FeaturedNationalVolume 13 Issue # 22

Preparing for the polls

Proving all doubting Thomases wrong, the electoral machine is churning inexorably. Nomination papers have been submitted, a large number of which have been accepted and others rejected by the Election Commission. Scrutiny of the documents submitted by electoral hopefuls has been undertaken with laser-like focus following which the election tribunals have started their work.

All efforts are being made to ensure fair and transparent polls. Neutral caretaker set-ups are in place both at the centre and in the provinces  The Election Commission of Pakistan approved a massive administrative reshuffle in Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan in what has been described as a move to ensure transparent elections next month.

An important sidelight of the political brouhaha across Pakistan has been the revolt by the rank and file of various parties against the award of tickets by the party leadership. Although the problem is common to all major parties, it is more acute in the case of PTI which, ignoring its old leaders and workers, awarded party tickets for 173 NA seats and 390 PA seats to the so-called electables, especially those who joined  the party in the last couple of months.

The policy to favour newcomers has drawn a howl of protest from diehard PTI loyalists. Although the PTI chairman promised to personally look into the matter to redress workers’ grievances against unjust allocation of tickets, the original award list stands largely unchanged. As a result, a number of neglected PTI candidates have decided to contest the forthcoming general elections in their personal capacity as independent candidates. Similarly, some disgruntled candidates are also considering the option to join other political parties. Political pundits are of the opinion that the large-scale “revolt” within the PTI on the eve of general elections, coupled with a general unacceptability of the electables among PTI’s voters, would adversely impact the party’s prospects in the upcoming polls in the country.

On the other hand, the PML-N is in dire straits. With just a month away from the 2018 general election, the party has been hit hard by a rising wave of defections, with well-known names in the party jumping ship to join the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. What started as a trickle following the Supreme Court’s verdict against Nawaz Sharif last year, became a flood early this year when a group of the party’s sitting members of the National Assembly and the Punjab Assembly joined hands to form the Junoobi Punjab Suba Mahaz to press for greater rights and the creation of a new province for the people of southern Punjab. Ever since the PML-N has been disintegrating like a house of cards.

The PPP, too, is not in a very happy position. Increasingly, opportunists and disgruntled elements in the PPP have been joining the PTI in the hope of improving their political prospects.

The PTI’s policy of accepting defectors without regard for their reputation and ideological orientation has caused serious concern among the old workers and leaders who view the electables as “parachuters” lacking morals, out to make a quick political buck. It is said that having failed to make a major breakthrough in the 2013 general elections, the PTI has now taken the option of embracing the maximum number of electables.

As things stand, the PTI seems to be employing all possible tools of realpolitik to win the electoral battle against the PML-N in order to achieve its political goals. Considering that the loss of the PML-N is the PTI’s gain, Imran Khan is playing the zero-sum game with gusto. At the latest count, more than 45 electables, both from PML-N and PPP have joined the PTI.

As noted by many analysts, the PTI has deviated from its original ideals and is pursuing its political goal through contradictory and conflicting means. Its main slogan is for political change, but is now resorting to the very same tools which sustain the status quo. Over time, the PTI has changed course, swerving from political idealism to political pragmatism or even charlatanism.

For the time being, the PTI’s political strategy revolves round undermining the political strength and relevance of the PML-N in Punjab by any means possible. Although it keeps shouting its slogan of “Naya Pakistan”, its immediate objective seems to be to enter the corridors power, no matter even if it means sacrificing some of its original principles. Clearly, a thinking has developed in the PTI leadership that the end justifies the means and that once power is in its grip, everything will fall into place.

As of today, the PML-N is a shadow of its former self and the PTI is all set to emerge as the single largest party in the next elections. The PPP, too, is flexing its muscles and, apart from Sindh, its aim is to win a good tally of seats from Punjab and KP. Zardari is a shrewd political player and a master of palace intrigues. His capacity for springing surprise cannot be underestimated.

In all probability, the next government at the centre will be a coalition in which the leading partner will be the PTI. Who will join it will depend upon the relative electoral strength of various parties. A possible combination suggested by some political analysts includes MQM, PPP, PML-Q, members from FATA and, of course, independents. But the final line-up will be determined by the outcome of the next elections.