Although the PML-N emerged with a majority in the Senate elections it was unable to get its candidates for Chairman and Deputy Chairman elected. But it is not as if that outcome was completely off the cards given the events leading up to it. A rebellion in the Baluchistan Assembly by PML-N dissidents around two and a half months back was the beginning. Nawaz Sharif was banking on those votes for the March election. Then less than a month ago all PML-N candidates were made to run as independents in the Senate elections due to a Supreme Court decision that made Nawaz Sharif ineligible to remain party chairman and all decisions he took in that capacity since his disqualification were deemed invalid including the awarding of Senate tickets.
Add to that the PTI-PPP alliance and clearly things were moving towards another upset for the PML-N. There were some surprises along the way too with the PTI squeezing out one Senate seat in Punjab while the PPP was able to successfully navigate its way to winning two Senate seats from Khyber Pakhtunwkhwa (KP) which is quite a feat given its meagre presence in the province and minimal sway in the provincial assembly there. All told what was supposed to be an easy win for PML-N’s Raja Zafarul Haq as Senate Chairman with an estimated count of 57-46 was reversed in favour of the opposition’s Sadiq Sanjrani – an independent from Baluchistan.
It is no secret that a significant amount of ‘financial motivation’ and horse trading is the norm in any Senate election. But these elections were something else! The three major parties were running around the country trying to gain support that would matter on the day. But beating the majority party in the election for Senate Chairman and Deputy required something extra. That extra ‘push’ could be attributed to the ever-present establishment and also in part to an increasingly politicised judiciary. Is a Senate like reversal of PML-N’s fortunes possible in the upcoming general elections?
The PPP, not known for partnering with purely right–wing hardliner religious parties in the past, will have no qualms about doing so this election cycle after Zardari got into bed with Tahir ul Qadri’s (PAT) Paksitan Awami Tehreek
Well first things first, Nawaz Sharif should not be expecting the simple majority he secured in 2013. A lot has changed since then, primarily the fact that Sharif himself will not be contesting this July election. He is also no longer party chairman but above all what should really worry him are the NAB references against him and his family where it is becoming increasingly apparent that he and his family could be facing some jail time.
Secondly, the composition of the opposition in Punjab has also changed. For all its faults the PTI remains the single biggest opposition to the PML-N in the province by a long shot. Hopefully it will not repeat the election-day mistakes it made in 2013. But both should be weary of the new kid on the block. The Faizabad debacle launched Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) and its leader the abusive and repulsive Khadim Rizvi. The party has taken the number three position in two major bye-elections in Punjab; Lahore and Lodhran. Although the margin between the second and third position is significant it is still representative of where an ex-PML-N voter and would-be PTI voter has found solace.
There are no indications yet of some sort of a mass exodus from the PML-N in the coming months. The soup that Nawaz Sharif and his family find themselves in has so far not made a significant enough dent in their party’s popularity amongst the masses so why would an electable candidate sitting pretty with a popular party, guaranteed to get a ticket and party support in the upcoming polls, jump ship? But stranger things have happened in the past so any such desertions from the party cannot be completely written off. The sort of ‘political engineering’ witnessed in the Senate elections is certainly more difficult to replicate in the general elections but not impossible if the right amount of ‘persuasion’ is applied.
A likely scenario therefore is that of a hung parliament where alliances will have to be made and no alliance can be ruled out. The PPP, not known for partnering with purely right–wing hardliner religious parties in the past, will have no qualms about doing so this election cycle after Zardari got into bed with Tahir ul Qadri’s (PAT) Paksitan Awami Tehreek against the Shairfs only recently. Imran Khan will align himself with virtually anyone who is anti-Nawaz or furthers his narrow-minded agenda of eliminating the Sharifs from Pakistan’s political landscape – teaming up with the PPP for the Senate elections is a case in point.
Both the military and judiciary have vowed to ensure that elections are free and fair. Additionally both have also remained critical of this government’s performance. While CJP (Chief Justice of Pakistan) Saqib Nisar lambasted the Punjab government for “not doing anything in 10 years” COAS (Chief of Army Staff) General Qamar Javed Bajwa in a recently held candid talk with journalists reportedly criticised the PML-N leadership and in particular Ishaq Dar for the terrible state of the country’s economy.
Some of these are valid criticisms and questions but if both these institutions have decided to comment on matters that are essentially out of their domain then perhaps they should also offer something more than just suggesting simple solutions to some very complex problems. This rhetoric is also reciprocal given how Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and her A-team have been vocally disparaging the judiciary and the army since the Panama verdict.
Unfortunately a lot of space – vacated due to the ruling party’s sheer incompetence, lack of interest in passing meaningful legislation and misplaced priorities – has been taken up by other institutions so part of the blame also rests with the PML-N for what it is calling ‘victimisation’ that has made them into an opposition party while they are still in power. Nawaz’s goose is pretty much cooked but on paper his party still has a fighting chance as its strength in Punjab remains. Will that — or will that be allowed by the powers that be to — translate into another five years in office? Not long now before we have an answer.