FeaturedNationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 13

A murky post-poll scenario

The results of the Feb 8 elections have come as a big surprise for everyone. It is for the first time in the history of Pakistan that independent candidates have won a majority of seats in the National Assembly, with the two main parties – PML-N and PPP – trailing far behind. The most astounding thing is that although the PTI was denied a level playing field and its supporters and leaders were arrested, abducted and harassed in many ways, over a hundred candidates backed by Imran Khan have carried the day.

As is well known, the PTI was deprived of its iconic symbol – cricket bat. PTI founder Imran Khan was put in jail. Many decisions by the Election Commission of Pakistan went against the PTI. On the other hand, other parties including the PPP and PML-N had full liberty to conduct their election campaign. Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif addressed several election rallies. In the given circumstances, it was expected that the PTI would not do well in the elections. But when results began to come in after the polling was over on Feb 8, political pundits and commentators were astonished to notice that independent candidates were leading all the way and winning hands down, with top leaders and major stalwarts of mainstream parties falling to the ground. These included Nawaz Sharif, Bilawal Bhutto and Maulana Fazlur Rahman. Needless to say, it has been a remarkable victory for the PTI and, as one social media user rightly said, Imran Khan had scored a century without a bat.

As the victory march of PTI-backed independent candidates rolled on, suddenly in the late evening hours of Feb 8, the pace of result announcement by the ECP slowed down and in many constituencies candidates who were winning in the early vote count began to be declared unsuccessful. No wonder, PTI supporters as well as the media cried foul and independent observers complained of serious irregularities in the vote counting and results consolidation process. The cry of outright theft of the public mandate grew louder in the face of the serious discrepancies between various reported results.

As pointed out by both local and foreign observers, some of the ECP’s announced results differed so widely from the personal tallies kept by the candidates as well as the unofficial counts maintained by TV channels through their independent sources. Suspicions have been further strengthened by some obvious anomalies in the Form 47s released by ROs for certain constituencies, as well as the inordinately long time it has taken ECP to ‘finalise’ results. According to media reports, several PTI-backed independents in Karachi, Lahore, Multan and Islamabad, saw comfortable victories turn into overnight defeats. For instance, PTI candidate Salman Akram Raja in Lahore was winning in the initial count but was later declared as having lost the election. He has now challenged his RO’s result in court. In the meantime, the US, EU, the UK and other countries demanded investigations into allegations of rigging and interference to change the results. Several US congressmen have endorsed the call.

On the basis of the election results, no one party is in a position to form the next government. It means that a coalition government is the only option open. In his so-called victory speech a few days ago, PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif said that his was the single largest party, and called on other political leaders to initiate discussions to form what he called a unity government. Subsequently, PPP’s Asif Ali Zardari and PML-N’s Shehbaz Sharif held meetings to negotiate the terms for governmental formation. On the other hand, it is not yet clear whether PTI-affiliated independents would be able to garner enough support from other parties to form a government. The most likely scenario is a patch-up between the PPP and the PML-N with support from the MQM and the JUI-F. In that case, the independents will form a strong opposition.

The numbers game is on but the final outcome is not yet clear. A hung parliament has resulted from the Feb 8 election and political uncertainty looms large on the national horizon. A PDM 2.0 government will be a painful reminder of the last PDM government and will certainly not be welcomed by the people of Pakistan who suffered gross misgovernance and price hikes during its tenure. A wobbly coalition government is the last thing the nation deserves in the present circumstances. There will be constant wheeling and dealing and give-and-take for political survival in the midst of which the public’s interest at large will be a casualty.