the governing PPP.

Despite his sudden thrust to the top of the political echelon, the student initially kept a low profile, focusing instead on finishing his degree at Oxford University.

He's now in the country to inspire party workers ahead of the elections, but is not leading the campaign from the front due to security threats.

Pervez Musharraf - arrested former leader

Image caption Mr Musharraf may have miscalculated by returning

Pakistan's last military leader dramatically returned in March 2013 to compete in elections, ending four years of self-imposed exile and defying death threats.

But it seems it was a strategic mistake to do so, because he now faces trials in at least four criminal court cases, including a possible charge of treason. Whether a new government chooses to pursue that charge will not be known until after the vote.

As president from 2001 to 2008 Pervez Musharraf was one of Pakistan's longest-serving rulers. But his All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) is not expected to win more than a handful of seats.

Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam)

The centrist Pakistan Muslim League - Quaid (PML-Q) currently holds 50 seats in the National Assembly.

The PML-Q allied itself with the PPP for much of the 2008-2013 parliamentary term. Many of it members considered it a tumultuous relationship which should come to a permanent end. Large-scale defections are expected if it does not.

The PML-Q and the PML-N resulted from a split in 2002 when President Musharraf was in power and Nawaz Sharif in exile.

The PML-Q claims to trace its lineage to the All India Muslim League of which Muhammad Ali Jinnah - known as Quaid-e-Azam - was the president.

The Muttahida Quami Movement

The Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), is a Sindh-based secular party whose membership mostly comprises the descendants of Urdu-speaking migrants to Pakistan at the time of the partition of British India in 1947.

It mainly represents the interests of the urban lower and middle classes and the business community in the cities of Karachi and Hyderabad.

The MQM is one of the few political forces in Pakistan whose leadership is not made up of the political elite — several MQM leaders belong to the middle and lower-middle classes.

The Awami National Party

The Awami National Party (ANP) is a left of centre, secular political movement which focuses on Pashtun nationalism and wants improved ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan, India and the US despite its opposition to US drone attacks in the country's tribal areas.

The influx of the Pashtun population to Karachi over the past few years has made the ANP a significant force in the country's financial capital, sometimes putting it into conflict with the MQM.

With its secular standpoint and opposition to appeasing militants, the ANP has been continually targeted in militant attacks, particularly those staged by the Pakistani Taliban.

Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl

The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) is a right-wing religious party led by Maulana Fazlur Rahman that has ideological links to the Deobandi sect of Islam.

Its key constituencies are in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces.

It strongly opposes US drone attacks inside Pakistan's tribal regions and what it calls the government's "pro-American policy".

After elections of 2008, the JUI-F joined the PPP-led coalition government and remained a part of the federal cabinet until December 2010.


The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) is a right-wing religious party which is ideologically close to the Middle East-based Muslim Brotherhood.

It was once popular with the Urdu speaking people of Karachi, but it lost support to the MQM in 1980s.

Since then it has survived in electoral politics only through various alliances with the right-wing conservative forces.

Considered to be the best organised party in the country, militants linked to the JI have been deeply involved in the wars in Afghanistan and Indian-administered Kashmir.

Its best years were under Qazi Hussain Ahmad, a charismatic leader with populist appeal who died in January.

The alliance of religious parties of which the JI was a member - the MMA - won more than 50 of the 272 seats in the parliament of 2002 - the best ever performance by a religious alliance.

It boycotted the 2008 elections. This election is the first since 1988 in which the JI is contesting outside of an alliance.

Muttahida Deeni Mahaz

The Muttahida Deeni Mahaz (MDM) is an alliance of five Sunni religious parties. One of its constituents is the The ASWJ, widely seen as the political face of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, the group blamed for killing hundreds of Shia Muslims all over Pakistan.

The MDM is fielding a number of candidates in central and southern Punjab and has made electoral arrangements with political parties in other provinces.

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