FeaturedNationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 2

New moves on the political chessboard

As the elections draw nearer, the political chessboard of Pakistan is witnessing new interesting moves by various players. The PML-N is seeking new alliances in Balochistan and Sindh, while the PPP is complaining against the absence of a level playing field. The newly born Istehkam-e-Pakistan party is putting together a group of electables to consolidate its position. The battered PTI is banking on the support of the silent majority which has been expressing its opinion through pre-poll surveys conducted by various agencies.

Although it is now generally believed that the PML-N is the new favourite of the Establishment, Asif Zardari has repeatedly said that there is no possibility of Nawaz Sharif playing a leading role in the next government, and suggested that it was the PPP’s turn to take the helm.

On his part, Bilawal Bhutto has taken the offensive. In one public jalsa after another, Bilawal Bhutto has been incessantly attacking the PML-N, saying that the “Mehngai League” has caused a sharp rise in inflation and unrest in the country. The PPP chairman says that people would not accept any conspiracy and ‘selected rule’ this time, adding that voters would surprise those who pin their hopes on certain quarters for victory, instead of the people.

Addressing a political gathering in Sindh last week, he said: “Insha’Allah, on February 8, we will defeat the Mehngai League, if you are with us. This time people would surprise them by ensuring the victory of the PPP to establish people’s rule in Pakistan.”He has also accused PML-N’s supremo, Nawaz Sharif, of receiving a favorable treatment from the caretaker government, expressing skepticism about the transparency of the upcoming general elections. He has raised concerns about the potential manipulation of election results in favor of a particular political party, asserting that “if such interference occurs, people will not accept the credibility of the poll outcomes.”

On the other hand, PPP Information Secretary Shazia Marri has also criticised certain leaders of the PML-N for stating, that “our deal has been struck,” giving the impression that the latter is poised to form the government after the February 2024 polls. Speaking to the media, she said such statements amount to the humiliation of the sacrifices made for democracy. She urged political rivals to strive to become favorites of the masses rather than relying on external powers.

Reacting to Bilawal Bhutto’s criticism, PML-N Punjab President Rana Sanaullah a few days ago said that the PML-N does not want to respond to Bilawal “in his language and style.” He also asked Bilawal “not to say such things as he is the head of a political party.” His reaction to Bilawal’s criticism followed JUI-F Chief Maulana Fazlur-Rehman’s statement in which he came down hard on the PPP chairman by saying that “the politics should not be handed over to  children”.

Another face of the current political scene is the airing of differences of opinion between Zardari and Bilawal publicly on how to conduct national politics. In response to Bilawal Bhutto asking veteran politicians to call it a day and allow youth to take up the reins of the country, Zardari pointed out that Bilawal still needed more time to learn the art of politics. But Bilawal’s view is that youth, who form 70 per cent of the population, should be allowed to run the country along modern lines, because the present leadership is old, lacks vision and spends more time on settling scores with political rivals and amassing wealth.

In this connection, it is interesting to note that while Zardari has expressed confidence in the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and dashed rumours of favouritism by the electoral body, Bilawal does not think so and has repeatedly called for a level playing field in elections. Another point of divergence between the two is that while Bilawal has consistently called for elections within 90 days, Zardari has defended ECP’s decision to postpone elections citing the need for delimitation.

Former president Asif Ali Zardari, who is known for his flexibility and acumen for deal making, is also singing another tune. In an interview last week he said he expected the formation of a “national unity government” after the upcoming general election, insisting that no single party would be able to secure a two-thirds majority. Regarding potential political alliances, Zardari said the PPP was open to forming coalitions with any party. “If the N-league (PML-N) does not go with us, we can make an alliance with other parties,” he said, stressing that politics “is a chessboard”.

In the meanwhile, the PML N supremo has been actively building alliances to strengthen his position before the next elections. In a clever move ahead of the February 8 general elections, Nawaz Sharif has garnered support from more than two dozen electables in Balochistan, including former chief minister Jam Kamal Khan. For this purpose, he held detailed meetings with the leaders of the National Party (NP), JamiatUlema-e-Islam (JUI), Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) and Balochistan Awami Party (BAP). All mainstream political parties have been trying to gain support from Balochistan, but the PML-N has succeeded in winning the lion’s share of delectables in the province. This has strengthened the prospect of the latter emerging as the largest parliamentary party in Balochistan in the coming elections.

A couple of fruitful meetings have also taken place between the PML-N and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) for electoral understanding and seat adjustment to meet the challenge from the PPP. But the latter has also kept its options open and, according to  some reliable sources, it is not unwilling to form an electoral alliance with the PTI in Punjab, if need be.