As the country moves towards the next general elections, the question uppermost in the minds of most Pakistanis is: Will they be held on schedule?
The National Assembly will complete its five-year term in the next two months. As per provisions of the constitution, general elections are to be held within the next sixty days to elect a new government. But as things stand today, it seems highly unlikely that the electoral process will go on as planned.
As many analysts have pointed out, there are many spokes in the wheel. Among other things, the most important hurdle is the gathering storm on the country’s political horizon. The deepening political tension characterized by an endless war of words between the ruling party and the Opposition has created a climate of uncertainty and doubt and given rise to conspiracy theories about the role of the judiciary and the National Accountability Bureau in shaping the national political narrative.
PML-N has hurled serious allegations of foul play in the Senate election, raising questions about the fairness of the electoral process. Some observers suspect the hand of the Establishment behind the defeat of the PML-N candidate for Senate chairman and earlier the change of the political guard in Balochistan. In both episodes, Zardari played the Pied Piper. With the support of PTI, he succeeded in preventing the ruling party from taking control of the upper house.
Casting a long shadow over the political landscape is the impending accountability court ruling in the graft cases against Nawaz Sharif and his family. The monitoring Supreme Court judge has extended the deadline for winding up the trial in three months. According to one reading of the situation, such a delay is being manipulated out of fear that a chaotic situation could develop if the former prime minister is convicted while a PML-N government is still in power. The underlying idea that the situation can be better controlled if it happens under a non-party interim administration.
It is apprehended that a court ruling against the Sharifs on the eve of the general elections may spark a popular backlash. Despite everything, Nawaz Sharif remains stubborn, refusing to give up his defiance. Although the chances of a mass protest are remote, an adverse court verdict would certainly raise the political temperature in the country. If clashes break out and the situation gets out of control, the possibility of the army coming in to keep peace cannot be totally ruled out. It is relevant to mention here that the military has already assured full backing to the judiciary, and all the state institutions are bound by the Constitution to get the court order implemented.
The court’s recent order to retired General Musharraf to return to the country and face trial on sedition charges is another complicating factor in the developing imbroglio. The erstwhile army chief’s trial had been a major source of tension between the former Sharif government and the military. It will not be easy for the military leadership to watch its former chief undergo trial for treason. But non-compliance by the former military ruler could create a challenging situation for both the judiciary and the administration and add to political tensions in the country. The issue could place the military leadership in an awkward situation.
In a highly unpredictable environment, the possibility of the PML-N dissolving into several splinter groups also cannot be ruled out. The signs of a divide are already visible with Chaudhry Nisar openly challenging the party leadership. According to insider reports, he enjoys the support of many senior and saner members of the party.
Another ticklish issue in the making is delimitation of constituencies in the light of the latest census results. Political parties are confused and divided over the issue. While some politicians want elections to be held on the basis of existing constituencies, voices are also being raised in favour of redrawing the constituency boundaries. The latter course will surely lead to a postponement of the scheduled elections.
Of late, rumours have been rife in the country about a long-term interim set-up backed by the military and judiciary. The steadily deteriorating state of the economy is also being used to justify the argument for delaying the holding of general elections and the installation of a technocrat government to set things right. It is, however, unlikely that any political party would agree to such a proposition. Needless to say, such an arrangement would be an extra-constitutional act and could land the country into a bigger political crisis.
It is, indeed, a highly tortuous run-up to the elections. With every passing day, the national political scene is getting messier and murkier. The country is facing an extremely explosive and unpredictable situation, with the cynics and Doubting Thomases openly raising questions about the elections being held on time. The more discriminating pundits are keeping their fingers crossed.