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1997 Pakistani general election

General elections were held in Pakistan on 3 February 1997 to elect the National Assembly of Pakistan and the four provincial assemblies. The election featured a fierce contest between ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) led by incumbent Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the PML(N) led by conservative leader Nawaz Sharif. Nawaz Sharif was highly benefited and aided by the controversial death of populist leader Murtaza Bhutto, the worsening economy at home, and won the election in a landslide, receiving the highest number of votes ever won by a nonincumbent prime ministerial candidate. Sharif subsequently became the 12th prime minister of Pakistan.

1997 Pakistani general election

← 1993 3 February 1997 (1997-02-03) 2002 →

207 of 237 seats in National Assembly
104 seats needed for a majority
Turnout36.0%Decrease 4.3%
  First party Second party
  Nawaz Sharif detail, 981203-D-9880W-117.jpg Benazir Bhutto.jpg
Leader Nawaz Sharif Benazir Bhutto
Party PML (N) PPP
Leader since 6 October 1993 10 January 1984
Leader's seat Lahore Larkana
Seats before 73 89
Seats after 137 18
Seat change Increase 64 Decrease71
Popular vote 8,751,793 4,152,209
Percentage 45.9% 21.8%
Swing Increase 6.0% Decrease16.1%

Pakistan General election 1997.png
Map of Pakistan Showing National Assembly Cosntituencies and winning Parties

Prime Minister before election

Benazir Bhutto

Elected Prime Minister

Nawaz Sharif

The election took place after the previous Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government of Benazir Bhutto was dismissed by President Farooq Leghari for concerning matters of national security. Benazir Bhutto's government suffered with financial mismanagement, corruption charges, racial tensions in her native province, issues with Supreme court, the serious violation of the constitution, and leaders in PPP, notably Murtaza Bhutto, who were determined to end Asif Ali Zardari's involvement in government affairs.

The Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) of Nawaz Sharif won a landslide victory in the election, for the first time in the history of Pakistan. Sharif was sworn in as Prime Minister on 17 February. Voter turnout was 36.0%.[1]


The PPP won the largest number of seats in the 1993 election and Benazir Bhutto became prime minister at the head of a coalition government.[2] However, on 5 November 1996, President Leghari, a former ally of Bhutto,[3] dismissed the government 2 years early for alleged corruption and abuse of power.[4] The allegations included financial mismanagement, failing to stop police killings, destroying judicial independence and violating the constitution.[5] A number of PPP party members were detained including Bhutto's husband Asif Ali Zardari who was accused of taking commissions for arranging official deals.[5]

A former speaker and member of the PPP Miraj Khalid was appointed interim prime minister. The National Assembly and provincial assemblies were dissolved and elections called for 3 February 1997.[5] Bhutto denied all the charges against herself and petitioned the Supreme Court to reverse her dismissal. However, the court ruled in January that there was sufficient evidence for the dismissal to be justified legally.[6]


Expectations in the lead up to the election were that up to 90 people, possibly including Bhutto and Sharif, might be prevented from standing in the election due to the caretaker governments campaign against corruption. However, by the end of December 1996 the government was forced to acknowledge that they were unable to find sufficient evidence to act against leading politicians. As a result, the election once again became mainly a contest between the PPP and the PML-N.[7]

Over 6,000 candidates stood in the election, with 1,758 standing for the National Assembly and 4,426 for the four provincial assemblies.[8] Major campaign issues included corruption, the economy, ethnic and religious conflicts and growing terrorism.[4] However, there was little enthusiasm for the fourth election in 8 years with polls showing only about 20% would vote.[9] Predictions of a challenge by a new anti-corruption party, the Movement for Justice, founded by former cricketer Imran Khan, faded as Khan attempted to fend off personal attacks on PML(N) and Nawaz Sharif. Most forecasts expected Sharif's PML-N to win the election, with them drawing larger crowds than the PPP and appearing to be supported by the army.[10] Opinion polls showed the PML-N leading the PPP by about 40% to 20%.[6]


The results saw the PML-N win a landslide victory, winning by the largest margin since the 1977 election.[11] Bhutto's PPP was routed, and came second nationally with only 18 seats, and for the first time failing to win any seats in Punjab. Khan's Movement for Justice failed to win any seats.[11] The turnout, at around 36%, was the lowest ever in the history of elections in Pakistan.[12]

Parties Votes % Seats +/–
Pakistan Muslim League (N) 8,751,793 45.9 137 +64
Pakistan Peoples Party 4,152,209 21.8 18 −71
Haq Parast 764,207 4.0 12 New
Pakistan Muslim League (J) 624,286 3.3 0 −6
Awami National Party 357,002 1.9 10 +7
Pakistan Peoples Party (Shaheed Bhutto) 377,228 2.0 1 New
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) 325,910 1.7 2 New
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf 314,820 1.7 0 New
Balochistan National Party 124,754 0.7 3 New
National Peoples Party (Khar) 85,121 0.4 1 0
Balochistan National Movement 72,354 0.4 0 New
Jamhoori Wattan Party 66,128 0.3 2 0
Muslim Ittehad Pakistan 49,601 0.3 0 New
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (S) 48,838 0.3 0 New
Pakistan Democratic Party 47,153 0.2 0 New
Muslim League (Qayyum) 37,723 0.2 0 New
Pakistan Awami Party 31,615 0.2 0 New
30 other parties 88,429 0.5 0
Independents 1,482,033 7.4 21 +5
Invalid/blank votes 448,829
Total 19,516,716 100 207 0
Source: Nohlen et al.


party votes % seats
Pakistan Muslim League (N) 7,370,351 59 109
Pakistan Peoples Party 2,755,268 22 0
Independent 1,355,989 11 6
others 977,895 8 0
Total 12,459,503 100 115


party votes % seats
Pakistan Peoples Party 1,185,506 32 18
Haq Parast 748,821 20 12
Pakistan Muslim League (N) 694,007 19 9
Independent politician 507,718 14 5
Pakistan Peoples Party Shaheed Bhuttto 332,470 9 1
National Peoples Party 76,788 2 1
others 159,015 1 0
Total 3,704,325 100 46


party votes % seats
Pakistan Muslim League (N) 648,904 27 15
Awami National Party 371,722 16 10
Independent politician 825,830 34 9
Pakistan Peoples Party 189,817 8 0
Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islam Fazal-Ur-Rehman 166,077 7 0
others 194,866 8 0
Total 2,397,216 100 34


party votes % seats
Balochistan National Party 124,754 18 3
Pakistan Muslim League (N) 104,664 15 3
Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islam Fazal-Ur-Rehman 86,531 13 2
Balochistan National Movement 72,354 11 0
Jamhoori Wattan Party 65,765 10 2
Pakhtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party 56,259 8 0
Independent politician 49,805 7 1
Pakistan Peoples Party 52,090 8 0
others 67,308 10 0
Total 679,530 100 11


Nawaz Sharif described the results as reflecting the country's desire for an end to chaos.[11] Benazir Bhutto had threatened to not recognise the results if the PPP lost, but despite alleging that election officials had rigged the election by filling in extra ballots, she did not call for protests, saying that Pakistan needed political stability.[4][11][12] International observers from the European Union and the Commonwealth of Nations said the election met basic conditions but would not describe it as 'free and fair'.[4]

Nawaz Sharif was confirmed as prime minister by the National Assembly receiving 177 votes against 16 for the PPP candidate Aftab Shaban Mirani.[13] He took office on 18 February with a new cabinet named on 26 February.[4][13]


  1. ^ Dieter Nohlen, Florian Grotz & Christof Hartmann (2001) Elections in Asia: A data handbook, Volume I, p680 ISBN 0-19-924958-X
  2. ^ "ELECTIONS HELD IN 1993". Inter-Parliamentary Union. Retrieved 11 November 2008.
  3. ^ "Sharif takes office as Pakistan's prime minister". CNN. 17 February 1997. Retrieved 11 November 2008.
  4. ^ a b c d e "ELECTIONS HELD IN 1997". Inter-Parliamentary Union. Retrieved 11 November 2008.
  5. ^ a b c "Pakistan president fires Bhutto, calls new election". CNN. 5 November 1996. Archived from the original on 9 September 2005. Retrieved 11 November 2008.
  6. ^ a b "Pakistani court upholds Bhutto's dismissal". CNN. 29 January 1997. Retrieved 11 November 2008.
  7. ^ Burns, John F. (25 December 1996). "Pakistan's Corruption Drive Falters, Creating Political Openings". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 November 2008.
  8. ^ "Violence mars voting as Pakistanis trickle to polls". CNN. 2 February 1997. Archived from the original on 9 April 2005. Retrieved 13 November 2008.
  9. ^ "PAKISTAN VOTE GRIPS EMIGRES". Daily News. 3 February 1997. Retrieved 13 November 2008.[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ Burns, John F. (3 February 1997). "Is Bhutto Good, Bad or Ugly? Pakistanis Will Decide Today". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 November 2008.
  11. ^ a b c d Burns, John F. (5 February 1997). "Muslim Party Gets Huge Margin in Pakistan's Parliament". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 November 2008.
  12. ^ a b Burns, John F. (4 February 1997). "Benazir Bhutto Loses Badly To Longtime Pakistan Rival". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 November 2008.
  13. ^ a b "New Pakistan Prime Minister Takes Office". The New York Times. 18 February 1997. Retrieved 13 November 2008.