NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 41

Why Pakistan needs new elections

While the 13-party coalition federal government is leaving no stone unturned to push ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, leaders and workers to the wall, flash floods have wreaked havoc across the country. Resultantly, the situation is really bad. At a time when the government should be focusing on providing relief and rescuing victims of floods, its entire concentration is on victimising the PTI and it is trying its utmost to arrest Imran Khan and prosecute him for sedition.

This is fundamentally because the current government does not have the mandate and thus power to focus on the real issues of the people and the country. Therefore, it is concentrating on non-issues. This is the compulsion of the government because it is the only way to survive at least for a few months but for the country the way forward is to have new elections.

The government’s focus on otherwise non-issues for people and Pakistan is evident from the fact that it has already lodged a terrorism case against Imran Khan for his alleged threats to the judiciary and police officials for remanding his chief of staff, Shahbaz Gill, despite the latter being in a worst physical condition in police custody. Imran Khan, while hurling the threat, had said that legal action would be taken against them. The issue is now in front of the judiciary and let the judges decide it according to the law.

On the other hand, Imran Khan and the PTI have been insisting on one demand from the federal government and powers-that-be to hold national elections without delay. Irrespective of the demand, the worst political and economic situation in the country could only be arrested if a new government is not elected through a free and fair election. The rationale of the argument is that the incoming government would have the mandate and time and thus resources and confidence to address key political and economic problems. Whether the argument is from Imran Khan or any other leader, in democracies issues are addressed by knowing the wishes of the public through elections. In Pakistan, the situation is quite typical of the sort. The 13 parties’ coalition government, led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, is very weak. There are several reasons for it.

The first reason for the fragility of the federal government is that it is composed of many parties. Taking along such a large number of coalition partners is almost impossible for any prime minister, whosoever he or she may be. Every coalition partner has its own interest for joining the government and in the case of a 13 parties’ coalition, this is really so because many small parties, like the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Awami National Party (ANP), have joined it merely to enjoy the perks and privileges of power. Others, like the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), have joined to avoid dozens of criminal cases against their leaders and party members. In this situation, sound decision-making, viable policies and their implementation are unthinkable.

The second very important reason that the country needs fresh elections is that the 13 parties have strong ideological and doctrinal differences. This is only true if one believes ideological politics is still relevant in the country. One does not think that ideological politics is relevant any longer today in Pakistan. Nevertheless, the 13 parties do have serious differences and therefore, managing such a government is a Herculean task. Noticeably, all ruling parties, particularly the PML-N and PPP, have a history of rivalry including making corruption cases against each other and putting each other’s leaders into jail and calling names to each other. It means that despite having deep hatred for each other, they have joined hands merely to be in power and more importantly to marginalise the common threat, Imran Khan. This is no way to govern a country. The victim of such dysfunctionality of a government and governance are the people, their needs and issues.

The third very important reason that fresh elections have become critically significant for Pakistan at this point in time is that the country needs huge funds. The funds could only be provided by international financial institutions, like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or to a certain extent by some close allied countries, like China, the UAE, Qatar or Saudi Arabia. But the IFIs cannot rely on sovereign guarantees of a weak government headed by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. This is evident from the IMF procrastinating on reviving the $7.5 billion arrangement signed by the PTI government in 2019. The IMF has also been hesitant to engage with the present set-up and it is through some personal initiatives of Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa with the IMF that the international body has now agreed to provide around $1.3 billion to Pakistan. However, this may be a one-off instance that the IMF, on the assurance of the military, has agreed to provide the critically needed funds to the government. A country, like Pakistan, which has a huge current account deficit, including a big trade gap and mammoth foreign and domestic debt, getting a bailout of one billion US dollars is peanuts. Whereas, the IMF or any other IFI or a friendly country could not rely upon such a weak government to provide more loans and funds.

The government could only viably function if its key figures have the required competence to manage the affairs of the state. The key figures of the present coalition do not have a great record of efficient or good governance as most of the parties have ruled Pakistan in the last 40 years at the federal or provincial level. Although Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had otherwise a good reputation as an efficient administrator as he remained the chief minister of Punjab several times but running the country and a province has a huge difference. It is evident from his poor performance in running the country.

Last but not least, the country needs fresh elections without delay because after nearly five months in the government the coalition has failed on every front. The economic situation could not be stabilized, rather it has worsened. It is evident from the skyrocketing of prices of every commodity, including staple food and fuel. The government has lost important by-elections in Punjab due to which the government of the province has gone out of the hands of Shehbaz Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Militancy and terrorism have made a strong comeback and groups, like Daesh, are rearing their heads. In this situation, only a strong government with a solid majority could be expected to tackle the challenges facing the state and its citizens, which could only be brought about by free, fair and early national elections.