By Arif Nizami
As announced, general elections will be held on July 25. But will they be? There are dark clouds of uncertainty looming over the horizon.
Unsurprisingly the Baluchistan government installed only months ago, has taken the lead. Through a resolution in the provincial assembly it has demanded that polls should be delayed for a month.
The declared reason in the said resolution is that July is very hot in parts of Balochistan and some voters will also be away to perform Haj. As if the rest of the country will be experiencing different weather conditions, and perhaps Pakistanis from other provinces will not be away to perform Haj during the same period.
In the recent past Baluchistan has been a fulcrum of shenanigans to recalibrate the political landscape. Earlier in the year the PML-N government led by Sardar Nabi Buksh Zehri lost its majority through backroom maneuverings.
A political novice Abdul Quddus Bizenjo who along with fellow MPAs hurriedly formed a party christened as the Baluchistan Awami Party replaced him. Its acronym ‘BAP’ ironically mean’s father in Urdu. Who was the ‘bap’ of the newly minted party that upset the senate elections and prevented the PML-N government from nominating its own chairman is not hard to guess?
That is why some are seeing more than meets the eye in the controversial Balochistan Assembly resolution. Coupled with this, the PTI chairman Imran Khan’s recent about face on his handpicked caretaker chief minister of Punjab has added to the uncertainty.
Nasir Khosa was the PTI’s ace choice and the Punjab chief minister readily agreed to his nomination. He is a former bureaucrat with an impeccable reputation. Soon after Khosa’s nomination, the social media went viral painting him as a Sharif loyalist. Part of the electronic media soon followed suit. The Khan in unholy haste retracted his nomination. Previously he had withdrawn the name of Manzoor Afridi after agreeing on it with the JUI-F opposition in KP. This somersault followed by others on the proposed names of the caretaker CM for Punjab does not put the PTI chief in a good light. Understandably he is being made subject of ridicule by the opposition asserting that he is incapable of timely decision making and sticking to it. Even amongst Imran Khan’s party men skepticism is being expressed mostly privately about his flip-flops.
But some suspect that there is a method in this madness. The mystery deepens further when chief minister KP Pervez Khattak added his voice to those demanding postponement of the elections for a month. Surely Khattak demanding a temporary delay could not have been made without blessings from his boss. However paradoxically Imran Khan has reiterated his party’s stance that elections should be held on time.
Are the PTI and the rest who are perceived to be close to the ubiquitous establishment getting cold feet? The Khan and his cohorts have been able to bag about 100 plus so-called electables from other parties many of them from the erstwhile ruling party the PML-N. Theoretically he should be confident enough about winning the day. But ironically he now faces the reverse problem of too many aspirants for the PTI ticket in many of the constituencies in Punjab. Perhaps, rightly so the PTI’s fears are well grounded. Despite the all out putsch the PML-N is very much intact in the largest province. The task to dissipate its vote bank in Punjab has only been met with mixed results.
Most of those leaving the ruling party were those who had originally migrated from the PML- Q, Musharraf’s original quisling party carved from the PML-N in the first place. Hence the Party probably reckons that literally nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Perhaps the PTI also feels that once Nawaz Sharif is put behind bars in the NAB references against him for alleged corruption, as a result of his absence from campaigning it will have a relatively easy run in the elections. On the other hand both the PML-N and the PPP in unison are for elections to be held on time. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is going ahead with the July 25 deadline as per its declared schedule. Thankfully the caretaker Prime Minister Nasirul Mulk immediately after taking the oath of his office declared that the elections would be held on time. However decisions about interim chief ministers in Punjab, KP and Balochistan remain in limbo. Perhaps this will also be settled in a day or two.
But the question that begs an answer is: why a caretaker set up at all? A caretaker set up was inserted in the constitution during the last PPP government as a result of consensus with the PML-N opposition. Perhaps the idea was to ensure a free transparent election under a neutral administration. But the experiment by and large failed. The perennial naysayers and bad losers as per their wont cried wolf alleging that elections were rigged in favour of the PML-N through a concerted plan. The PTI launched a paralysing dharna (sit in) mid August 2014 famously on the behest of the ‘third empire’ – a euphemism for the ubiquitous establishment. Being part of the former caretaker set up as federal information minister in my view the 2013 elections though held under an underperforming Election Commission and a toothless caretaker setup were by and large fair. The results adequately reflected the ground realities. In most democratic countries a powerful election commission ensures a fair and free elections while the outgoing government only performs day-to-day tasks of running the administration
In light of the recent tug of war on choice of the caretakers, perhaps the next elected government should ponder over further empowering the Election Commission and doing away with a failed experiment of setting up a caretaker government. If an independent and powerful election commission is given the powers to blackball anyone – whether in the government or not – messing with the election process, fair and free elections can be ensured. Nonetheless crying foul after losing is part of our political milieu. But more important is to deter potential riggers with exemplary punishments through due process for those found guilty.
Despite all the negativity generated in the past year or so against all the odds a second democratically elected government just completed its term in Pakistan’s variegated political history, which is a good omen for the future of democracy. The mutual backslapping amongst the contending parliamentarians, in the last session of the National Assembly was s positive sign that there is hope for democracy. Pessimist parliamentarians like Sheikh Rashid who has been painting doom and gloom and predicting a ‘judicial martial law’ have been proved wrong. No one wants another martial law including the military leadership.
(The writer is veteran journalist and Editor, Pakistan Today. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.