And the media under fire
After initial hiccups the caretaker set up is finally in place, all systems go towards polling in the general elections on July 25. Initially a lot of skepticism was being expressed about elections being held on time.
Ironically the higher judiciary on the one hand contributed to the uncertainty by rejecting the electoral forms. While on the other, it was the apex court that cleared the decks for timely elections by amending them, rather than going for a postponement on the pretext of fresh nomination forms.
There were powerful lobbies clamouring for deferring the elections and some in favour of even winding up the democratic project altogether. This element failed as most political parties refused to support the postponement mantra.
The freshly minted quislings from Balochistan played the most shameful role in this context. The ruling party that suddenly emerged earlier in the year went to the extent of passing a resolution in the provincial assembly for postponing elections for a month.
Basically the military leadership has put its weight behind timely elections, thus putting to rest speculations that it wanted to foist its agenda at the expense of the democratic system. Implicitly the self-styled adventurers that claim to derive tailwinds from the ubiquitous establishment were given a shut up call.
This does not mean that all is well. There are still dark clouds looming upon the horizon. A number of question marks about the conduct of fair, free and transparent polls still beg an answer.
The media on the eve of elections has come under severe threats. Some major newspapers and news channels have complained (some quite candidly while others rather timidly) that their distribution is being hampered especially in cantonments for pursuing their respective policies.
The editor of Dawn Zafar Abbas has gone on record while speaking to the New York Times regarding targeting his paper saying that “this is somehow far more suffocating than the martial law as this time, the façade of democracy is there.”
Zafar claims that the Pakistani media is suffering from the worst kind of censorship (self-censorship). Dawn’s editor’s allegations might be a bit of an exaggeration. But they cannot be dismissed lightly. It is quite obvious that things are not looking good for the media.
The last straw was abduction of a blogger, columnist and a regular discussant on electronic news media – Gul Bukhari. Although she was released after a few hours of captivity by ‘namaloom afraad’ (unknown persons), a loud and clear message has been sent to dissenting journalists.
Basically the military leadership has put its weight behind timely elections, thus putting to rest speculations that it wanted to foist its agenda at the expense of the democratic system
The irony is that this is all so unnecessary. The targeted media is pliant and traditionally pro establishment. But it seems that the culture of dissent and tolerating a modicum of criticism of the official mantra has suddenly dissipated.
Journalists and media bodies proudly proclaim that the press in Pakistan is free and vibrant largely owing to their decades long struggle. But it seems their achievement can only be termed as a pyrrhic victory in the light of recent events.
Another point of friction is the choice and the manner in which the caretaker chief minister of Punjab has been selected.
The PTI as the major opposition party in the provincial assembly, proposed the name of a former well-respected bureaucrat Nasir Khosa. It was readily accepted by the PML-N.
But the PTI suddenly made a volte-face by withdrawing his name. Since no agreement could be reached even in the parliamentary committee the ECP (Election Commission of Pakistan) chose a PTI nominee Dr. Hasan Askari Rizvi.
The erstwhile ruling party in the province is up in arms against the ECP nominee, claiming that he is a pro PTI apologist and hence not an honest broker. It is true that the former academic turned analyst was a severe critic of the Sharifs and their style of government.
Askari, during his regular appearances on Dunya News talk show “Think Tank” was unwilling to give the PML-N even a modicum of the benefit of doubt. The PPP has also joined forces with the PML-N alleging that as clearly being a partisan figure, he is unsuitable for the job.
In this backdrop Dr. Rizvi could have recused himself. But he has not done so, assuring that he will observe strict impartiality in the conduct if elections. The PML-N now has no option but to go along.
The professor and author whom I know well is a man of integrity. But obviously holding strong views, he will have a hard time convincing his critics that not only he is an honest broker but should also be seen as such.
Ostensibly Askari was chosen for his anti PML-N credentials. Once bitten twice shy; the PTI chief believed that he did not lose the 2013 elections but the then caretaker chief minister Najam Sethi and a pliant pro Sharif Punjab administration under him somehow swung the results in the PML-N favour. Hence Khan made his fabled 35 punctures allegations against Sethi that he was never able to substantiate.
With the quintessential Mr. Clean image, Dr. Askari in the saddle the PTI need not be worried about any sleight of hand by the caretaker chief minister in the PML-N’s favour. Things will become even clearer when he chooses his cabinet and reshuffles the bureaucracy that was largely hand picked by the outgoing chief minister.
The PTI has finally announced – a dominantly turncoat heavy – list of 173 National Assembly candidates mostly from Punjab. The list reads like a rump of electables pulled from other parties (mainly PML-N) with a little help from hyperactive sleuths in recent weeks and months.
The PPP’s erstwhile MNA from Peshawar Noor Alam will now be contesting from Peshawar on the PTI ticket. Similarly Khusro Bakhtiar who had raised the bogey of a Southern Punjab province under the banner of a hurriedly created Junoobi Punjab Suba Mahaz is now a proud ticket holder of the PTI.
The PTI has finally announced – a dominantly turncoat heavy – list of 173 National Assembly candidates mostly from Punjab
Similarly traditional migratory birds that joined the ruling party PML-N will contest the elections on the PTI ticket. They include Omar Ayub Khan, Fawad Choudhry, and Raza Hayat Hiraj amngst others. PPP stalwarts like till recently its secretary general Nadeem Afzal Chan, Raja Riaz, former senior minister from Punjab Ghulam Mustafa Khar and Zulfiquar Khosa amongst many others.
The icing on the cake is Amir Liaquat, the controversial enigmatic self styled televangelist. It is obvious that the Khan is now perusing no holds barred opportunistic politics.
Come what may he wants to be the king. Hence some surmise that a Kings Party with the usual trappings has been created. He probably might succeed but at what cost? At the cost of the ideals originally associated with the PTI as a harbinger of change.