Countdown to general elections
Despite past the first goalpost the democratic system remains fragile. Theoretically only two months away from the holding of general elections, a pervasive sense of uncertainty pervades.
It all started with the toppling of PML-N government in Baluchistan in January and culminated in the contentious Senate elections in which the PPP and the PTI joined hands with the freshly minted chief minister of the province Abdul Quddus Bizenjo to deprive the largest party in the Upper House of the coveted posts of chairman and deputy chairman.
Sharif’s wings have been successfully clipped with a little help from the ubiquitous establishment. Fears that the PML-N controlling both the Houses would play havoc with democratic institutions have been somewhat assuaged. But in the process the PTI has a lot of egg on its face.
The party chief after crying hoarse for long that both Sharifs and Zardari are ‘chors’ (thieves) had to go through the ultimate humiliation of voting for
Salim Mandviwalla the PPP candidate for deputy chairmanship in the Senate.
But the ultimate comeuppance for the PTI chief is that as a consolation prize he will not be able to have his own leader of the opposition in the Upper House. Zardari in his signature style after driving the stiletto in Khan’s back is twisting it by nominating Sherry Rehman to be the leader of the opposition in the Senate.
Sherry far ahead in the numbers game is bound to beat the PTI candidate Azam Swati. The Khan will probably still be drawing the vicarious satisfaction of doing the bidding of those wanting to block Sharif controlling the Upper House. But he hardly seems ready for challenges lying ahead.
Obviously the military leadership is taking threats and browbeating of the courts by Sharif and his daughter quite seriously
Sharif predictably for his woes blames the establishment for trumping him. According to him both the PPP and the PTI are toys in the hands of the powers that are following their dictates.
To some extent this might be true. But at the same time the former prime minister is unwilling to admit his own unforced errors.
Perhaps being a bit too confident about his numbers, in sharp contrast to Zardari he adopted a hands off policy in contesting the top posts of the upper house. And by all accounts Raja Zafar ul Haq was a poor choice for chairmanship announced too late. Reportedly some amongst Sharif’s allies and his own senators did not vote for Raja.
In light of the Senate elections many a political pundits are predicting that the countdown to general elections will not be without its pitfalls for the PML-N. The spat over delimitation of constituencies between the ECP (Election Commission of Pakistan) and the parliamentary committee on delimitation, is casting a shadow of doubt on holding of the general elections on time.
With the exception of the PTI virtually all the parties in the parliament have some problem or the other with fresh delimitations. The PTI does not want to brook any delay in the holding of elections on any pretext whatsoever.
The other day the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa met with a conclave of media persons. The session at the GHQ (General Headquarters) lasted over three hours.
The General assured journalists present that elections will be held on time and will be fair and free. He also declared that a level playing field would be provided to all the political parties. However the Chief did not rule out a delay in elections for a few weeks owing to technical reasons.
The army chief was at pains explaining that he had no personal (or otherwise) quarrel with Sharif. However he would ensure that the law took its own course without any intimidation or pressure.
He clearly drew a red line regarding functioning of the apex court assuring that its independence will be assured at all costs. Obviously the military leadership is taking threats and browbeating of the courts by Sharif and his daughter quite seriously.
In this context it is obvious that barring a miracle, in the coming months, Sharif will not be spared the slammer in corruption cases against him and his daughter being heard by the NAB court. But will that also mean end of his political career?
Some claim that Sharif will soon be history and that there will not be any reaction to his being jailed as a result of what he still maintains is a witch-hunt.
Of course large rallies addressed by Sharif and his daughter mitigate otherwise. However there are too many forces arrayed against him to allow his return to power any time soon.
His extremely critical and vocal campaign against the military establishment and the judiciary might have won him some support. But on the other hand it has created apprehensions about his intentions.
There are real fears that if he gets a repeat heavy mandate he will move to emasculate democratic institutions in the name of making the constitution more democratic.
Despite the experience in the Senate elections Sharif is still optimistic, reckoning that it will not be easy to manipulate general elections.
Of course like the Senate elections there will be efforts to have a divided house in which no party has the requisite number to neither form a government on its own nor dictate terms. However there is always an element of uncertainty, which way the pendulum will swing in general elections.
His extremely critical and vocal campaign against the military establishment and the judiciary might have won him some support. But on the other hand it has created apprehensions about his intentions
Barring the ECP both the military leadership and the CJP have assured fair and free elections. However it is yet to be seen what fail-safe arrangements are made for conduct of a transparent elections process.
This will not only depend on the ECP getting its act together but upon the credibility of the future caretaker government as well. Nevertheless as a prelude to the announcing of general elections there is going to a lot of pre-elections jostling in the coming weeks. The race for poaching the so-called winnable candidates is on.
The obvious target is the ruling party that has most of the ‘winnable’ candidates. And a major player in this game is the PTI. Some say with some help from the establishment. However not too many ‘winnables’ will be made to join the PTI lest it becomes another monster post elections.
Hopefully reports of political engineering are incorrect or exaggerated. These kinds of efforts have not paid in the past and no matter how the chips fall in the next general elections it will be disastrous for the incipient democratic system.
Weak governments would mean a weak democracy engendering endemic instability.
The late President Reagan once observed” It is usually said that politics is the second oldest profession in the world–come to think it has a lot common with the first one” In Pakistan this seems to confirm his observation!
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