ISLAMABAD: The far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) has emerged as the country’s fifth-largest party, according to an exit poll survey by Gallup, with analysts predicting it will become a growing legislative force.
The religious party, founded in August 2015 and led by hard-line preacher Khadim Hussain Rizvi, is the third largest in Punjab, the country’s breadbasket and most populous province, the survey shows.
In a surprise to many political observers, the TLP gained more than 2.2 million votes in the recent election, taking 4 percent from the total vote bank.
The party’s count was roughly 300,000 votes less than its heavyweight rival Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an old five-party alliance.
Barring Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the TLP crushed all other parties in Punjab, including the mainstream Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
Gallup Pakistan (GP), the country’s leading research institution, gathered data from across 127 constituencies and questioned about 4,000 voters.
Imran Khan’s PTI led with a 32 percent share of votes in the polls, according to GP, which used the official results from the Election Commission of Pakistan. The PML-N ranked second with 24 percent of votes.
“Anecdotal evidence showed that in many seats, TLP votes pushed PML-N to second position, one reason for the loss of PML-N seats,” the survey said.
“Another way to look at the numbers is that between the 2013 and 2018 general election, PML-N lost around 9 percent of its vote bank nationally. Of this 9 percent, around 3-4 percent of the vote bank was lost not to PTI but to TLP.”
TLP’s success also dented the hopes of the struggling Muttahaida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in Karachi, the capital of Sindh and second most populated province. Rizvi’s party surpassed the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP), a splinter of MQM, and PML-N, winning 12 percent of the vote.
Political analyst Qamar Cheema told Arab News: “Since no party lived up to the expectations of the masses, the lower and lower middle class in the city voted for right-wing Islamists.”
Rizvi made international headlines with his support for Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer’s assassin Mumtaz Qadri, a member of the governor’s security detail who shot and killed Taseer over blasphemy allegations and was subsequently hanged in 2016.
The Qadri movement, spearheaded by the preacher, drew support from across the nation.
In November 2017, TLP followers blocked Islamabad’s main road protesting against the PML-N-led government’s attempt to amend the “finality of prophethood” constitutional clause.
Agitators clashed with security forces forcing the army to step in to curb the violence. However, the federation surrendered to Rizvi’s demands, turning him into a so-called people’s champion of religion.
“Pakistan’s politics is facing a new dilemma: The rise of new Islamists and their participation in the democratic process,” said Cheema.
“TLP’s inclusion in provincial assemblies will definitely affect future legislation,” he said.