The electoral process plays a decisive role in rectifying various democratic maladies in any polity. The so-called anti-incumbency factor is an important phenomenon necessarily associated with this process. This factor essentially indicates a common tendency among the electors at the time of elections: in the face of unfulfilled promises and unaddressed public issues, the electors tend to vote against the incumbent government in the elections. In a bid to get the system rid of all undesirable political elements, the electors generally adhere to this typical reward-and-punishment approach towards political parties. Therefore, this game-changing factor can determine the fate and future of contesting political forces.

Generally three perquisites have been observed for this so-called anti-incumbency factor to effectively operate in a political system. Firstly, there must be some longstanding unaddressed public issues giving rise to general discontent among the masses vis-à-vis the incumbent government. Secondly, the incumbent government must have had a reasonable opportunity to resolve the underlying public issues, and to rectify the governmental mismanagement. The Marxist theory of Historical Materialism emphatically maintains that no stage of history succeeds another until it exploits all the inherent possibilities of its development. If a political regime doesn’t get a fair chance to implement its promised agenda, then it tries to brush all its political failures under the carpet on this very pretext. This tendency has frequently been observed in Pakistan on the eve of all snap elections.

Thirdly, before the electors may think about voting against the incumbent political regime, there must also be some ‘second choice’ for them at the time of elections in the form an alternative political party. A well-organized and fully-mobilized political party is often comparatively at ease to replace a ruling political force in the event of its disappearance. This so-called second political force has often been observed as adhering to the typical promise-something-to-everyone tactic by resorting to popular political slogans to attract the masses. Characterized by autocratic or single party dictatorship, there are many totalitarian regimes in the world that hardly allow any political dissent to prevail. This is the reason that, despite strong discontent among the people, the anti-incumbency factor often fails to break the political status quo in these countries.

As compared to developed countries, developing countries in the world are generally more prone to fall prey to this factor. Ruled by the military dictators, dynastic monarchies and pseudo-democratic leaders, these countries are facing some serious governance problems including issues relating to the capacity and integrity of their public representatives. They have only a little institutional capacity to rectify their socio-economic, legal and political maladies in the systems. Besides this, their national resources are always disproportionate to their population and that ultimately results in an economic deprivation. In the recent general elections in India, the BJP has dominated the national political horizon by upsetting the long-established political hegemony of the Congress party as the latter had miserably failed in minimizing the miseries of Indian masses for a long time. Probably, it may again be another anti-incumbency factor that the ruling BJP was also routed in Delhi’s state elections two months ago.

In the absence of political conditions like the presence of unresolved public issues, lack of good governance etc., the anti-incumbency factor has been less relevant in most of the western developed countries. There have been the healthy political culture, strong democratic traditions and vibrant state institutions in these countries. Here, the ruling political parties often mange to stay in power for comparatively a longer period. In United States, the Democratic Party’s candidate Barack Obama has won last two presidential elections. Earlier, both the former president George W Bush and Bill Clinton have also secured two consecutive terms in office. Likewise, before conservative party’s victory in last general elections, the Labour Party has somehow managed to win three consecutive general elections in UK. Similarly, the Conservative Party has also won four consecutive general elections marking its rule in UK from 1979 to 1997.

In Pakistan, the so-called anti-incumbency factor has been one of the major political determinants, shaping the entire political landscape, in 1990’s. During this period, the pendulum of power has constantly been oscillating between the two major national political parties- the PML (N) and PPP. The electorate has been quite reluctant to re-elect the outgoing political regimes in the country. After this, in 2008 general elections, backed by the President General Pervez Musharraf, the PML (Q) miserably failed to secure a second term for it. Likewise, in 2013 general elections, the PML (N) emerged as single largest national parliamentary party significantly marginalizing the PPP. In these elections, the ANP was also routed in KPK in the face of rising tsunami of the PTI. However, in the absence of any potential opposing political force, MQM continued to be the major urban political party in Sindh.

So far, the incumbent PML (N) government has somehow failed in resolving the chronic national issue like the energy crisis, inflation, unemployment etc. The public sector corruption is unabated. Likewise, the political will and institutional capacity of the civil government to curb the menace of terrorism are now being openly questioned. Therefore, already shaken by the PTI-PAT’s agitation movement, this state of political affair must be a matter of serious concern for the ruling political party. If the incumbent government fails to deliver to the general masses this time then it will hardly be able to protect itself from this rapidly-growing anti-incumbency factor in the next polls.

The opposition parties would be the natural beneficiary of the current anti-incumbency factor in Pakistan. Utterly failed in restoring the confidence of the people, the PPP has psychologically fortified itself in the rural Sindh. The ongoing wave of terrorism has also adversely affected the future political prospects of the religo-political parties. Presently, the MQM has somehow become entangled in many political and legal controversies. In this political perspective, the PTI will be the ultimate beneficiary of this factor in the next elections. Sometimes ago, PPP chairman Asif Ali Zardari has publicly acknowledged that people were attracted to the PTI because of their strong growing dissatisfaction with the political status quo in the country. However, in order to fully secure the fruits of the strong anti- status quo sentiments, PTI has first to mobilize and organize its party structure across the country. It has to move forward cautiously by avoiding to pursue its major political objective unthinkingly and hastily. It has to deliver in KPK, politically and administratively, so as to successfully protect itself too from any potential anti-incumbency factor in this province in future.