Politicking over polls

And it’s not even 2018

 

It’s too soon to establish anything, for there are a number of events that can still unfold, including NAB investigation, SC’s verdict on Khan’s disqualification, ECP’s reforms agenda, and the military’s role in intervening behind the scenes which – historically – has remained a likely factor.   

 

As the national fixation over the issue of the Panama probe wanes, political parties in Pakistan are eying the next phase of politicking: So is the ‘go alone’ policy in terms of maximising electoral strength is the right way forward or should an alliance with the ‘like-minded’ be the case?

It would be fair to argue that the next polls – and the months in between – are going to be one of the most violent in Pakistan’s political history. The next elections are going to be distinct in that none of the major parties are looking beyond the ‘Zero sum game,’ particularly Imran Khan’s party and the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz.

The PTI’s whole campaign, which boasts on the slogan of ‘building a new Pakistan becomes relevant only if the party comes to power own its own and holds accountable other allegedly corrupt political parties and their leaderships. After the removal of Nawaz Sharif from office, the only road forward for Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz and PTI is that of a confrontation. This confrontation is going to reflect both parties’ efforts to either sustain their political support base or further strengthen it at the expense of their political rivals.

In this regard, if the Nawaz league didn’t over play its hand, the party can still sweep the upcoming polls. The ruling party’s response after the removal of Sharif from office has been calculated that perhaps appears to have overshadowed the party’s internal infighting. It may be too soon to argue but Khan’s hopes of creating ripples inside the ruling party have not made that much impact. Perhaps, removing the party’s head from the premiership has not created enough of the panic needed to force political opportunists toward Khan’s party. The immediate aftermath of the recent judgment by the Supreme Court (SC) has not served Khan to an extent where he could translate it into an electoral strength.

Moreover, the Nawaz league, which for some time has not been vengeful against Khan’s political opposition, has put in place a political strategy that the party mastered during the 1990s: using all institutional and constitutional means and moods to malign and destabilise its political opposition through dirty politics. It should not come as a surprise that Khan has found himself in the middle of a nasty and vicious controversy related to the harassment of one of the PTI’s female lawmakers. Moreover, it’s quite telling that after taking oath, the first order of business which the new Prime Minister was interested in was the formation of a committee to investigate Ayesha Gulalai’s sexual harassment allegations against the PTI’s chief.

PML-N’s earlier decision of elevating Shahbaz Sharif to the federal level has been ruled out effectively till the next general elections. Arguably, it may not be a popular decision inside the party – for the immediate circle of the Sharif family doesn’t want to see anyone outside the family staying at the premiership for a long time – it’s the more pressing concern related to retaining Punjab’s support base which has constrained Shahbaz at the provincial level. The assumption in the party is that with Shahbaz going to the federal level, political disruption can take place in Punjab, which remains the political crown jewel of the ruling party.

For now, PML-N is holding together. However, the next jolt may come with the NAB’s declaration against the remainder of the Sharif family still eyeing a place at the helm of affairs.

However, the role of the PPP will be interesting, for there is likelihood of some sort of understanding if it involves keeping the establishment away from the political margins. Such understanding will obviously be at the expanse of Khan, for he is the one leading a charge against the establishment political parties. However, the chances of the establishment supporting elements flocking to the PTI will always remain foreseeable.

For now, PML-N is holding together. However, the next jolt may come with the NAB’s declaration against the remainder of the Sharif family still eyeing a place at the helm of affairs.

 

There is room for smaller parties, such as the MQM, ANP, JI, JUI-F and other regional parties. Traditionally, majority of these parties will be looking for alliances but their presence and mandate will remain unnoticed if one party gains massive place in the parliament or a hung parliament emerges.

It’s too soon to establish anything, for there are a number of events that can still unfold, including NAB investigation, SC’s verdict on Khan’s disqualification, ECP’s reforms agenda, and last but not the least, the military role in determining or intervening behind the scenes in manipulating the polls, which historically has remained a likely factor.

However, what is clear is that the upcoming polls are going to be among the messiest in history, and perhaps will indeed be decisive in determining the future course of Pakistan’s democracy and institutional building.

Umair Jamal

Umair Jamal is a graduate of the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University. He is a research fellow with the Centre for Governance and Policy. He regularly writes for various media outlets. He can be contacted on Twitter: @UJAmaLs.



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