- There is a change in the voter-candidate relationship
It’s ‘election fever’ in Pakistan and open season on the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the country’s largest political party. Amidst much controversy, the general elections in Pakistan, as announced by the ECP, are scheduled to be held on July 25. This would only be the second democratic transition of power since the country’s inception in 1947. Imran Khan, who vehemently opposes Nawaz, is rumoured to be theestablishment’s blue-eyed boy and consequently the country’s prime minister in waiting.
As Nawaz and Imran geared up to lock horns in the run up to the polls, the former found himself out of the electoral race before it even began. Disqualified first from public and party office by the SC, Nawaz has now ‘legally’ been driven to the edge of political invalidity after Avenfield verdict. The Sharif family, according to the verdict, could not prove that they had the legal means to buy the luxury flats.
With PML-N’s leadership either on the run (especially from the media) or its electoral candidates behind bars, PTI’s road to power has now been ‘cleared’ of all obstacles that stood in its way, leaving the field wide open for Imran to ascend to Islamabad’s top office.
The verdict, clubbed together with the political pressure on PML-N, has resulted in mass defections with former foot soldiers of Nawaz joining the PTI. Nawaz alleges that the defections are the result of ‘persuasion’ by security agencies which he believes are working against him. Earlier in May, influential ‘electables’ from southern Punjab defected from the then ruling PML-N and joined Imran’s camp. Similarly, PML-N’s candidate from Multan, Rana Iqbal Siraj, alleged that members of a spy agency had tortured him and pressurised him to withdraw his candidature, a claim that he later retracted.
Imran himself is untainted by corruption charges and is strong willed. This means that once he is ‘propelled’ to power he will go after whoever is charged with corruption allegations
The ‘blue-eyed’ boy must win around 60 to 70 National Assembly seats from Punjab, given that he sweeps KP, in order to form a national government and so everything seems to be going according to plan. Moreover, Imran carelessly hinted that the ‘umpires’ were on his side during the 2014 sit-in at Islamabad which lasted for 126 days.
Even earlier, PML-N’s provincial government in Balochistan was toppled from within the provincial assembly and a ‘likeminded’ group of politicians took over the new provincial government. The change in Balochistan’s government ensured that Nawaz’s camp lost and Zardari men ascended to the offices of Senate chairman and vice chairman. Interestingly, Zardari had openly predicted the change in a public rally a few months earlier.
In the run up to the elections, Nawaz has time and again said that ‘aliens’ were trying to ‘manage’ the elections and the PML-N’s campaign slogan is “Give respect to the vote” which is viewed by his critics as a war cry against the country’s judiciary and military. On the other hand, the military has categorically stated several times that it supports democracy in Pakistan. The military’s spokesperson briefed the Senate and said that soldiers are only involved in providing security as per the ECP’s directions.
Moreover, peace was restored to Karachi following civilian-led military operations conducted by the Pakistan Rangers. This makes the country’s political landscape increasingly interesting as the MQM has lost its patron and its militant wing, thereby allowing political parties to make inroads into Pakistan’s largest industrial city.
Democracy in Pakistan has witnessed for the first time a change in the voter-candidate relationship. Voters in rural Punjab and Sindh have ‘dared’ to question performance of candidates. The ‘electables’ can be seen ‘running’ and diverting questions from their own constituents in the videos that have since become viral on social media. This has come about after Imran’s continuous protests and he has successfully imparted political education to the masses. Moreover, the ECP announced that army personnel would adhere strictly to a list of do’s and don’ts while guarding polling stations across the country.
But the PML-N may not have been done away with, as Nawaz’s unexpected return and incarceration has united the party’s old guard. However, Imran’s win at the polls seems all the more likely with every passing day and his top-down anti-corruption policies mirror those of the powers that be. However, it seems that a clear majority may not be on the cards. PTI may lose some seats to the far right in KP while considerably gaining in Punjab. The PML-N, it seems, is all set to achieve decreased electoral victory margins in the Punjab.
The electoral cycle, like in Chile, may spell increased democratic political structures for Pakistan but unless the politicians rid themselves of corruption, incompetence and bad governance they may find it difficult to formulate independent policies. Several quarters in the political arena including PPP’s Farhatullah Babar have hinted towards ‘political engineering’ ahead of the polls. On the other hand, Imran has said publically on several occasions that he would not be a puppet and would only accept the top office if he is ‘allowed to exercise’ complete power. Every time a political party finds itself out of power, it alleges that the situation against it is being ‘managed’, obviously without providing proof and to its own shame.
Imran himself is untainted by corruption charges and is strong willed. This means that once he is ‘propelled’ to power he will go after whoever is charged with corruption allegations. Imran will also be difficult to blackmail because he has not indulged in making illegal money from public office and consequently the powers that be will have to cede territory. But Pakistan with Imran at its helm might find it difficult to take the Great Leap Forward towards democracy if he does not change is attitude.
As for the next government, the signboard points Imran to the PM House and a parliament run on the whims of ‘electables’ and ‘independents’.