FeaturedNationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 10

A tepid and listless election campaign

Although elections are only three weeks away, political campaigning by various parties remains subdued and tepid. One reason is that PTI supporters are not being allowed sufficient space to hold rallies and organise public meetings. On the other hand, the PML-N, carrying the baggage of the disastrous PDM regime led by Shehbaz Sharif, is not attracting the mass support that it did in earlier elections. As for the PPP, Bilawal Bhutto has made several forays into Punjab but is yet to elicit the kind of public response he expects.

An example of how the PTI is being prevented from full-scale election campaigning is the disruption of the party’s virtual event last week. According to media reports, the internet services were interrupted an hour before the ‘virtual power show’ of the PTI broadcast on social media websites, particularly YouTube. Netblocks, a global internet monitor, tweeted that live metrics showed “a nation-scale disruption to social media platforms across Pakistan, including X/Twitter, Fac­e­book, Instagram and YouTube. The incident comes as persecuted opposition leader Imran Khan’s political party, PTI, laun­ches its second virtual gathering.” In light of these blackouts, some internet service providers (ISPs) informed their customers through text messages that they might experience internet issues due to a “degradation” in their network.

The PTI charged that the authorities concerned deliberately interrupted internet services to disrupt its online event. The party spokesperson said, “Shame on the caretakers that are causing damage to Pakistanis only, and this was the proof of what they intend to do on February 8, but the people are aware of all such moves.” However, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority ascribed the internet disruption to a “technical fault”.

The crackdown on the PTI after the unfortunate incident of May 9 followed by the arrest of party workers and snatching of nomination papers from their candidates, coupled with forfeiture of the party’s iconic symbol bat, has rightly raised questions about the fairness and credibility of the coming elections. Speaking to reporters at Adiala Jail after the hearing of the Toshakhana case last week, the PTI leader pointed out that PTI candidates “are being harassed and detained” by the authorities to stop them from contesting elections. He also claimed that the Election Commission of Pakistan had deliberately delayed the matter related to the PTI’s intra-party elections to take a sudden and uncalled for action to deprive the political party of its electoral symbol. He warned that if fair polls were not conducted then it would lead to further “instability and uncertainty”.

On the other hand, while the PML-N has not yet been able to put together its election manifesto causing murmur in political circles, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto continues to attack its main rival, saying that leaders tried and tested in the past cannot solve the problems Pakistan faces today. He has said how long the people of Punjab would endure the alternating rule of PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif and Wasim Akram plus (PTI’s Usman Buzdar) in Lahore. Accusing the PML-N of engaging in vengeful politics and terrorising workers of the PTI, Bilawal urged PTI supporters to rally behind his party in the upcoming general elections, pledging to put an end to the politics of revenge and division.

In an interesting development, the PTI founder while talking to the media last week expressed his readiness for talks with other political parties, insisting that a politician is “always ready to hold dialogue”. In this connection, he referred to  President Arif Alvi’s several efforts to mediate and bring down the political temperature but to no avail.

According to political observers, Imran Khan’s offer of an olive branch opens a window of opportunity to start a process of dialogue and reconciliation among various political parties which have for long been engaged in a war of words and exchange of poisonous rhetoric, much to the dismay of a large majority of people in the country who wish to see democracy flourish to pave the way for economic reconstruction. Wild allegations and inane controversies have cast a shadow over the political landscape blocking the way for a rational debate and positive engagement among the country’s political forces.

In the past, he had obstinately refused to hold any talks with the opposition parties. But trials and tribulations of the last few months have made him a wiser man. He seems to have learned his lessons and now realizes that politics is not a cricket match but a game of compromise and accommodation conducted through a continuous process of dialogue and engagement. But it remains to be seen how the other political forces in the country react to his offer. It would be unfortunate if they took the same hard line which he previously did and came to grief. They should not miss the opportunity to put democracy on a strong footing in the country.