July issue 2018

By | Election Special | Published 1 year ago

I. A. Rehman

I.A. Rehman is a veteran journalist and human rights activist.

Elections are always quite unpredictable and the 2018 elections are more unpredictable than ever. A number of factors have made the political situation exceptionally fluid.

Credible national and international organisations have asserted with considerable force that the environment has become increasingly unaccommodating towards the holding of a fair election. 

The establishment’s decision not to let the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) return to power is an open secret. Inter-party migration of politicians, a regular feature of the pre-election scene in Pakistan, has acquired an unusually large dimension this time round. Most of the defections are occurring from the PML-N, with politicians flocking towards the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). 

The PTI is being viewed, rightly or wrongly, as the party chosen by the powers-that-be to lead the country for the next five years. Many of the people deserting the PML- N claim to have voluntarily opted for better prospects, but quite a few have been careless enough to disclose the inspiration behind their change in loyalties. There is considerable evidence to suggest that a well-organised decimation of the Sharifs’ party is being conducted. 

The process began with a change of party label by members of legislatures. Afterwards, candidates looking to join the electoral contest made a beeline for the PTI darbar. There have been desertions from almost all other parties too. Those denied tickets by the main contenders are placing their bets on other outfits. This process is likely to continue until after the elections. It is extremely difficult to foresee what the party position in the new national and provincial assemblies is going to be.

A factor that contributes to the unpredictability of the election results is that while inter-party migration of professional politicians has been going on in all provinces, the PML-N has not crumbled the way hostile camps had expected it to. Quite a few observers still place it ahead of the PTI in Punjab, in both the national and provincial contests. Such assessments continue to fuel fears of the elections being put off. The widespread view is that we are going to have a hung parliament. 

Who is likely to be the next prime minister? Shehbaz Sharif — if eligible — and Imran Khan are the favourites, but they could lose out to a person favoured by the eventual coalition-makers. The potential prime minister may belong to a small party, or to a less populous province, or he may have contested as an independent candidate. 

The favours showered on General (R) Pervez Musharraf had made him a strong contender for the prime minister’s office, as well as a good replacement for Mamnoon Husain in the presidency, in view of his supreme quality of not being a civilian. But he chickened out and pulled himself out of the race.

Predicting a future prime minister brings to my mind a line from a popular song, “Jinnoon pia chahay wohi suhagan.” (“The conjugal bed in a house of several wives and concubines belongs to the master’s favourite”).

The bigger question, however, is: what will happen to Pakistan under a micromanaged system, where the de jure authority might be at the mercy of the de facto sovereign?

Sohail Warraich

Sohail Warraich is a television host and journalist

Recent developments in Pakistan’s political arena make it very difficult to predict with certainty the likely outcome of the 2018 elections. 

It was hoped that the July 25 elections would be contested on the basis of party manifestos, with people voting for their preferred political party and that  independent candidates would be given lesser significance. 

However, the scenario has changed. We see the rise of the individual candidate as well as groups switching allegiances and the so-called ‘electables’ being given tickets by their new parties. 

It would appear that the political parties, especially the PTI, are betting more on tried and tested election-winners rather than banking on their manifestos.  

Internal party conflicts on ticket distribution and challenges posed by actual and potential disqualifications have taken the front seat. Neither of the two main contenders for power — the PTI and the PML-N — have been able to finalise the list of their candidates and this might lead to them not being able to field candidates for all the 266 National Assembly seats.

A critical factor that will influence the voting patterns is the question of disqualifications — especially for the former ruling party. Decisions of the National Accountability Courts, especially pertaining to the case of Nawaz Sharif and Co, may prove to be a turning point, if they are made prior to July 25. The party is building a public impression of being victimised and denied a level playing field. This could turn out to be a selling point for the voters. 

As usual, the province of Punjab will be the central battleground for any party aspiring to emerge as the winner at the national level. The main contest here will be between the PML-N and the PTI and whoever manages to win some seats from the other provinces as well will emerge as the single largest party, though it may not be in a position to form a government on its own. 

At the provincial level, there seem to be less chances of any single party forming a government. In Punjab, the PML-N might emerge victorious but government formation will largely be determined by post-election alliances and the number of independent winners. In Sindh, the PPP may emerge as the winning party, with results from Karachi being the deciding factor. In KP, so far, the PTI seems to be leading, but it might still end up forming a coalition government. Meanwhile, in Balochistan, the tradition of coalition governments will continue.   

Farrukh Pitafi

Farrukh Khan Pitafi is a television journalist based in Islamabad.

In various general elections, we have witnessed a process of elimination. When two or more major contenders for power enter the political fray, the first thing that needs to be looked at is the leadership of the party. If a party’s leadership is intact and there is no discernible power vacuum or leadership crisis, it stands a better chance of winning the elections. 

In 2013, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was facing a leadership crisis. A prime minister had been removed from office after a prolonged court case and due to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s tender age and Asif Ali Zardari’s preoccupation with the office of the president, the party had a power vacuum. Consequently, the PPP failed to win a majority and lost control of the National Assembly.

In the same year, there was no confusion in either the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) or the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), about their leadership or their prime ministerial candidates. Consequently, their stock rose in the elections. The focus of the discussion shifted to their programmes and track record. 

The PML-N, a known quantity and with a significant developmental record under its belt, was favoured by a majority and managed to form the next government. But the PTI managed to emerge as the second-most potent force on the national stage.

Since then, much has changed. Pakistan’s challenges have multiplied. The national discourse has also shifted considerably. The spectre of loadshedding and terrorism seem dwarfed now. There is a national debate on corruption and how it breeds inequality, intolerance and other social evils. There is a call for reform and for consolidation. 

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the Panama papers case and the disqualification of Mian Nawaz Sharif, the leadership crisis has engulfed the PML-N as well. Owing to the party’s nature and structure, a renewal seems difficult before the upcoming election. The sympathy factor and appreciation for developmental work are being squandered before our eyes. That might be a strategy too, because then the leadership remains within the house of Nawaz.

And instead of addressing its existing weaknesses, the PPP seems to have acquired new problems. This, along with the direction of the flight of electables, suggests it is PTI’s election to lose.

Rashed Rahman

Rashed Rahman is a former  Editor of The Daily Times.

General elections are notoriously difficult to call at the best of times. Pakistan’s 2018 general elections are proving even more difficult to decipher, given the interplay of so many factors. 

Starting from the Panama Papers case in 2017, that resulted in former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s ouster and disqualification for life, through defections from the former ruling party PML-N, to the pursuit of the party’s leaders and prominent candidates by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in corruption references, it appears at first glance that the PML-N is too beleaguered to win.

However, the victimisation narrative of Nawaz Sharif has found resonance amongst our people, whose gut instinct is to side with the underdog in our political culture. If Nawaz Sharif’s rallies, prior to his departure for London to see his ailing wife, are any guide, it would appear that despite the best efforts of the establishment, the PML-N’s intact vote bank in Punjab and a handful of seats elsewhere, could see the party romp home on July 25. This is assuming that the polls are conducted in a free, fair and transparent manner. Were this to be the outcome, it would spell a resounding defeat for the seemingly best laid out plans of the establishment.

If, however, this scenario is diluted by pre- and post-poll manipulation (as the PML-N is asserting in its chorus), there could ensue a political crisis of unknown dimensions. Even if it is assumed that the PML-N is not a party equipped to sustain a prolonged agitation against a perceived ‘stealing’ of an election from it, the government that will be formed after any such controversial election will probably be a coalition carved out of a hung parliament. It is unlikely that the PTI will win a simple majority, nor will it join hands with the PPP under Asif Ali Zardari. Arguably, independents and smaller parties will act as power brokers.

Pakistan’s myriad problems, including regional and internal security, terrorism and, perhaps most crucially, the economy, suggests a weak coalition government will struggle to cope. Such a coalition will easily be controlled by an overweening establishment.

Nasim Zehra 

Nasim Zehra is a journalist and talk-show host.

Predicting the results of Elections 2018, is a fairly simple exercise. PTI, where most of the electables have arrived, will likely lead the government formed after 2018. The arrival of most electables to PTI has been caused by three factors. One, genuine discomfort within  the politically cautious PML-N line-up regarding the militant politics of their disqualified Quaid, Nawaz Sharif, and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, who have been very critical of the army and the judiciary’s approach towards the PML-N.

Two, within the PPP’s Punjab-based ranks there is an increasing lack of confidence in their party’s ability to even put up a major fight, following the multiple defections to the PTI. The PPP faces nothing short of a rout in Punjab, leaving the field in Pakistan’s political heartland open wide for a two-way PML-N-PTI duel.

Three, vigorous ‘advice’ from Pakistan’s uniformed political managers to the PML-N electables to walk away from the PML-N has yielded results both for the PTI and the ‘jeep group’ loosely led by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who is now finally divorced from the PML-N. 

Pakistan’s uniformed political managers successfully oversaw the  pre-election breakaway of electables from the PML-N followed by, in the closing hours of the election process, several  National Assembly and provincial assembly PML-N ticket holders from South Punjab, returning their tickets.

This ‘political engineering’ began with managing the end of the PML-N rule in Balochistan, to crafting the birth of a new party in Balochistan, to tinkering with the Senate Chairman’s elections, to facilitating the birth of the South Punjab group and its merging into the PTI. The level of confidence of these political managers in their ‘Defeat PML-N’ mission is unprecedented. In Pakistan’s political history in which political engineering and democracy-tinkering have been a normal occurrence, the alleged torture by personnel of a secret agency of a PML-N ticket holder, Rana Iqbal (PP-219), for refusing to return the PML-N ticket, is unprecedented.

The subsequent denial of the agency’s involvement by the candidate has been received with disbelief. Unusual happenings have included calls to even a former minister, General Qadir Baloch, by an agency officer to not contest elections on a PML-N ticket and official letters from session judges in Kasur and Multan to the Election Commission of Pakistan complaining of directives from agency camp officers to attend election-related meetings.

While ‘Project defeat PML-N,’ with the PTI riding to power alongside Nisar’s jeep, GDA and BAP allies, seems likely to succeed, the unlikely too cannot be entirely ruled out. Much depends on the voter’s behaviour in Punjab and on how the PML-N and PPP engage in the coming weeks. PPP, for now, is vacillating between engaging with Pakistan’s political managers or choosing to stay with the political players.