Not unless the politicians act together
With a consensus among the political parties not to upset the apple cart, it should be possible to hold the elections on time leading to an orderly transfer of power. There are signs that the minimum required consensus has finally emerged among the major parties. This however does not suit the offstage players.
Despite sharp rivalries and bitter differences there is a pleasant end to war cries and threats to drag the opponents in the streets. None is demanding early elections. None is issuing calls for march on Islamabad. If the consensus remains intact till the holding of the elections, this would show that the politicians are displaying an unusual sense of responsibility.
The agreement between the government and the opposition on the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner indicates that a modicum of confidence exists between the PPP and PML (N). That Imran Khan has endorsed the appointment shows that he does not want to be seen as a spoiler. The maturity of the politicians would however be tested when it comes to an agreement on the caretaker set up.
The PPP wants the nomination of the caretakers strictly in accordance with the constitutional provisions which envisage an understanding between the government and parliamentary opposition. The PTI chief, Imran Khan, demands the opposition outside parliament also to be included in the consultation. Will it be possible to resolve the dispute so that there are no complaints of pre-poll rigging?
A failure to create a consensus caretaker setup can lead the party losing the elections to challenge the results and take to the streets to undo them. There are already complaints by Imran Khan that the PPP and PML(N) are ganging up against the PTI and would jointly create a caretaker set up that favours them against the PTI.
Despite a heated debate going on between the PML-N and PTI, Nawaz Sharif has volunteered to take the opposition outside parliament into confidence over the nomination of the caretaker setup. It remains to be seen if he succeeds.
The removal of Gilani by the Supreme Court had led to widespread criticism. The removal was dubbed as a soft coup. It was maintained that the SC was following in the footsteps of the army. There were rumours about a Bangladesh-style model being in the offing.
The CJ has categorically dismissed the scenarios, maintaining that the Bangladesh model has no legal or constitutional legitimacy. To stop any interference by the army in the system, the apex court has held that no ISI cell can operate in Pakistan. Further that any cell of the sort still operating must stop working immediately. The security agencies and the Balochisan FC have flouted the orders of the SC indicates that it would be unrealistic to wish off the political cell with a simple order. In fact the presence of the cell was denied in the past also when in fact it was still operating. The SC has declared illegal the use the national exchequer to overthrow governments. The taste of the pudding however is in the eating.
The apex court still insists on the implementation of the NRO decision through the prime minister. Will Raja Pervaiz Ashraf be sent home like his predecessor when he declines to send the required letter to the Swiss authorities? Or will the court devise some other mechanism to get the letter dispatched? As long as the Damocles sword continues to hang over the head of the prime minister, apprehensions will continue to persist regarding the future of the system despite the assurance by the CJ that it will continue.
A lot of uncertainty remains about the intentions of the offstage players regarding the system. While the army remained the real decision maker during the entire tenure of the PPP government, it was for the first time that the ISI chief and the COAS had to pass through the unpleasant experience of presenting themselves before the Parliament and answering the questions of politicians. Parliamentary committees too started making their presence felt.
While the Supreme Court failed to trace out hundreds of missing persons, its efforts to make the army personnel and the intelligence agencies answerable were something that those who matter were unused to.
An orderly transfer of power and another elected parliament keen to assert its authority over policy making could limit the powers of the permanent rulers. This is by no means a welcome prospect for them. They would use differences in the ranks of the major parties to stop the strengthening of the democratic process. Unless the politicians move towards the elections with consensus there is a likelihood of the system being derailed.
The writer is a former academic and a political analyst.