Elections in Pakistan: A visual history

Elections in Pakistan: A visual history
By Nadeem F. Paracha

On the 25th of July, 2018, Pakistan will hold its eleventh general election.

Chief of the All India Muslim League Muhammad Ali Jinnah and his sister Ms Fatima Jinnah meet a voter at a polling station in Lahore during the 1946 general election in pre-partition India. The League contested the election on the promise of forming a new Muslim-majority country, Pakistan. The party won the election on almost all Muslim seats in the Muslim-majority regions of India. A year later, in August 1947, Pakistan was born.


While Jinnah was appointed as the new country’s all-powerful Governor-General, Liaquat Ali Khan was chosen as the country’s first prime minister by an indirectly elected Constituent Assembly.


In 1951, Pakistan held its first direct provincial assembly elections in Punjab and NWFP (present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). The country’s founding party, the centrist Muslim League, won majorities in both the provinces.


Khawaja Nazimuddin (fourth from left) was appointed PM after Liaquat’s assassination in 1951.


In 1954 the first legislative assembly elections were held in the country’s eastern wing, the Bengali-majority East Pakistan. An alliance of leftist and centrist parties, the United Front, swept the election in which the Muslim League was almost completely wiped out in East Pakistan.


The first non-Muslim-League cabinet in East Pakistan. All belonged to the United Front that won the 1954 legislative assembly polls.


1956: Prime Minister Chaudhry Muhammad Ali announcing the passage of the country’s first Constitution in the indirectly elected Constituent Assembly. The Constitution stated that Pakistan would hold its first direct national assembly elections in 1958-59.


In late 1958, President Iskandar Mirza, and military chief Ayub Khan, launched a coup and imposed the country’s first martial law. Citing rising corruption and political chaos as reasons behind the chaos, they abolished political parties and suspended the 1956 constitution. A few days later, during a tense power struggle, Ayub ousted President Mirza as well.


In 1959, Ayub was elected as President through an electoral system called ‘Basic Democracies.’ The people directly elected 80,000 ‘basic democrats’ (independents with their own election symbols). These constituted an ‘electoral college’ which elected Ayub as president.



Ayub celebrates his fourth year in power. In 1962, Ayub lifted the ban on political parties. He became chief his own faction of the Muslim League, the Convention Muslim League. The 80,000 ‘basic democrats’ were asked to send members of different political parties to the national assembly. The centrist Convention Muslim League became the majority party. The opposition parties that managed to get their members sent to the assembly were the left-wing National Awami Party (NAP), the centre-right Council Muslim League, the centre-left Awami League, the moderate right-wing Islami Nizam Party and the right-wing Jamat-i-Islami. The assembly passed a new constitution.


A train full of Ayub’s party supporters in 1962.


1970 general election

In 1970, Pakistan held its first general election based on adult franchise. The election took place two years after the collapse of the Ayub regime. The centre-left and Bengali nationalist outfit, the Awami League (AL) swept the election in East Pakistan.
In West Pakistan, the left-leaning and populist Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) won a majority in the region’s two largest provinces, Punjab and Sindh.
The left-wing National Awami Party-Wali (NAP-Wali) won a majority in Balochistan and shared the honors with the centre-right Qayyum Muslim League and Jamiat Ulema Islam in the NWFP.
In 1971 a civil war erupted in East Pakistan and the region separated from the rest of the country to become Bangladesh. ZA Bhutto’s PPP came to power in the former West Pakistan (now just Pakistan).


Women in Karachi vote during the 1970 general election.


Supporters of the PPP from Karachi’s Malir area going towards a polling station on camel carts during the 1970 elections.


Pakistan Television (PTV) ran a marathon transmission during the 1970 election.


AL’s Mujeeb ur-Rheman addressing a mammoth rally in Dhaka just before the 1970 election.


PPP’s chairman, ZA Bhutto campaigning during the 1970 election.


NAP-Wali’s Baloch leader G Bakhsh Bizenjo addresses NAP supporters at the party’s headquarters in Quetta during the 1970 election.


A victorious PPP candidate carried by his supporters in Lahore.


ZA Bhutto’s PPP comes to power.


Front cover of an Urdu weekly with photos of an election rally and leaders of the right-wing electoral alliance, the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA), during the 1977 election.


Bhutto campaigning in Karachi during the 1977 election.


PPP swept the 1977 elections. But PNA cried foul and accused the regime of rigging the polls. Riots erupted, mainly in Lahore and Karachi. Here a PNA supporter can be seen lying in a pool of blood whereas another is being taken into custody by security forces.


PNA leaders led by Pir Pagara hold a press conference in Karachi during the riots.


Gen Zia-ul-Haq takes over power (July 1977) in a reactionary military coup.


Gen Zia arrives with his daughter to cast his vote during a referendum in 1984. Less than 25% voters took part in the exercise that ‘elected’ Zia as president.


In 1985, the Zia regime held ‘party-less elections’. The opposition parties boycotted the polls. The pro-Zia candidates in the new assemblies revived the Pakistan Muslim League. However, this League was much more to the right of Jinnah’s League and that of Ayub’s.


PML’s Muhammad Khan Junejo (left) became PM. Zia remained president.


PPP Chairperson, Benazir Bhutto, campaigning in the Punjab just before the 1988 election – the first post-Zia election.


Islami Jamhoori Ittihad (IJI) leader Nawaz Sharif holding a rally in Lahore during the 1988 election.


PTV election transmission of the 1988 election.


MQM chief Altaf Hussain talking to reporters after his party swept the 1988 election in Karachi.


Benazir arrives to cast her vote in Karachi’s Lyari area during the 1988 election. The PPP won the election by a slight majority.


IJI leaders campaigning during the 1990 election. The IJI won the election.


Benazir at a press conference in Lahore where she claimed that the 1990 elections were ‘massively rigged.’


Lahore during the 1993 election.


Nawaz campaigning during the 1993 election. By now he had quit the IJI and formed his own party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.


Benazir leading a victory procession after the PPP was voted back into power in 1993.


Supporters of Nawaz’s PML-N during the 1997 election.


PML-N swept the 1997 election.


Pakistan military men take over the Karachi Airport during the 1999 coup against the Nawaz regime. Gen Musharraf came to power and promised to ‘rid the country of political and economic chaos.’


Musharraf arrives at a polling station with wife and mother during the 2002 referendum that confirmed him as the country’s new president. The turnout was low.


An old man casts his vote during the 2002 general election.


Chief of the pro-Musharraf PML-Q addressing a press conference after his party won a majority in the 2002 election.


A coalition of religious parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) swept the 2002 provincial assembly elections in the NWFP.


A hoarding showing Benazir and her husband Asif Zardari during the 2008 election. Benazir was assassinated in 2007.



A huge MQM rally in Karachi during the 2008 election.


PPP leader Sherry Rahman with ANP chief Asfandyar Wali. PPP won a majority in the 2008 election. ANP won the most seats in NWFP. And PML-N won the second largest number of seats. Musharraf was forced to resign.


Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N leads the long march for judges’ restoration in March 2009.


A series of party posters in Rawalpindi during the 2013 elections.


A woman casts her vote in Karachi during the 2013 election.


A poster of Imran Khan’s populist centre-right party, the PTI. PTI managed to bag the second highest number of votes in the 2013 election.


Supporters of PMLN celebrate the party’s sweeping victory in the 2013 election.

Lead Writer

Nadeem Farooq Paracha is a Pakistani journalist, author and cultural critic.