After ousting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif through the superior judiciary in the Panama corruption scandals, the main opposition party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan must be feeling elated and vindicated. The PTI Chairman Imran Khan was the main petitioner against disqualified Premier Sharif in the Panamagate issue. This legal success of the PTI against its arch-rival, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of Sharif have a huge impact on the political stature and future of the PTI and the PML-N.
Obviously, the PTI is going to benefit enormously from the disqualification of Sharif as the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) five-member bench decision with a 5-0 majority, verified the allegations of corruption by the PTI against Nawaz Sharif and his family. Many political bystanders or, more specifically, non-voters must now be considering Sharif really corrupt because the decision has come from the highest court of the country which comprised of the most revered justices. In other words, allegations of the PTI against the Sharif clan were politically one thing, but the veracity of these charges by the SCP is politically another. From this situation the PTI is going to gain a lot politically. This is despite certain very nasty statements by people like PML-N coalition partner Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) head Fazlur Rahman. The latter in a statement just before the Panama case decision by the SCP had said that he expected Insaf (Justice) not Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice or PTI) from the SCP. For this very statement Mr. Rahman could be tried for contempt of court. The rising popularity of the PTI in the wake of the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif can be gauged from the fact that in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where the PTI has its government, despite far from performing exceptionally, the political clout of the party has increased. In order to ascertain this I conducted a simple but scientific survey in Peshawar, the capital of KP province. In this connection I visited dozens of stalls selling Pakistani flags and badges in connection with the 70th birthday of Pakistan. I noticed that most of these stalls apart from Pakistani flags were selling PTI flags, caps and banners and hardly any other party insignias were available. When asked, most of the stall owners said that as the demand for the PTI flags and badges was so high they had no other choice but to bring them to their stalls. However, these stall owners said they had nothing to do with the PTI and even many had sympathies for other parties like the ANP and JUI-F. But when it came to their business they said they had no other option but to stock the PTI flags. The increase in the popularity, following and clout of the PTI in KP is a very important indicator of the future of the party as traditionally the party that rules at the centre or a province(s) often fails to win the next election. This is due to the incumbency factor. But the PTI rise in KP, despite (as mentioned above) not a very extraordinary performance in governance shows that the political dynamics are changing in Pakistan. The factor which has played an important role in this regard is the very lively opposition by the PTI against the sitting PML-N government and exposure of the latter’s corruption.
Traditionally in Pakistan the majority of eligible voters have desisted from voting for any political party or to vote at all. This silent majority or apolitical population or political by-standers, and the concomitant non-participation has been a key factor in the weakness of our democratic system. Democracy is all about participation of the people in decision-making and policies affecting them. The best way of doing so is to take part in elections. This silent majority has been desisting from political participation and voting because it has thought that their participation would not make any difference. This is a negative state of mind, but analyzing it in the context of Pakistani politics dominated by dynasties, families and biradaries, the argument of the members of silent majority makes a lot of sense. However, the Panama issue and the SCP decision in this regard would go a long way in changing the political attitudes of the members of the silent majority.
They at least must now be thinking that the accountability of the powerful and even those at the highest echelon of power is a reality in this country and it is time to participate in the political system. This would definitely improve the quality of democracy in Pakistan and, with it, the standard
of governance. As the politically silent majority of Pakistan has not been voting for any of the mainstream parties including the PML-N, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and even did not vote for the PTI in the last general elections, this time a large number of its members would be, hopefully, taking part in elections. However, their obvious choice would be the PTI because they would think the party never having been in power, is the only choice available to them. In this context, the PTI is going to gain politically.
Another very important development in the country is that with the growth of the services sector and its outgrowing the traditional agriculture and industrial sectors, there is a simultaneous growth in the middle class. Because, generally, the educated and professionals are part of the services sector. The growth of the professional class will progressively have its impact on the politics of Pakistan.
Increasing members of the professional class would be taking part in elections. A very important question is, for which party, would they be voting? If one considers the dynamics of politics in Pakistan, then the PPP has been claiming to be a representative of the landless agriculture peasant class and industrial labour. The PML-N has been representing the moneyed industrial and business classes. The professional and middle class to date do not have a party to represent their members, with the exception of the localized MQM. In this situation, the PTI could be a choice for them. This would also add to the political strength of the PTI in the next elections.
Another very important factor which is going to play a role in the next general elections and generally in the politics of Pakistan is the colossal number of young people in the country. This population is getting increasingly literate and aware of political issues. Whichever party would be able to attract more and more members of the young population would be at an advantage.
However, one cannot rule out the PML-N in the next general elections. The party despite heavy corruption by its top leaders has carried out several mega projects in the province of the Punjab, the party’s bastion and politically the most important province in Pakistan.