Are we heading towards general elections?



Asnar M Bhatti

Pakistani politics is yet again experiencing some interesting and intriguing times. While the formation of the King’s Party spearheaded by business tycoon Jehangir Khan Tareen may be in the offing, the PDM on the other hand appears to have been caught in a state of to be or not to be. When the purging process in the PTI kick-started after the May 9 incidents, the PDM and especially the PML N expressed jimjams for it believed nobody could stop it from regaining the power after fragmentation of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. But to much of its disappointment and astonishment, the powers-that-be seem to have decided to cobble together a new party obviously with a view to giving tough time to the PDM parties in the elections and make sure that no party gets absolute majority. The PML N leadership needs to be worried over these developments as the power-sharing formula carries fewer seats for N league as compared with the PPP.

As regards the PTI it has become almost certain that Imran Khan may not be allowed to take part in the elections or his party may not be allowed to win majority. The Minus-Imran formula has been put into motion. The meeting of Fawad Chaudhry with Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Adila Jail on May 31, 2023 was in fact part of the plan. The PTI deserters tried their best to convince Qureshi to part ways with Imran and lead the party. However, according to the son of Qureshi, his father outright rejected the proposal and told them that he was the vice chairman of the party and how he could do it. They also tried to bring Qureshi round to join hands with Jehangir Tareen party, nevertheless this option may not work as both Qureshi and Tareen belong to diametrically different mindsets. Additionally, they come from the same belt and thus have deep political rivalry as well. Even when both of them were part of the PTI, their bilateral fights were well-known within and without the party.

Imran Khan has announced Qureshi to be his successor in case he was arrested or disqualified despite the fact that the PTI chairman, as confided by his confidants,  never trusted Qureshi and always considered him a ‘snake in the grass’, who wanted to take over the party whenever he got a chance. So, in that backdrop, why would Qureshi leave PTI when he knows that his dream of taking over the party is about to come true.

Actually the PTI deserters, after leaving the party feel themselves isolated and abandoned. No party is ready to accept them and they cannot win elections on their own therefore they made an attempt to remain a part of the PTI minus Imran Khan. This idea, from the face of it, seems to have failed, though they are likely to make another attempt. Second option for these deserters is to join the Tareen’s King’s Party, but since they all happen to be the ‘seasoned’ politicians therefore they have a clear understanding that King’s parties are only made to damage the vote bank of the mainstream parties. They cannot form governments independently. The only option in this scenario appears to be the PPP, which may accept some of the deserters who happen to be the electables.

The PML N and PPP perhaps were of the view that once the PTI is cut to size, there won’t be any problem for them to form the next government but the creation of a new party plus reinforcement of the PML Q has certainly rung alarm bells in their ranks. It clearly shows that these parties will not get a definite majority either at the federal or provincial levels. As reports suggest, PPP turns out to be the frontrunner when it comes to formation of government at the Federal level. The PML N may be considered for Punjab while Sindh may go to PPP again. While PPP would be more than happy with this arrangement, the PML N for sure would not accept it come what may, so we can anticipate another round of political haggling and fight this time among the PDM parties. It is widely perceived that these parties shall be at daggers drawn with one another once the election schedule is announced.

PML N has a history of estranged relations with the Establishment. It never completed its tenures simply because it developed difficult relations with the Establishment soon after coming to power. Taking a lead from the past we can say that there exists a huge trust-deficit between PML N and the Establishment. PPP on the other hand has somehow succeeded in mending fences with Rawalpindi. The PPP, as its past suggests, turns out to be a flexible party. It can mould itself in order to be able to flow with the current.

As regards the future of the PTI, it looks bleak at the moment. But as we know nothing is certain or uncertain in politics, especially in Pakistani politics. If Imran Khan manages to stay out of jail and can avoid disqualification as well then for sure he has the guts to put up  a formidable resistance. Even otherwise, Imran Khan’s PTI is not going anywhere. It will still be around albeit with a limited role. No time can be more opportune for Imran Khan than this to openly admit that the fragmentation of the PML N in 2018 was a wrongful act and that he came to power with the help of the Establishment. He may gain a lot politically by making these assertions.

What we can conclude from the prevailing situation and the situation which we may face in the coming days is that no immediate respite is insight for the common people, particularly after the elections. If a hung parliament emerges then our woes are likely to be multiplied further. The fluid political scene may serve as a stumbling block in the way of foreign investments and financial assistance from donors and international financial institutions. Brotherly countries such as Saudi Arabia and UAE have made it clear that they can give something to Pakistan only when the IMF deal is materialized. Therefore a strong and stable government is need of the hour with a view to effectively matching the existing and future challenges.

It is learnt that a tentative date of October 8, 2023 has been agreed upon for holding of the general elections. As most of the PTI stands sorted out, the rest of the leadership, if not sentenced by a court of law, must be allowed to take part in the election drill freely. And that is perhaps the demand of the international community as well.