Nawaz Sharif’s arrest | Pakistan Today

Nawaz Sharif’s arrest

And what it means for Pakistan’s general election

With the increasing pressure on various political parties, the election appears to have gone into a state of uncertainty. The recent suicide bombings on numerous election rallies and talks of an election being rigged do not look good for any post-election scenario which might see Pakistan’s civilian institutions virtually coming to a standstill.

Nawaz Sharif’s arrest is a major development in the run up to elections. Nawaz Sharif’s conviction in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) references and the decision to imprison him is a double-edged sword. Many analysists are questing the timing of his conviction. While a majority of people argue that his conviction and arrest just ahead of the election has political motivations, such an outcome also plays right into the hands of the PML-N’s victimhood narrative. The PML-N has already changed its narrative from going into the election to win it to talking about the election being rigged indicating that the party won’t be coming to power after July 25. The change in rhetoric on the part of the PML-N has two motivations. One, the party is convinced that there are efforts to undermine its electoral strength heading into the election. If this argument is true, then it follows that the party is only going to more isolation from here onwards. Second, the party’s leadership talk of pre-poll rigging is meant to create a narrative for any post-election situation which sees the PML-N on the losing side. If Nawaz Sharif’s party ends up losing the upcoming election, the former would have a narrative to build a movement to undermine any incoming government. We may see the repetition of the PTI’s tactics with the PML-N: Imran Khan’s party’s active opposition against the PML-N saw the latter becoming isolated which eventually lead the party to make a number of compromises with different street forces and the state institutions. In an outcome where the PML-N doesn’t win the election would there is bound to be a lot of political instability.

We are yet to see the impact of Sharif’s arrest in terms of election results. “The return to Pakistan of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter to face their respective prison sentences has changed the country’s political dynamics ahead of its parliamentary elections on July 25,” said Zahid Hussain. Would the argument of victimization of the PML-N give the party an electoral boost? While many have said that Sharif’s decision to return to Pakistan was truly aimed at facing the prison which he believes he doesn’t deserve, it still appears to be an effort to mobilize the party’s vote bank in the face of various pressures on the party. “Sharif’s decision to return and face jail for his graft conviction is intended not only to keep his own political legacy alive but also his daughter’s political future. Maryam Nawaz — who has also been convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison — has already made her mark on Pakistani politics,” Zahid notes further. Whether Sharif’s strategy makes much of difference and helps the party to win more seats in Punjab remains to be seen.

We may see the repetition of the PTI’s tactics with the PML-N: Imran Khan’s party’s active opposition against the PML-N saw the latter becoming isolated which eventually lead the party to make a number of compromises with different street forces and the state institutions

In any situation, if there is more violence in the coming weeks with attacks becoming common and political parties challenging the validity of the election, the election can also be expected to get delayed. There have already been discussions of extending the period of the caretaker government. Moreover, the way the caretaker government in Punjab has used force to block PML-N’s rallies and arrest the party’s workers only shows that the sitting government has more plans than to just oversee the election.

In this entire situation what doesn’t appear encouraging is the deepening divide among various political parties when it comes to deploying all sorts of opportune tactics to win the polls. The controversy around the election being rigged is going to haunt the country in the coming months and years. Pakistan is heading toward a situation where we are likely to see deadlocks in terms of the government’s day to day affairs and neglect of important policy issues which the country faces due to disagreements among political bigwigs of the country.

Cleary the situation in Pakistan has become worse and there is a blatant question on the nature of how the election is being managed in the country. It’s ironic that the country’s top courts have all the time to look at issues which are trivial in comparison to this huge democratic exercise but have no time to question the ECP and other associated institutions over their questionable decisions heading to the polls. Irrespective of what is being planned for the polls, Pakistan doesn’t stand to gain anything from the way election is being held in the country.

It’s another sad phase in Pakistan’s long history of certain forces undermining the democratic process.

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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