The Election Scare by Arif nizami

Elections will be held on time. Or so it seems

Various government spokesmen are at pains to point out that elections will be held sixty days after the parliament completes its term. That takes the general elections to next year in the month of May.

Although mainstream political parties are gearing up for the upcoming elections, none seems to be ready for immediate polls. The largest opposition party, the PML-N, time and again keeps on demanding that “the corrupt and incompetent” government should resign and hold general elections.

But ground realities are different. The PML-N has a lot of loose ends to tie up before it goes into elections. Some of the mega projects it had started with elections in mind have run into serious trouble.

The so-called Rapid Transport System – a pet project of Shahbaz Sharif – by all accounts has run into serious administrative, design and planning problems. The cost has overshot by billions of rupees. And it is unlikely the system will be operative even by the end of the year.

Perhaps overawed by Imran Khan’s appeal to the youth, the PML-N is assiduously trying to court this potentially huge vote bank. The party, after sticking to its stated principal of keeping turncoats out, has now opened its doors wide open for them.

As for the PTI, Imran Khan has a lot of persons and non-persons joining him, but has very few earmarked candidates. Everything has been put on hold till the elusive party elections take place.

In the meanwhile, there is confusion worst confounded in the incipient party. There are a number of candidates in virtually every constituency who claim to be the official nominee of the party.

It is obvious that unless the Khan is solely relying on his ‘tsunami’ to sweep the next elections, he and his core team have a lot of homework to do in the coming weeks. Naturally, under the circumstances, the PTI is in no mood to support a call for early elections.

As for the PPP and its allies, they simply want to remain in power as long as they can manage. Zardari has reassured the nation that the elections would be fair and free. With an independent election commission in place and a person of unblemished record heading it, no one should doubt that.

By virtue of his maiden speech at Mandi Bahauddin, Zardari has formally kicked off his party’s election campaign in the Punjab. After the recent Supreme Court verdict in the Asghar Khan case, in which the apex court has empathically stated that the office of the president cannot be used for partisan politicking, there was a perception that he will be more cautious in exercising his dual role.

There is a pending petition in the Lahore High Court challenging the president holding dual offices – the presidency as well as party co-chairmanship. The PML-N has demanded that he should resign, as his holding a public meeting in the garb of ‘Eid Milan Party’ was a violation of his constitutional role.

But Zardari is adamant. He simply cannot leave the office of the presidency, his power base. Nor can he entrust the party to someone else on the eve of elections. Bilawal is still too young and inexperienced while Gilani, who could have played a role in the upcoming elections, has been virtually abandoned by his mentor as well as his party.

The party is so rudderless in Punjab that it had to appoint a turncoat non-jiyala as the provincial president. Hence it is no surprise that Zardari has announced his intention to relocate to Lahore not in the Governor House but in his newly built accommodation. In no position to become Sonia Gandhi of his party, perhaps he has calculated that he can weather the courts till the general elections.

There are many who still doubt that elections will be held at all. Citing the precarious economic conditions that are likely to get worse in the coming months and increasing lawlessness in Balochistan and Karachi as reasons, they contend that the democratic system is simply not functioning. It will be wrapped up even before elections are announced.

In the past, military strongmen have sacked civilian governments for much less. So what is so different now that the militaryshould not come marching in, again dismantling the whole democratic edifice in the process? Fiercely independent courts and the media, a reality of present day Pakistan, will also be silenced in the process.

Doubts have been created by the COAS General Kayani’s recent statement betraying impatience with the higher judiciary as well as the media. In most civilian democracies, military generals have no business pontificating how the national interest should be determined and democratic institutions should function.

But in Pakistan it is the norm rather than the exception. General Jahangir Karamat was sacked by Sharif for saying much less.

The superior judiciary, in the meanwhile, in the garb of interpreting the constitution has assumed the role of oversight claiming to have cross cutting jurisdiction. The stated agenda of a full court meeting of the apex court, headed by the CJP, was to review the administrative matters.

But in reality, it was a media event to demonstrate the unity of the court and to respond to the army chief’s recent statement that no individual or institution had the right to define the national interest. It is obvious that the war of words between two premier institutions of the country is contributing to an air of uncertainty.

General Kayani is credited with nurturing democracy by following the ostensible hands-off policy in civilian matters.But perhaps the old mindset ingrained in the hierarchy as a result of decades of military rule in the country cannot die overnight.

The policy of restraint, guided by enlightened self-interest of the military and practiced by Kayani, will hopefully prevail. He, perhaps, is aware that any intervention to destroy or tinker with the system will land the country into a bigger quagmire.

The politicians, although squabbling with each other, with the exception of the usual suspects, will not support such a move. Nor will the media or the superior judiciary. Elections will be held nonetheless. So it seems.


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