You can have your drawing-room discussions; we’ll keep the votes
The by-elections in Multan had been a focus of attention for all quarters of the political divide. In the aftermath of the insolent disqualification of former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani (by the Supreme Court), corruption charges against his family (e.g. the ephedrine case), and a terrible record of four years of incompetent governance by his party, a fraction of the political junta had assumed that people will turn up and cast a debilitating ballot against PPP and the Gilani family. To make the situation worse for PPP and Mr Gilani, the oppositions forces had not contested their separate candidates to oppose the PPP… and had instead chosen to support an independent (in many ways joint) candidate to collectively counter the PPP.
Result? No real use. The people of NA-151 have returned the Gilani family as their chosen representative.
First, let’s take a look at the excuses presented by the opposition parties. In the aftermath of this election defeat, the opposition parties (and certain segment of the media that was rooting for the opposition) have chosen three primary excuses to justify/defend their defeat: 1) The Gilani family, being pirs of the area, won by a margin of over 25,000 votes in the general election of 2008… so this victory margin of only 4,000, in many ways, is a verdict against them by the people; 2) The turnout for this election was much lower (estimated at only 20%) than can be expected in the general elections, and therefore this election cannot be viewed as a certification that majority of the constituency supports Gilanis and the PPP; and 3) None of the major political leaders of different parties (Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan) visited the constituency, so it cannot be claimed by PPP that all the opposition parties (together) exerted their muscle and could not defeat the Gilanis in Multan.
But behind the veil of these excuses, the facts are that the opposition political parties got beat. Yes, Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan did not visit the constituency, but then neither did any of the big-wigs of PPP (except Gilani). Moreover, this constituency of Multan happens to be home to Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Javed Hashmi, carries significant influence of the southern Punjab leaders such as Jehangir Tareen and Shafqat Mehmood, and has considerable party-vote for N-League and Jamaat-e-Islami. All these factors supported the candidate opposing Gilanis. Additionally, the opposition parties were not contesting against each other, and were all just supporting the same (joint) candidate. These factors and strengths will not conspire together in any single constituency during the general elections.
Turning, away from politics, to the issue of this election being either a verdict in favour of the judiciary (for disqualifying Yousaf Raza Gillani) or in favour of the PPP (as the representative of the people’s will). Prior to the election, anchors across our media waves, were all unanimous in their belief that the public had ‘matured’ over the past many years, that it was simply fed up with the PPP junta, and had sworn allegiance to ‘Chief tere jaan nisaar’… and as a result, this election (which, in effect, was a sort of referendum on the decision of the judiciary to disqualify the former prime minister) would certainly be cast in favour of supremacy of law, and against the gaddi-nasheen.
he results of NA-151 have shown that the divide between law and politics, in our country, is rather large. I have written, in the past, about the contempt of Yousaf Raza Gilani, and am of the concerted opinion that (notwithstanding the valid criticism of the apex court’s judgment on its merits), on the facts of the case, the former prime minister was guilty of contempt of court. However, the guilt or the conviction seems to be of little consequence to Mr Gilani, and his family, in the political sphere. The people who follow them, and hang their aspirations on the Gilani tree, seem to not be bothered with the nuances of contempt law and writing of the Swiss letter. These issues, of law and constitutionality, are still only limited to the spheres political talk-shows and elitist drawing-rooms. In rural politics, where political dharras, family allegiances, historical support, and who-can-get-you-out-of-jail issues come into play, no one seems to be too concerned about the nuances of Article 63(1)(g) or Article 248.
For better or worse, the Pakistan People’s Party understands this paradigm. Perhaps better than all the others. And despite its bad governance and an aggressive onslaught from the judiciary, if (in the coming elections) the electoral college of Punjab gets split equally between Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan, don’t be surprised to see Asif Zardari back in power in a few months.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org