NationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 17

Unfolding crisis after elections

After the successful conduct of national elections on February 8, widespread instability continues to grip the country and the chaos will persist due to extensively a controversial post-poll process and results. The process of formation of new governments at the federal and provincial levels has been completed as Shehbaz Sharif has become the prime minister once again. Whereas, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has been able to form a government in the Punjab as Maryam Nawaz’s long-cherished desire to become the chief minister has ultimately seen the light of the day.

On the other hand, the most popular political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), has got only the government of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Whereas, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has got away with the governments in Sindh and has been able to make its nominee, Sarfaraz Bugti, as the Chief Minister of Balochistan. The February 8 elections were greatly expected by everyone to bring much-needed stability in the country. However, this was greatly dependent upon the transparency and fairness of the entire electoral process and more importantly the smooth transfer of power. Insofar as the polling process was concerned it was relatively fair. However, the results were rigged in a bizarre way to turn the nearly two-thirds majority of the PTI in the National Assembly as well as the provincial assembly of the Punjab into a big minority. Obviously, the aim of this electoral result management has been to deny the PTI return to power. The powers-that-be have been able to achieve this objective of keeping the PTI at bay from the power corridors. It is fine if it could bring stability to the country. But this has not brought stability because there is widespread chaos in the country, rather anger among the people who argue that their mandate has been stolen. More perturbingly, a large number of Pakistanis are ready to come out on to the streets against the electoral fraud. The PTI has already been staging protests against the alleged massive manipulation of electoral results and the trend would continue in the foreseeable future.

It is very important to note that the Corps Commander meeting has clearly distanced itself from any controversy erupted in the country regarding rigging of election results. The forum said that it was the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that was solely responsible for holding elections and announcing the results. After this meeting the onus is now fully on the ECP to address the massive controversy regarding electoral fraud. If the ECP is able to address this controversy to the satisfaction of Pakistanis then the February 8 elections could prove a source of stability in the country. But this would require completely changing the already announced results and giving the majority party the government in the National Assembly as well as in Punjab. But this will not seem to happen because it would open the floodgates of controversies and violations of the Constitution which would require punishments for persons occupying constitutional offices. So the ECP would not address the issues of electoral fraud and try to focus on what is done that cannot be undone. But as the PTI and other parties have already filed cases in elections tribunals and the courts against electoral fraud, ECP officials and the judicial officials now have a huge responsibility on their shoulders. Because it is a matter of people’s mandate and this cannot be easily ignored. So if the electoral tribunals and courts announce their verdicts on the basis of form 45 or the initial compiled results from the polling stations, then a large number of already declared winning candidates would be declared unsuccessful. This would definitely have an impact on the composition of the governments at the Centre and provincial levels particularly the Punjab and Balochistan.

On the other hand, the PTI, which has formed its government in KP province, seeing its substantial concerns regarding electoral fraud not being addressed, would resort to a collision course. Already the PTI CM of KP, Ali Amin Gandapur, has unequivocally announced that his government would fully participate in the protest against electoral fraud. This is indeed a very dangerous situation for the country. Because not only a majority of Pakistanis think that massive electoral fraud has taken place in the elections but also a very sizable and strategic province officially is a part of the protest. In this situation no political stability could be expected in the country.

This situation will further push the country and people into economic misery and the economic woes of Pakistanis would further aggravate. Already, the country is facing the worst inflation of its history and a majority of Pakistanis have been forced to live their lives below the poverty line. Pakistanis were expecting that elections would bring some political stability and as a result the economic crisis in the country could be addressed by genuine representatives of people. But due to massive controversy emerging after quite substantial charges of electoral fraud the expectation of Pakistanis that the new genuine government would address the economic crisis on a war-footing has vanished into thin air. Hypothetically speaking, if one expects Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif could address this complex economic crisis in the country, then it is hope against hope, because his performance as prime minister in his first stint, from April 2022 to August 2023, was pathetic. In April 2022, the economic situation was relatively very good, then what is now? One thinks that Shehbaz Sharif does not have what it takes to address the economic crisis. The only way Pakistan could start addressing its economic woes immediately is by getting more than $10 billion unconditional financial aid from any international financial institutions or friendly countries and more importantly to use that money for key system reforms. But due to electoral fraud the legitimacy of the government has become very questionable. In this backdrop, international financial institutions like the IMF would be reluctant to provide the required funds to Pakistan. So the coming months and years are going to be very tough for Pakistan. The only solution is to bring all the political forces and civil society for a new social contract but not before first making a truth and conciliation process in which everyone must acknowledge their mistakes, with a pledge not to repeat them. Otherwise the writing is already on the wall.