Where the parties stand on the eve of their election campaigns
The process for the 2013 general elections has entered the second stage of scrutiny of nomination papers while the political parties are awarding party tickets. As the nomination papers have sought a lot more information about the candidates than was the case in the past, scrutiny has become a cumbersome task. However, there will not be mass disqualifications of candidates because any disqualification under article 62 and 63, inserted in the constitution by General Zia-ul-Haq, with negative intentions, requires court conviction except when a person is a defaulter of loans or government and utility dues. These matters can be resolved by making payments of utilities bills or government dues.
Imran Khan launched the campaign for Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) with a massive public meeting in Lahore on March 23. It showed the organisational and mobilisation capacity of the party. Imran Khan’s speech was cut short by windstorm and rain.
The PTI public meeting manifested ideological confusion. Imran Khan opened his speech with a strong religious discourse that exceeded the use of religion in public speeches by the top leadership of the Jamaat-i-Islami. If we put Imran Khan’s use of religious idiom with his sympathetic disposition towards the Taliban, he becomes a strong contender for right-wing conservative and Islamist votes. However, his top advisers and members of manifesto team appear to be more pragmatic and realistic in addressing Pakistan’s problems; some of them were known for moderate and balanced disposition before joining the PTI. The public meeting also had sufficient arrangements for music, songs and dancing for youth and others who view party rallies as a festival. This ideological confusion is likely to add to the party’s internal management problems caused by internal party elections and distribution of party tickets for the elections.
Nawaz Sharif launched the PML-N election campaign with no less impressive public meeting in Mansehra on March 25. He talked of his favourite themes of building roads, motorways and bullet trains and ending energy crisis for changing the fortune of the people. His other popular theme is the highlighting of what he describes as the achievements of his rule in 1997-1999 and that if he had been given ten years to rule he would have changed Pakistan altogether for the better. Referring to the nuclear explosion in 1998, he promised to do an “economic explosion” if got another chance to rule at the federal level.
The PML-N appears to be in the lead in Punjab but Nawaz Sharif will have to overcome the trauma of loss of power in October 1999 and focus on how his party would fulfill the promises made in the manifesto or speeches in view of Pakistan’s troubled economy and the onslaught of religious extremism and terrorism.
The PML-N rule in 1997-99 was controversial because of Nawaz Sharif’s unrestrained bid to concentrate all power in his hands at the expense of state institutions. He humbled the chief justice, the president and party members, stripped the president of the power to dissolve the National Assembly and secured the resignation of one army chief. He moved the 15th constitutional amendment to acquire unlimited power in the name of implementing Islam. This amendment could not get through the legislative process. His overconfidence made him to pursue an ill-conceived plan to replace the Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf with his favourite by announcing General Musharraf’s removal while he was in the aircraft flying back from Sri Lanka to Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif’s civilian coup against General Musharraf failed, enabling Musharraf and his top generals to strike back and knock him out of power.
The PPP plans to start its election campaign on the death anniversary of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on April 4. In addition to the constraints of incumbency, the PPP faces leadership crisis. President Asif Ali Zardari has pulled himself out of visible active politics and left the office of co-chairman of the PPP on March 22 under pressure from the Lahore High Court. This was coupled with the change of the PPP’s secretary general and information secretary. The party faced an embarrassing situation in the Election Commission hearing on the assignment of election symbols when Jehangir Badar and Latif Khosa made simultaneous claims on the post of secretary general. Later, Badar accepted the party decision of his replacement but this accentuated the party’s difficulties in the Punjab where the party failed to find a credible and inspiring provincial leader. Different leaders function autonomously.
The news of estrangement of Bilawal Bhutto from the top power brokers of the PPP is another negative development. Even if this information is not fully correct, there is a lot of unease in the party about the personalised management of the party affairs from the top, especially by Faryal Talpur who seemed to acquire more pivotal role in party affairs after Asif Ali Zardari decided to stay on the sidelines.
The PPP-Parliamentarian and the PPP, interchangeable names for practical purposes, faced challenges to its identity as the genuine PPP from two sources: the PPP-Shaheed Bhutto of Ghinwa Bhutto and the Naheed Khan-Dr Abbas faction. These are too weak to cause any serious problem. The PPP-Patriots, established in 2002, fizzled out over time. Another faction, PPP-Sherpao, dropped out and turned into a Pakhtun nationalist party under a different name. It seems the PPP-P or the PPP does not face any credible challenge to its claim to inherit the legacy of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto. Its problems are inside the party.
General Pervez Musharraf returned to Pakistan on March 24 with a misplaced hope of carving out a significant role in Pakistani politics. He will be faced by court cases relating to various policy measures during his rule rather than playing any significant role in Pakistani politics.
The return of Akhtar Mengal of the BNP (Mengal) on March 25 is a welcome development. It is encouraging that the well-known parties from Balochistan that stayed away from the 2008 elections will now take part in the elections.
The political leaders from Balochistan have made a positive gesture towards the electoral process. It is the responsibility of the provincial government, the federal government and the army and other security agencies to provide maximum security to election campaign and voting in Balochistan because there are extremist and terrorist groups that want to subvert the process. A relatively orderly and acceptable election in Balochistan will go a long way to establish the credibility of the electoral process and democracy in Pakistan.
The writer is an independent political and defence analyst.