The election that rocked the nation

Even the winners have to do a rethink

The defeat of Yousaf Raza Gilani for the Chairmanship of the Senate by incumbent Sadiq Sanjrani meant that instead of the country’s politics settling down, everyone had to consider fresh options. However, if he had won, the only beneficiary would have been the PDM, though it would have meant that the country’s politics would have been readied for more instability.

Only stockbrokers and market players seem to have noticed that the country’s stock market is declining. This may reflect a worldwide trend, which is based on the covid-19 pandemic is staying despite the rollout of vaccines, but the current political instability has not helped. That must be lurking in the background of the government’s mind, which has got to keep in mind two major economic pressures on it: the pandemic-caused economic downturn; and the need to fulfill IMF conditionalities, with a massive electricity tariff hike looming this year. The hike will probably be staggered, but the first hike will be in time for the payment of summer power bills. There is expected to be a doubling of the subsidy to lifeline consumers, but that is not enough to bring political calm.

As the opposition alliance, the Pakistan Democratic Movement, has based its campaign so far on inflation, a further power tariff hike will strengthen its hand, which it would need now that the participation in the Senate elections have not provided the way forward. There seems to be a mixed signal emitted. Gilani’s election seems to have been an expression of the feeling among PTI MNAs that the party leadership was failing them. However, the PDM should have also notice that the disaffection did not extend beyond Gilani, and that its candidate for the women’s seat lost by a vote on party lines. Imran Khan then won a vote of confidence on party lines. That the PDM was sprung no surprises either indicates that the PTI was concentrating on the Chairmanship contest, or that the PDM members were holding firm.

However, there is another possibility that the PTI might have to face, that curbing corruption is indeed the way to bring about prosperity, but that the PTI is not the party to do it. One symbol of how much it became like the parties it said it would replace, is how it has used traditional methods to do so. From the time that it had electables joining its ranks, to the recent Senate elections, it has used the methods it has condemned. Its inability to differentiate itself means that it might find itself where it started, looking for a nod from the selector

The Chairmanship election showed signs of overkill, an indication of panic, not necessarily among the PTI, as among those who wanted Sanjrani elected, and Gilani defeated, which would include the PTI’s backers. The military establishment would also need to reassess the situation, for it has seen itself, to its horror, increasingly dragged into the open. The discovery of cameras in the polling booth was blamed on intelligence agencies by the PDM, and even if they were not involved, no one believed it. The PTI made a brave attempt to blame the opposition for planting the cameras, with Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry claiming that the Opposition members finding the cameras, had mistaken a cable for a camera. This display of expertise notwithstanding, there do not seem many takers for this outside the ranks of PTI stalwarts.

The military is faced with a problem that might well be beyond the PTI’s ability to handle. The PTI has used the backing of the establishment to pull its chestnuts out of the fire. It must find a way to convey at least to its base the narrative of military neutrality. It is noticeable that there has been a dialing down of the PTI’s same-page rhetoric. Obviously, it didn’t go down well with some.

The PTI is caught in a cleft stick. It cannot boast of its ‘special relationship’, but at the same time, it would like to get out of political tough spots. This may well raise competency issues. The anti-corruption narrative is now merely a hangover, and the latest application by the government, to cancel Maryam Nawaz’s bail is being seen as an attempt to put a roadblock on the expected PDM Long March, for which there was less than a month to go.

One was promised before the end of this month. However, the PDM would not like to go for one too close to Ramazan, which begins in a months’ time. And if the PDM wants to convert a long march into a sit-in, as Imran himself did back in 2014, then it might prefer to wait until after Eid. If the long march idea is following Imran’s own playbook, it might well be an Eid-to-Eid sit-in that is aimed at. Just as much as Imran’s PTI was given the stiffening of the religious cadres of the Tehrik Minhajul Quran, the PDM relies on the madrassa students of the JUI(F) for the manpower of the sit-in. The madrassa students were in evidence during the PDM’s pre-long march rallies.

However, the failure to agree is not over Eid, but over resignation. The PPP does not want to resign. It does not want to take the irrevocable step of dissolving the Sindh Assembly before the long march. The others may only have to resign from the Opposition, and there is no guarantee that resignations handed to party leaders will be accepted by presiding officers.

One of the results of the Senate elections has been to see how far the PPP strategy of removing Imran through a vote of confidence would go. The PPP gameplan involved removing the Punjab CM first, probably replacing him by Punjab Speaker Ch Parvez Elahi, followed by removing Imran himself, replacing him by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. That is still the way forward, but now the long march-sit-in route needs to be adopted.

The PDM’s underlying appeal is to Imran’s backers. The PML(N) and the PPP are both old favourites, and would like to get back into the good books of the military. The PTI would like to resist that as much as possible, but to do so, it might have to change the way it does things. It is already virtually past the midway point of its tenure, and it is now time to think of the next election, even if it does not does not fulfill the opposition’s wish and dissolve early. More than the covid-19 pandemic and the charges of being ‘selected’, the PTI is being hurt by the inflation which might tell the people that the strategy of curbing corruption has failed.

However, there is another possibility that the PTI might have to face, that curbing corruption is indeed the way to bring about prosperity, but that the PTI is not the party to do it. One symbol of how much it became like the parties it said it would replace, is how it has used traditional methods to do so. From the time that it had electables joining its ranks, to the recent Senate elections, it has used the methods it has condemned. Its inability to differentiate itself means that it might find itself where it started, looking for a nod from the selector.

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