August 19, 2020
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Social Inequality and Political Divides in Pakistan

Social Inequality and the Dynamics of Political and ethnolinguistic Divides in Pakistan, 1970-2018

In this paper, Amory Gethin, Sultan Mehmood and Thomas Piketty study political cleavages in Pakistan. To do so, they make use of a unique set of polls covering all direct elections held in the country since 1970. The paper analyzes the evolution of political parties, beginning with the initial economic “left-right” opposition between the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Muslim League. Regionalist, ethnolinguistic and religious divides have weakened and transformed this party system. The decline of the PPP has come with its transformation from a low-income mass-based party to an ethnic party confined to Sindhi speakers.

The paper also analyzes the recent rise of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and the role played by the political unification of the various elites in its success. Finally, it discusses how the Islamization policies implemented under the military regime of Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988) have contributed to weaken the development of a pro-redistribution secularist coalition.

Key results

  • Pakistan first party system clearly had a “left-right” dimension in the 1970s. It opposed the dominant Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), supported by poorer Sindhi speakers as well as by low-income, lower-educated voters from all regions of Pakistan, to the Muslim League and other right-wing parties.
  • The decline of the PPP in the past fifty years has led to an “ethnicisation” of Pakistan’s party system. Only Sindhis still show significant support for this party, while Muslim League parties are increasingly restricted to the Punjab region.
  • The last two elections have however been associated with the emergence of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). The party was founded by former cricketer Imran Khan and won the 2018 election thanks to support from urban, higher-income and higher-educated elites.
  • There has also been a strong cleavage opposing the majority Sunni population to Shia voters and other religious minorities, who are much more supportive of the PPP.

> Click here to read the paper

Figure – Social Inequality and Political Divides in Pakistan

This figure shows the share of votes received by the PPP by linguistic group.



Amory Gethin (PSE, WIL):
Sultan Mehmood (Aix-Marseille School of Economics):
Thomas Piketty (EHESS, PSE, WIL):

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