FeaturedNationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 13

A sorry political mess

Political uncertainty in Pakistan has deepened ever since the PTI dissolved the provincial assemblies in Punjab and KP to force the PDM government to hold general elections across the country before the completion of its constitutional term. But the ruling coalition seems in no mood to go to the hustings. It has argued, among other things, that holding by-elections in the two provinces is devoid of logic as general elections are only four months away. It has said that the country cannot afford two elections in such a short period of time, nor can it spend so much on these elections in the current economic crisis.

In the same vein, KP Governor Ghulam Ali recently said that the law and order in his province was not suitable to hold elections. After a terrorist attack on a mosque in Peshawar, which claimed over 100 lives, he wrote a letter to the ECP in which he suggested consulting all relevant stakeholders including political parties and law-enforcement agencies before fixing a date for the polls in view of the “alarming” security situation in the province. Later, the Punjab governor wrote a similar letter to ECP citing the country’s security as well as economic situation for not holding elections. Two weeks ago, PM Shehbaz Sharif decided to call an all-parties conference in a bid to find a way out of the present mess but nothing came out of it.

The government-opposition tussle now centres on holding elections in Punjab and KP. While the PTI is increasing pressure, PDM spokesmen are coming out with fresh excuses everyday not to hold polls. The objections they have raised include the present fragile state of the economy, the need for a new census and re-demarcation of constituencies. The financial cost of holding multiple elections is a major argument. Another is that holding provincial and national elections at different times would be unprecedented in the country’s history.

The PDM’s stand is clearly in violation of the Constitution which provides for holding fresh elections within 90 days of dissolution of assemblies. Last week, the Lahore High Court announced its verdict on the issue. Upholding the constitutional provision on the subject, the honourable court has ordered elections to be held within 90 days. This has put the coalition government in a quandary and it is flailing around how to wriggle out the situation.

Political jugglery aside, the PDM government is avoiding holding elections as it fears it will lose badly because the people groaning under the burden of raging inflation will vote massively against it. The PDM government’s thinking is that if provincial elections are held within 90 days and the PTI wins hands down, this will smoothen the way for its win in national polls later.

But taking a realistic view of the situation, delaying elections is not going to help the PDM government which is under pressure from a ruthless IMF to raise taxes and energy prices. It is sadly mistaken if it thinks that by delaying elections things will improve in the next few months and its electoral prospects will improve. Another strand of thinking among the coalition partners is that more time would enable them to end internal discord and divisions in Punjab and Balochistan.

All told, it is a sorry mess the political parties have created. While the economy is sinking on a daily basis, the game of thrones is on. It’s a no-holds-barred struggle for power in which the poor people of Pakistan do not figure. The political history of Pakistan has shown that our politicians, ignoring the basic needs of the people, have lined their own pockets all the time. It is no surprise that while the people have become poorer, the politicians irrespective of party affiliations have all become dirty rich.

Today political polarization in the country is at fever pitch as never before, creating despondency among the people. The government and Opposition are on a collision course which bodes ill for the future. Political instability is aggravating economic instability. At the moment, along with a major political crisis, the country is facing an economic meltdown and a new security challenge.

It is not yet too late for the political parties to see reason and come to the negotiating table to sign a new charter of peace and reconciliation to steer the country out of troubled waters. The need of the hour is for the political leadership to sit together and create a consensus on holding free and fair elections. There should also be a consensus that the results of the elections will be accepted by all concerned.

The present state of endless political conflict is not in the national interest. Needless to emphasise, if the political parties do not show responsibility and continue to do each other down, extra-constitutional forces may intervene and once again political parties will be left empty-handed.