The PML-N playing both sides
Elections 2018 is an upset of sorts. Most analysts were predicting a hung parliament. The conventional wisdom expressed was that the ubiquitous establishment had rigged the system before the elections to ensure a fractured parliament with no party having a clear majority of its own.
With Imran emerging as a clear winner with 117 seats in the National Assembly, he will need a coalition partner plus a few independents to form a government. Hence efforts to micro manage a general election have only partially succeeded.
Of course the PML-N was clearly the under dog in the elections. The hands of the Sharifs and their candidates who had survived the putsch of the powers that be were tied behind their backs while contesting the elections.
The fact that the PML-N has been able to bag 64 odd seats in the National Assembly in this backdrop is a miracle in itself. Oddly enough it is the Punjab Assembly that is hung.
Here both the PTI and the PML-N have roughly bagged equal number of seats. Hence it will be the independents that will rule the roost in cobbling together a government.
The strategy so cleverly devised to assure Khan’s victory by inducting the electables also failed to a large extent. Many of the so-called winning horses that abandoned the mother ship for greener pastures have lost.
A lot of hype was created in the media about the ‘Jeep wallas’ who as independents had chosen a Jeep as their election symbol. The enigmatic Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan–erstwhile friend of the Sharifs–had tried to muster a loose collation of pro establishment candidates.
The hands of the Sharifs and their candidates who had survived the putsch of the powers that be were tied behind their backs while contesting the elections
But he squarely lost. So did Mustafa Kamal and his Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) largely perceived to be a test tube baby of the powers that be, his party bagging barely one seat.
On the flip side some of the worst critics of the military scraped through. These include Shahbaz Sharif’s major domo Rana Sanaullah and hawk Khawaja Muhammad Asif. Two candidates namely Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar from the Pashtun Thafuz Mahaz (PTM) won from Waziristan.
In the end analysis the PTI chief and his close advisors failed to realize that a wind was blowing across the country in their favour and against the erstwhile ruling party. They would have won in any case without the crutches of the establishment.
Undoubtedly the PTI as a result of the elections has emerged not only as the single largest party but also as the sole national party. The Khan won from all the five constituencies across the country he was contesting from whereas both Shahbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto lost except their home constituencies.
The PTI also has emerged as the second largest party after the PPP in Sindh bagging substantial number of seats in Karachi. In the KP (Khyber Pakhtunnkhwa) it broke the jinx of being a one-term party — as has been the wont of the province — by bagging a record number of 60 seats
Although the multi-party conference co-chaired by PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif and Mutahhida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) president Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman held on Friday rejected the results of the polls, the PML-N fell short of agreeing to not to take oath. The erstwhile ruling party is in a bind. On one side Hamza the prodigal is trying to form a government in their home ground Punjab while the father is trying to cobble an anti PTI alliance by boycotting the results.
The PML-N bagging 123 seats in Punjab has every right to form a government with the support of the independents. But knee jerk reactions of Sharif smacks of a running with the hares and hunting with the hounds attitude.
The PML-N instead of having truck with those who were completely routed in the general elections should reconcile to sitting in the opposition and give a shot at forming a government in Punjab.
Independent election observers including FAFEN (fair and free election network) and the EU Observers Mission have termed the polling by and large fair despite technical glitches and the army deployed at the polling stations running a parallel system of results tabulation.
The observers have also taken note of the pre elections manipulations and interference. Nonetheless it would have been better if the PML-N had coordinated with the PPP to address the issue of irregularities rather than sharing the podium with losers.
Imran in his maiden speech as a presumptive prime minister offered a carte blanche to the opposition to open any disputed constituency for a recount. This is in sharp contrast to the dilly-dallying shown by the ruling PML-N to re-open four disputed constituencies as demanded by the PTI in the immediate aftermath of the 2013 elections.
The decimated PML-N is still the second largest political party in the country. Instead of blaming all its present travails on being victimized by the establishment and organized rigging its leadership should do some introspection of its own.
Its victimhood card simply failed to move the voters. Similarly a heads I win tail you lose sanctimonious attitude of its top leadership did not earn any dividends for the party.
Both the Sharifs while in power had simply cut the umbilical chord with their core supporters. They were simply wallowing in their own arrogance.
While the elder Sharif behaved like a ‘mughal e azam’ (king of kings) ruling through a coterie of close advisors gleaned from the cabinet and bureaucracy. His daughter Maryum with no elected office or political grooming became his closest consort.
Sharif would rarely interact with his parliamentarians only occasionally attending National Assembly sessions. Even cabinet members were kept at an arms length. Ishaq Dar by virtue of his son marrying Sharif’s daughter along with principal secretary Fawad Hasan Fawad were largely running the show.
As for Imran Khan, he has already earned kudos for the humility and candour shown by him in his address to the nation
Similarly the younger Sharif reckoned that building highways, power projects and metro trains at the expense of the social sector was more than enough for the PML-N to bag the next elections.
Both Sharifs failed to smell the coffee beans. The last straw was Nawaz Sharif–perhaps not so much by design but by default–queering the pitch with the military leadership. Resultantly his relations with his handpicked military chief became frayed.
The discovery of Sharif hiding his enormous wealth in offshore companies became the last straw that broke the traditional camel’s back. Sadly Sharif’s trial by the apex court and NAB (National Accountability Bureau) court was seemingly a witch-hunt, a fact implicitly acknowledged by independent observes in their preliminary reports as well.
As for Imran Khan, he has already earned kudos for the humility and candour shown by him in his address to the nation. That he intends to adopt a conciliatory policy towards the political opposition is welcome. But in order to walk the talk, he will have to restrain the rump of his belligerent supporters taking cue from his own acerbic rhetoric.
Part of the mainstream media has been complaining of curbs for quite a while now. Hopefully the PTI will turn a new leaf on this count to guarantee press freedom.
Undoubtedly the economy is in dire straits as admitted by the PTI chief in his speech. That the country needs an IMF (International Monetary Fund) bail out to a void going under is stating but the obvious. But negotiating the package that does not entail tough preconditions is unlikely.
No elected prime minister to date has had a smooth sailing with successive military leaderships. Having cordial civ-mil relations will be the real test of the new prime minister especially once the honeymoon period is over.
But it takes two to tango. The military despite being the most powerful institution should give the civilian leadership space that it badly needs.