Puppet on a string

'Naya Pakistan' with old rules

By Mehmal Sarfraz
  • Published 10.08.18
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A protest by the Grand Democratic Alliance in Karachi, August 3

Pakistan's general elections are over. Or are they? Well, technically the election results are in. The leading party is Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. While the process of government formation is still in progress, it is all but clear that the next prime minister of Pakistan would be none other than Khan. His dream has finally been fulfilled. Or has it? Could this 'dream' turn into a 'nightmare' for Mr Khan soon after coming to power? Only time will tell but we have already seen some teething troubles for the PTI.

It was but obvious to all and sundry that Khan and his party, the PTI, would form the next government in Pakistan. No surprises there, given the pre-poll rigging. The night before the elections, most of us in the media were giving our predictions as to which party would bag how many seats. My own prediction about the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the Pakistan Peoples Party was close enough but despite thinking that the PTI would win the most seats, it surpassed many an analyst's expectations by bagging more than a 100 seats in the National Assembly. How did this happen? Rigging on polling day was difficult. But something happened post-polling.

Polling closed at 6 pm. Our media channels started giving out unofficial results after 7 pm. Then we saw most political parties - other than the PTI - saying that a lot of their polling agents were thrown out during counting. From the PML(N) to the PPP, from the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan, from the Awami National Party to the Pak Sarzameen Party, almost every political party held a press conference a few hours after polling ended on July 25 to register its protest against ongoing rigging. The election fiasco did not end there. The Election Commission of Pakistan was supposed to announce the results by 2 am on July 26, but claimed that the Result Transmission System had collapsed and that is why official results were not being announced. Form 45 for all constituencies was not uploaded either owing to this 'fault' in the RTS system. If it weren't so tragic, one would have laughed at the ECP's explanations. It was all a farce. Those who had been supporting the PTI wanted it to win. By hook or by crook. And they could not stand to see the PML(N) win big. They ensured it did not happen. Again, by hook or by crook. The PML(N) lost some seats that it was sure to win. Only by small margins. The PML(N) rejected the election results. The PPP also cried foul. Imran Khan gave a victory speech.

The Opposition parties came together and called an all-parties conference. The APC led to the formation of a grand Opposition. They decided not to boycott the election results and instead go to Parliament. The grand Opposition, however, did stage a protest against election rigging outside the ECP in Islamabad this Wednesday.

Some people have asked why the Opposition has not boycotted the results and opted to sit outside Parliament till new elections are called for. While this is something that some members of the grand Opposition alliance asked for initially, the PML(N) and the PPP did not take this route for they do not want a repeat of 1977. Back then, protests over rigging allegations levelled against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto by the Pakistan National Alliance eventually led to General Zia-ul-Haq's martial law. Although the chances of a direct military rule are quite slim under the circumstances in Pakistan, some analysts believe that such a step by the Opposition could have resulted in the formation of a national government or a technocratic set-up for a few years. This would have taken Pakistan's democracy back by a decade or more. The Opposition has decided to sit in Parliament and give a hard time to the new government. They will not let the issue of massive rigging die down so easily.

Imran Khan, too, is in a fix. His party does not enjoy a clear majority to form the government at the Centre. The PTI has made an alliance with MQM-Pakistan, some independent candidates and a few smaller parties. This will give them enough numbers to finally cobble together a government, albeit a weak one. Out of 272 National Assembly seats, over a 100 were won by the PML(N) and the PPP put together. The PPP and the PML(N) also have more numbers in the Senate. It will be Pakistan's strongest Opposition to date.

The PTI will also form provincial governments in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. While the PTI has a majority in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where it will be coming to power again after ruling the province for the last five years, numbers in the province of Punjab are quite interesting. The PML(N) still bagged the most seats in Punjab. The PTI is in second place. There are around 30 independents who won in Punjab. And most of them are ready to join the PTI. So we will see extremely strong Oppositions both at the Centre and in the Punjab assembly. A weak provincial government in Punjab will not do much good to the PTI, but then again this will be the first time in a decade that the PML(N) will sit in Opposition in Punjab.

The next few days will be interesting, to say the least. The inaugural session of the newly-elected National Assembly has to take place within the next four days. We will have a new prime minister soon. We will see 'tabdeeli' (change) and 'Naya Pakistan' (new Pakistan) in PM Khan's tenure - these are the terms most associated with PTI's political lexicon. Whether this 'change' will prove to be worthwhile is something one isn't really sure of. Some say that the PTI may surprise us with something good - some positive change for the better - but chances of that seem thin. If there is one thing that history has taught us, it is that chaos follows when an election is so compromised. One does not wish ill for the new government but a selected government, rather than an elected one, will not be able to deliver, especially when the real power lies with those who brought it into power in the first place. Let us wait and watch how things unfold in Naya Pakistan.

The author is a journalist based in Lahore mehmal.s@gmail.co