But what about political engineering?
Despite elections being round the corner, thick clouds of uncertainty engulf the entire political spectrum. There are quite a few doubting Thomases and naysayers who believe they will not be held on time.
Then there are out-of-job politicians who believe and somewhat wish that they are not held at all. The Sheikh from Rawalpindi is so desperate that recently he spuriously quoted a constitutional provision under which elections could be postponed for at least a year.
Of course there are also genuine reasons for some to surmise that the general polls could be slightly delayed, owing to purely technical reasons. Quite a few politicians have challenged new delimitations under the fresh census. That is why the army chief, while briefing media persons a few weeks ago, did not rule out the possibility of the elections being delayed for “20 or 25 days.”
The enigmatic Sheikh Rashid, however, stirred a hornet’s nest a few weeks back by talking about the possibility of a judicial martial law — or even a full-fledged martial law to boot. This was basically a sky in the pie floated by the Sheikh to serve his own vested interests.
Some claim that as part of pre-poll political engineering, a substantial number of PML-N MNAs (Member National Assembly) have already been approached to jump ship on the right signal
The Sheikh and his ilk are more comfortable in a non-democratic environment in which they think they can thrive. The same lobby buttressed by a vast swath of the elite, including some retired bureaucrats and army officers, feels that only a technocratic government for a few years under the umbrella of the military can fix things for good.
They naively albeit unsuccessfully lobbied that the Senate elections should not be held before the general elections. Nevertheless, they were held on time.
It is another matter that the manner in which they were held has left a bad taste in the mouth. As a first step, earlier in the year Balochistan — the weak underbelly of the PML-N — was raided though turncoats.
The inept and corrupt Sanaullah Khan Zehri’s government in the province was easily ousted with a little help from the powers that be. The PPP was a major player in the contrived hatchet job. The PML-N not only lost the opportunity to have a majority in the Senate but also resultantly was unable to elect its own chairman.
Of course in this context the next goalpost is holding of the general elections on time. Despite undemocratic forces pulling in opposite directions, it seems they will be held as scheduled.
Simply put no political party wants elections to be delayed. Even the military has assured holding of general elections on time.
The COAS has declared that elections will be on time and will be fair and free. He has also assured to provide a level playing field to all. The military spokesman has correctly clarified that the holding of general elections is the job of the ECP (Election Commission of Pakistan); the army’s job is to provide an enabling environment.
The CJP (Chief Justice of Pakistan) Mian Saqib Nisar has further cleared the air by reassuring that elections will be held on time. He has ruled out the possibility of any martial law or for that matter a ‘judicial martial law’. By declaring that ‘such filth’ was being spread by certain people for their own vested interests he has snubbed those deliberately creating uncertainty.
Justice Saqib Nisar has also categorically stated that he would resign rather than be a party to imposition of martial law. Judging by the dubious history of the higher judiciary in the past this is a tall order.
The chief judge, who has distinguished himself for taking suo moto notices of issues as varied as provision of clean drinking water, high fees of medical colleges, the unfettered sale of spurious milk to non-payment of salaries to journalists, has taken a very bold stance, provided he is able to walk the talk.
Overt military rule is a thing of the past, as no one wants it. But even hypothetically raising the possibility, the CJP has taken a bold stance. Most of his predecessors readily legitimised military rule or had no qualms in taking fresh oaths from military dictators.
Despite repeated assurances of holding free and fair elections from different quarters, doubts are still being openly expressed about the polls being entirely above board. It is feared, especially amongst the PML-N circles, that they will be a reenactment of the Senate elections.
Sharif himself has ruled out the possibility of engineered general elections, asserting that unlike the Senate the National Assembly is a bigger ball game and not so easy to manipulate. But this might not enough to assuage the fears of his followers.
The PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari’s boast that the next prime minister will be from the PPP and even the chief minister of Punjab will not be from the PML-N could be dismissed as mere political posturing prior to the general elections.
However, what Zardari was probably hinting at was that being a master manipulator he will swing the National Assembly post general elections in his favour a la Senate elections. Ironically, he chose the death anniversary of the founder of the party, Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, at Naudero to throw the gauntlet at his opponents.
Bhutto hobnobbed with the army but firmly believed in the power of the ballot rather than relying upon mere political mechanisations
For all practical purposes in the cacophony of intense political polarisation the Charter of Democracy (COD), signed with much fanfare by Sharif and Benazir Bhutto Shaheed in 2006, stands buried. To a large extent it is correct that post 2014 Khan’s dharna, by his recalcitrant attitude as prime minister towards the PPP, Sharif practically buried the COD with his own hands.
Nonetheless Zardari’s claim, having no truck with Imran Khan and virtually zero presence in Punjab, seems merely like an empty boast.
Shahbaz Sharif, the other day, by publicly praising the army chief for playing with a straight bat and doing good things raised quite a few eyebrows. The younger Sharif has always been a pro-establishment politician. But hitherto he has kept his views to himself. Certainly at this juncture expressing them could not be without the elder Sharif’s tacit consent.
Of late Sharif has been slightly careful in castigating the army leadership for his recent misfortunes. Could this signal that in the coming weeks he will train his guns on the higher judiciary rather than the army leadership?
Some claim that as part of pre-poll political engineering, a substantial number of PML-N MNAs (Member National Assembly) have already been approached to jump ship on the right signal.
According to this theory the political system will be engineered in such a manner that no party is able to have an absolute majority and be in a position to dictate terms after the elections. In this ball game the PML-N, being the largest party ruling at the federal level and in the largest province, will be the biggest loser.
But elections cannot always be calibrated. Owing to their germane unpredictability it is often said: man proposed God disposes.