The 2018 national elections in Pakistan would be historic if they are held on time as a successful electoral process would put the country on a firm democratic path. A lot of doubts have been expressed from different quarters regarding holding of elections on time. One is at a loss to understand how elections could be delayed, because under the constitution they have to be held within 60 days of the outgoing national assembly.
There is no other way to put off the elections than through a constitutional amendment which would not be possible because the present national and provincial assemblies are going to complete their tenures by May 31 and no consensus is possible before the dissolution of the current national assembly on such a constitutional amendment. Thus, the elections cannot be delayed by any constitutional provisions and if any extra-constitutional course is taken to delay the elections it would be a death knell for the democratic system in the country. So one hopes that elections would be held within 60 days after the completion of the tenure of the current national and provincial assemblies.
According to reports, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has proposed a couple of dates to the President of Pakistan Mamnoon Hussain, near the end of July and the latter would now decide the ultimate date of polling. Irrespective of the date of polling, an interesting political situation is unfolding before the national elections. The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is undergoing factionalism and fragmentation. Tens of its members from the national assembly and the Punjab assembly have bid adieu to the party and most of them have joined the main challenger of the PML-N, the Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI). The splintering of the PML-N has been catalyzed by the shocking interview by the party founder and ousted prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, in which he alleged that the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack in India, had gone from Pakistan. Islamabad has been consistently rejecting Indian allegations that the attack was managed from Pakistan. The statement by Sharif is to bring the country’s security establishment under pressure as he thinks the latter is the final arbiter of election results in Pakistan. If this line of argument is true, then the PML-N’s three stints in power at the federal level and five terms in the Punjab must have been the result of manipulation in his favour by the then security establishment. Such arguments are only for political expediency, but are quite fallacious.
Had the security establishment being so powerful to decisively manage the election outcome, then Awami League in the 1970 national elections would not have won a sweeping majority in East Pakistan as the party was clearly anti-state and pro-India. Then Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto could not have rigged the 1978 national elections in his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) favour, triggering countrywide agitation from the opposition Pakistan National Alliance. The argument of decisive manipulation of elections by the country’s security establishment would have stopped Benazir Bhutto from winning a majority in the 1988 elections. So sensing its defeat the PML-N founder, Nawaz Sharif, is trying to play to the gallery in a last ditch effort to attract voters. However, he may fail to achieve his objectives. In the process the PML-N founder has inflicted irreparable damage on his party and may seal his fate by his wrong strategy.
The net gainer of the wrong political strategy of the PML-N and Nawaz Sharif is the PTI and Imran Khan. This is not merely because of the fact that the PTI is the only alternative choice for voters in Pakistan, particularly the electorally dominant Punjab province. In fact, it was Imran Khan who filed a petition against the corruption of Nawaz Sharif in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which ultimately resulted in the disqualification of Sharif and initiation of a corruption trial by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) under the order of the Supreme Court. The investigation of NAB against Sharif has entered a decisive phase and the former may be punished for his corruption.
Then it was the PTI and Mr. Khan who staged a sit-in against the electoral fraud by the PML-N in the 2013 elections and which pressurized the government to review certain results. The PTI could not be an alternative to the PML-N had it not consistently struggled against the PML-N and its corruption. Then the PTI relatively satisfactory, if not good, performance in its first-ever stint in power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has also diverted the attention of the disinterested voters from the silent majority in Pakistan, towards the party.
It is noteworthy that hardly any deserter of the PML-N in the Punjab has joined a party other than the PTI, not even another main opposition party, the PPP. This obviously is due to the fact that the PPP could not improve its prospects in the Punjab despite a vacuum being created by the poor performance of the PML-N. There are several reasons for the PPP’s inability to make inroads in the Punjab. First, the PPP under Asif Ali Zardari has practically become the party of Sindh. Secondly, the PPP on all important occasions in the last ten years has sided with the PML-N, even including the latter in its federal government after winning elections in 2008. Thus, the PPP could not play the role of a genuine opposition party in the Punjab and its local leadership in the province, has had only one point to do politics on, namely, criticizing the weaknesses of the PML-N. Therefore, it was not surprising that the PPP diehards like Aziz ur Rahman Chan have left the party and even he joined the PTI.
The rising tide of the PTI before the 2018 national elections could be gauged from the fact that even the wily Zardari sometime back came up with a very meaningful statement. Zardari said that an alliance with the PTI was possible and in the same vein he said that Imran Khan was more in haste to enter the prime minister house while he did not have that urgency to do so. This indubitably means that Zardari thinks that the PPP could not win a majority in the next elections and it would be the PTI which would be the frontrunner.
Nevertheless, it would not be a cakewalk for the PTI in the next elections either, as the party still has many obstacles to remove to reach the corridors of power in Islamabad for the first time ever. There is ample possibility that the PML-N along with other important parties like the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam Fazl faction (JUI-F) along with the Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party would join hands to challenge the PTI, particularly in the Khyber Pakhtunhwa province and even Balochistan. On its part the PTI does not have any close political associates to form an alliance with. The only party, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) which has been an ally of the PTI in the KP government has left the government and has joined the JUI-F to revive the defunct alliance of the Muslim clerical parties, the MMA.
The sometime immature politics by PTI head Imran Khan may also become a great hurdle for the party in its bid to win a majority in the next elections. However, it remains to be seen how Imran moves forward his election campaign in the decisive phase. In fact, the electoral campaign in the final phase of all parties would play a critical role in their success or failure, including the PML-N. If the PML-N thinks to grab victory from the jaws of defeat, it would have to carry out extremely effective and innovative electioneering. In short, very interesting national elections are ahead of us.