PakistanOpinion

Pakistanis tiring of elections manipulated by establishment

June 28, 2018 4:31 PM (UTC+8)
Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. Photo: Economic Times

It is almost as if all the institutions in Pakistan are working together to make sure that the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) does not come to power again as a result of the next general election.

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the former prime minister and a close aide of Nawaz Sharif, has been disqualified for life by the appellate tribunal of the Election Commission, which according to many jurists and lawyers is totally against the spirit of the constitution.

The PML-N candidate from Taxila, Raja Qamarul Islam, has been taken into custody by the National Accountability Bureau on charges of corruption in a clean water scandal. It is pertinent to note that the same NAB issued him a letter clearing him to contest elections but as soon he was awarded a ticket from PML-N to contest against Chaudhry Nisar, a close aide of the military establishment, all of a sudden was called into the NAB office and without any court trial was taken into custody.

If this is not enough, the deployment of more then 350,000 army personnel on polling day says it all. Never in the recent history of Pakistan has the army been deployed in such a large number inside and out of the polling booths.

It is almost the same in many constituencies of the country. There are more stalwarts of PML-N who will be disqualified from contesting elections in the days to come. The interesting thing about all this drama is that this time the military establishment has been given a very tough time from the resilient PML-N. Sharif’s close aides and supporters are sticking to the party policies, which means we will have one of the most dangerous elections in the history of the country.

While PML-N is all set to win the elections and form a government, on the other hand, the military and judiciary alliance is making sure that the party does not come to power again. No one could have ever imagined that the judiciary and NAB would sink to such low level that they will use reference of poetry and fictional novels instead of the legal references in their verdicts to victimize PML-N and to help the military establishment disqualify PML-N candidates.

The mainstream media are not giving prior coverage to the resilient and anti-establishment leaders of PML-N. While Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz both are out of the country to take care of Sharif’s ailing wife Kulsoom Nawaz, Shahbaz Sharif, Nawaz Sharif’s brother, is doing all he can to reach a deal with the establishment.

Whether Sharif and his daughter will return to Pakistan or not remains a big question, and their return is the only way forward for PML-N to survive. If Sharif returns and is sent behind bars, his daughter can create havoc for the already offended military establishment by pulling in larger crowds at public gatherings and by attracting the sympathy vote. Even if she along with her father is sent to jail, the sympathy wave will work in favor of PML-N.

Whether Sharif chooses to remain in London or comes back will determine the outcome of the next general election in Pakistan. With all the institutions busy serving the military establishment’s purpose, Sharif is pinning all his hopes on his vote bank in Punjab. If the voters in Punjab turn out in very large numbers and the turnout in the elections is around 55-60%, Sharif despite being deprived of a level playing field will win the game.

On the other hand, if after managing the political process and with the highest possible level of pre-poll rigging the military establishment tries to change the results on election day, it will lead to chaos in the country.

There is a growing sense of frustration and anger among Sharif supporters in central and northern Punjab and they are tolerating all the victimization and unconstitutional steps just in the hope that they will be able to respond through the ballot on polling day. If somehow the election results are manipulated, then a mass protest movement in Punjab could trigger a movement against the establishment.

The powerful military establishment that for the past 10 years has operated from behind the scenes by dictating elected governments may be able to get the desired results in the election, but this may be the last election it manipulates, as both international and domestic pressure is growing against such interference in the electoral process.

The public is no longer willing to buy the sloganeering of the establishment, and this makes things very complex. It is almost the case that even a child can tell you that the military establishment is behind every artificial political crisis and it is the one that creates and dismantles political parties.

Regardless of the fate of Sharif and his PML-N, the public in Punjab is showing dissent and anger toward the invisible rule of the military establishment. Their frustration and anger are like a ticking time bomb which can explode at any movement and it can create a situation where even direct or indirect intervention of the establishment will even not prove enough to avoid the inevitable.

In the process, the judiciary has lost all its credibility by playing into the hands of the establishment. The same is the case with the National Accountability Bureau, which is only targeting and victimizing Sharif and his party.

There are signs of a storm that the powerful establishment is ignoring deliberately, and one can easily predict that manipulated results will not be accepted by the nationalists in Balochistan or by Sharif’s supporters in Punjab. It is as if the establishment is deliberately playing with fire in the hope that it will only burn its opponents and somehow will not hurt itself. This is the same mistake that was committed in the elections of 1970 when Sheikh Mujib’s mandate from East Pakistan was denied and finally, it resulted in the fall of East Pakistan.

A failure to hold a genuine election while instead manipulating the results would further damage the foundation of the state, and it only requires common sense to understand that this modern age does not belong to powerful militaries, it is all about solid democracy and strong civil institutions that can contribute economic and technological developments.

It seems that in order to select its pawns, the establishment in Pakistan in desperation has actually stalled the entire system, and it is still not convinced that its pawns will emerge as victors in the managed elections. A better way forward for Pakistan is respect for the ballot and mandate. The sooner the establishment learns it, the less damage it will cause to the state and society.

Imad Zafar is a columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.
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