As Pakistan heads for its twelfth General Elections by 8th February 2024 the
rumour mills are abuzz with the possibilities of an impending delay and the possibilities
of uneven playing field for political stakeholders. – writes Dr Raashid Wali Janjua.
Several apocryphal reasons are being adduced for the delay without substantiating those through a reasoned analysis. What is giving grist to such rumour mills is the narrative of victimhood by a political party i.e PTI that in the past had been the beneficiary of client-protégé largesse being doled out to favourite political parties of the establishment. The other two main protagonists in the electoral fray i.e PML N and PPP, that had joined hands to vote out Prime Minister Imran Khan, have started flexing their canvassing muscles to seek a competitive advantage over each other after a smooth sixteen months’ joint rule.
By 2016 the public disenchantment with the politics of patronage and the elite
capture of the economy had started sending signals of alarm to the unelected
stakeholders in national power matrix like the military and the judiciary. The
accusations of corruption and bad governance had lowered the stock of the traditional
political parties towards the end of the PML N government’s tenure in 2018.
Public anger, youth’s frustration, dwindling economic opportunities and the albatross like
liability of elite capture of the economy had created an environment propitious for a
change in the way the business of politics and governance was conducted.
A fortuitous concatenation of events in 2016 including Dawn Leaks and Panama
Papers scandal resulted in a rift between the powerful military establishment of the
country and the leadership of ruling PML N. To the bad luck of PML N leadership it
could neither discern the public yearning for a change nor the military’s sensitivities to
an assault onto its hallowed turf.
The military in Pakistan’s national security state milieu had always viewed itself as the custodian of the family silver invested with the noblesse oblige spirit. It therefore tapped into the public pulse and sensed a sepulchral gloom yearning for a change. The change agent found amidst the several pretenders to the political crown was a celebrity and a national cricket icon i.e Imran Khan who had had been limbering up on the margins for a major political role.
The elections of 2018 were contested on the slogan of change by a charismatic
Imran Khan weaving a hypnotic magic through his anti-corruption sound bites and a
promise of a better tomorrow. The bourgeoisie class and the youth plumped for his
rhetoric while the use of modern communication means and social media created an
impenetrable echo chamber of admiration bordering on cult worship. His stentorian
pronouncements at the hustings about accountability of the corrupt captured the
imagination of the middle class who took vicarious pleasure in the verbal whiplashing
being suffered by the ruling dynasties.
PTI and Imran Khan Khan’s deux ex machina entry however failed to resolve the
structural inequities in governance and the foundational malaise bedeviling the national
economy. Despite enjoying full support of the military establishment the PTI government
failed to reverse the economic fortunes of the country. Without structural reforms and a
consistent politic-economic vision the gap between the promises and delivery kept
getting wider while inept helmsmen appointed on key appointments raised hackles of
those who had facilitated the rise of Imran Khan to the pinnacle of political power.
Political hubris, some bad cabinet selections, inability to brook dissent and a
disproportionate reliance on social media engendered echo chamber of admiration
alienated Imran Khan from the very forces that had facilitated his rise to power.
The slim majority that PTI enjoyed in national legislature was put to test when
the opposition parties banded together to vote Imran Khan out in a vote of no
confidence. The sagging popularity of PTI before the vote of no confidence was revived
soon after the ouster of Imran Khan from the corridors of power. Instead of displaying a
gravitas and circumspection Imran Khan reacted petulantly leveling accusations of
intrigue at the military and the USA for his ouster. Having become a victim of his own
rhetoric and a captive of his self-created echo chamber of political unreality he lashed
out at the forces of retrogression that had colluded to prematurely extinguish the fire of
his promised revolution.
The sixteen months of PDM and allies’ government failed to assuage the anger
of the charged followers of the promised messiah who treated the vote of no confidence
as a great betrayal by the forces of status quo. The return of the familiar faces to the
catbird seats and their inability to provide quick fixes to the ailing economy added fire to
the fervor that due to a monumental miscalculation led towards attacks on the military
installations on 9 th May. After crossing of the Rubicon Imran Khan and the PTI’s
leadership is facing criminal charges in courts while the Election Commission of
Pakistan (ECP) has indicated holding of elections in January or February 2024.
Imran Khan after his ouster crafted a paradoxical narrative that further befuddled
his political cadres. Instead of supporting the military’s avowed stance of political
neutrality he continued with a litany of accusations linking its political abstemiousness to
a betrayal of its role as a PTI backstop. His entranced followers besotted with his
populist rhetoric failed to question the series of political blunders like resignation from
national and provincial assemblies and refusal to mount a challenge to the new
government inside the parliament. His party members started displaying signs of
nervousness and discord that was artificially kept in check due to his popularity and
social media hype.
The 9th May was Imran Khan’s suicide attack on the most revered symbols of
national honour i.e martyrs’ monuments and military installations which rang the alarm
bells amongst the saner elements of his party. When the state displayed strong resolve
in countering the feverish paranoia unleashed by his populism, several members of his
party changed tack and decided to abandon the sinking ship. The reason why a majority
of top and middle tier PTI leadership quickly recanted its allegiance to Imran Khan after
short encounters with the state’s law enforcement apparatus was because of the weight
of internal contradictions in Imran Khan’s confused politics.
The delay beyond 90 days limit is because of the Council of Common Interest’s
decision to take the latest census’ results into consideration while delimiting the
electoral constituencies. A constitutional debate is underway about the legality of ECP’s
extension of the elections’ date while an empowered caretaker government is trying to
put the national economy on an even keel besides countering the recrudescence of terrorism in its “Newly Merged Districts” of Khyber Pakhtunwa province and the province
The best bet therefore for the people of Pakistan is to be afforded an opportunity
for fair and free elections to choose their representatives who promise less but deliver
more. ECP might have unintentionally done Pakistanis a great favour by making
elections truly representative, by incorporating the results of fresh census into the
delimitation of political constituencies.
(The writer is Director of an Islamabad based Think Tank i.e Islamabad Policy
Research Institute(IPRI) E mail [email protected])
Share this article: