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Pakistan's political parties explained

  • Story Highlights
  • Pakistan will hold parliamentary elections Monday
  • Political parties competing for 272 seats in the National Assembly
  • 49 political parties have applied for poll symbols with the Election Commission
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By Mariam Chaudhry for CNN
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistan will hold parliamentary elections Monday, with political parties competing for 272 seats in the National Assembly.

Election posters jostle for space on a street in Rawalpindi ahead of Pakistan's elections on Monday.

The elections were due to take place in December of last year but were postponed after the assassination of Pakistan People's Party chairman, Benazir Bhutto.

In 2008, 49 political parties applied for poll symbols with the Election Commission. Outlined below are the main contenders:


The assassination of leader Benazir Bhutto looms large over the PPP, which had been banking on the charismatic leader to rally supporters to its cause and shake off the charges of corruption that have dogged the party since Bhutto fled prosecution after two terms as prime minister.

The fortunes of the party, launched in 1967 by her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, remains in the hands of her family, with son Bilwal installed as chairman.

Founded on promises of "egalitarian democracy," the PPP flirted with socialist principles in its early days, gaining a mass popularity that continues to ensure it is among Pakistan's largest political parties.

While the PPP has lost touch with its socialist roots, it remains popular among Pakistan's oppressed and underprivileged, particularly in the southern province of Sindh, from where the Bhutto family hails.


The PML-N is the largest faction of the Pakistan Muslim League and is led by Nawaz Sharif, who has re-emerged as a political player in Pakistan in the past few months after returning from Saudi Arabia where he was exiled after being ousted from power in a 1999 coup led by Pervez Musharraf.

The centrist conservative party was in power twice in the 90s, with both terms ending amid damaging allegations of corruption, despite campaigning on an anti-graft platform.

Sharif's 1997 victory was the largest mandate every recorded in Pakistan, but was immediately called into question by his opponent Bhutto. The term ended in chaos as .

PML-N under Sharif received a huge public mandate in 1997 and formed a government with two-thirds majority. Though his rule was credited with economic growth it was cut short when complaints of corruption and an attempt to replace the head of the military backfired when newly-installed army chief Musharraf led a successful coup, forcing him into exile to avoid corruption convictions.

Permitted by Musharraf to return to Pakistan last year, Sharif is now banking the PML-N's fortunes on a platform of renewing the country's top judiciary -- removed by Musharraf during a state of emergency.


Formed under guidance from Musharraf in 2001, the PML-Q was originally a splinter faction of the Pakistan Muslim League, which was able to attract enough dissidents from the PML-N to cobble together an alliance and form a government in 2002.

The largely center-conservative party has seen its power base dented through its association with Musharraf as polls show the president's falling popularity in the face of the resurgent PPP and PML-N.


Formed after Musharraf allied himself to the U.S.-led anti-terror coalition in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attack on New York and Washington, the MMA is a coalition of six Islamic parties that emerged as a powerful challenger to the president.

Opponents have decried the MMA, or Muttahida Majlis Amal's goal of establishing a theocracy in Pakistan, and its attempts to impose hardline sharia law in the impoverished areas where it exerts greatest control.

The resolutely anti-American alliance, dominated by JI (Jamaat I Islami) and JUI-F (Jamiat Ulema Islam) saw success in the 2002 elections in the North West Frontier and Balochistan provinces and went on to form a provincial government in the NWFP and a coalition government in Balochistan.

Its prospects are likely to be hampered by a dispute within the alliance over whether to boycott the parliamentary elections.


The MQM stands for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a party formed to protect the rights of the Urdu-speaking immigrants from India after Partition.

Led by Altaf Hussain from his self-imposed exile in the UK, the party has been supportive of Musharraf's policies and formed part of the PML-Q alliance.

Frequently facing allegations of involvement in terrorist activities, the party's recent efforts to extend its support base to other provinces have yielded little success.


The Awami National Party is a nationalist leftist party based in the North West Frontier province that and enjoys widespread popularity with ethnic Pakhtuns.

The ANP did not enjoy much success in 2002 but has renewed hopes as the MMA's following fades in the Frontier.


Pakistan Tehrik I Insaf is headed by the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. Vitriolic in his criticism of Musharraf's policies, Khan has failed to capitalize on his popularity as a sportsman, seeing his party take just one seat in the 2002 elections. PTI has said it will boycott the 2008 elections. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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