NationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 30

The imperative of inclusive elections and leadership considerations

The political instability in Pakistan has reached immense proportions, and there seems to be no foreseeable resolution to this impasse. The ruling alliance, led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and consisting of 13 parties, has violated the Constitution by failing to provide critical support to the Elections Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for conducting elections within the stipulated time frame in the provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

The caretaker governments in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, whose primary responsibility was to hold elections within the constitutionally allowed 90 days, have completely failed in fulfilling their duties. Consequently, they have lost their legal and moral justification to remain in power.

Although the ruling alliance and the powers-that-be appear determined to hold general elections for the National Assembly and four provincial assemblies in October this year, the crucial question that arises is whether these elections would contribute to political stability in Pakistan. The resounding answer is no, unless the elections are conducted in a transparent and fair manner, and also involve the temporary retirement of Imran Khan from parliamentary politics. There are several reasons for this.

The reality is that prior to Imran Khan’s arrest on May 9, the only plausible way to avert another unprecedented political crisis in Pakistan was by conducting free, fair, and transparent elections first in Punjab and KP, followed by national elections for the National Assembly in October, as mandated by the Constitution. However, after Imran Khan’s arrest and the subsequent violence blamed on him and his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the situation has drastically changed. The ruling junta of Pakistan has decided to try Mr. Khan and his party leadership under the Army Act and Official Secret Act in military courts. Although there are varying legal opinions on the legality and constitutionality of trying a civilian in a military court, if Mr. Khan is prosecuted, there is a high chance of his disqualification, along with other top party leaders. However, convicting Mr. Khan for the May 9 violence would be difficult, if not impossible, as he was in National Accountability Bureau (NAB)’s custody and incommunicado. Proving that he directed his party workers and activists to unleash violence presents a legal challenge for the prosecution, even in a military court. Nevertheless, it appears that Mr. Khan has slim chances of making a political comeback, given the strong opposition against him within the entire system. However, the fate of his party, PTI, remains uncertain, as some top party leaders have abandoned Mr. Khan, while others have chosen to remain within the party.

Regardless of whether Mr. Khan is disqualified, his party is banned, or many party leaders leave him and the PTI, there is no denying the fact that Mr. Khan is the most popular leader in Pakistan. Numerous surveys and opinion polls conducted by national and international organizations on political preferences of Pakistanis indicate that Mr. Khan and the PTI enjoy the support of more than 75 percent of the population. This situation has further complicated and polarized Pakistan’s political landscape.

In these circumstances, if elections are held without the participation of the PTI, which has widespread popularity, it would not only be problematic but also lead to further chaos and instability. Excluding the PTI from the elections would render the outcomes unrepresentative of the people of Pakistan. Moreover, it would result in a hung parliament, exacerbating the political crisis and conflicts in the country instead of providing a solution. Furthermore, given the prevailing situation in the country, the elections would lack transparency, making it unlikely for the international community to accept the results. Furthermore, if PTI is not allowed to openly contest the elections, it is highly likely that a coalition government would be formed by the currently ruling 13 parties, potentially excluding some of them, and possibly adding a new party under construction or production led by Jehangir Tareen. In such a scenario, the powers-that-be would have to piece together a government, which would be difficult to sustain. As long as it manages to remain in power, its focus would be on mere survival rather than serving the interests of the people and addressing their pressing issues.

Now, let’s consider another scenario where Mr. Khan somehow evades disqualification and conviction and manages to contest and win elections. Even in this case, a political crisis would arise due to the rift between him and the military high command. So, what is the best option for the country in this situation? The answer lies in the minus-Khan formula, whether the PTI or Mr. Khan approves of it. Recently, he expressed that if his political sidelining is the solution to the political crisis in the country, he is prepared for it but needs to be convinced. However, no response has been given by the ruling junta. By “minusing” Mr. Khan, the PTI, which is the most popular party in Pakistan and symbolizes the unity of the deeply divided and polarized society, could be allowed to contest and potentially win elections. By sidelining Mr. Khan, the anger of the powers-that-be against him could be appeased. Secondly, Mr. Khan would have the opportunity to focus on his party, while the government could be entrusted to a moderate and balanced individual like Shah Mehmud Qureshi, who has already been named as a candidate for the position of prime minister by Mr. Khan in case he is imprisoned, disqualified, or convicted. With his extensive experience in electoral, political, and administrative matters, Shah Mehmud Qureshi could play a vital role in establishing a stable governance structure in the country. Therefore, regardless of the powers-that-be’s anger towards Mr. Khan, they should support Mr. Qureshi to bring about a stable government in the country. Otherwise, handing over the government to the currently ruling parties and leaders after managed elections would hold no significance for Pakistan. Even individuals like Jehangir Tareen lack the capability to address the monumental problems of Pakistan. Furthermore, Qureshi would be acceptable to the international community as he would assume power after transparent elections.