If there is one party absolutely adamant about early elections, it is the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf. Are other parties ready for it?
ppointment of the next army chief is expected in the next two and a half weeks. The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) is on the streets again while its chief, Imran Khan, is recovering from his bullet wounds. Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif has held a consultation with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif in London about the army chief’s appointment, economy and elections. The superior courts have to decide a pile of cases related to political issues. Uncertainty clouds the political horizon.
The only positive sign so far is the recent statements by PTI chief Imran Khan that he is ready to negotiate with democratic forces. PTI stalwart Shah Mehmood Qureshi says that the PTI may hold talks with other political parties for civilian supremacy and to keep national institutions within their constitutional limits. However, the PTI is not one bit flexible and does not intend to budge from its demand for immediate elections.
The general perception regarding the motives behind Khan’s long march was that it was an attempt to press the government to announce early elections and block the appointment of the next army chief by Prime Minister Sharif. However, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa is retiring on November 29, which means all of Khan’s moves, including the long march, resignation from the National Assembly, references to the alleged cypher conspiracy and running for seven National Assembly constituencies, have failed to achieve the desired result. The only target for the PTI now may be maintaining its momentum and pressuring the government into announcing early elections.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi, held a brief chat on Wednesday with a handful of newspersons from the international media. His body language indicated that the PTI had changed its posture on several issues but not elections: the party is in election mode.
Qureshi said, “The appointment of the army chief was not our agenda. However, we are of the view that the current prime minister represents an incomplete house. A new prime minister should have appointed the army chief.”
“Even, if the current prime minister appoints the army chief during our long march, it won’t make any difference. We are following a one-point agenda which is immediate elections,” he added.
To a question about civilian supremacy, interference by some institutions in political affairs and the possibility of PTI holding talks with other political parties in this regard, he responded, “The PML-N and the PPP were toppling each other with the help of national institutions in the 1990s. These parties later signed the Charter for Democracy. We cannot rule out this possibility. We can talk to them to ensure non-interference by other institutions in politics,” said Qureshi.
“Our agenda was elections. We will continue our struggle till we achieve the goal. I have a firm belief that when we reach Rawalpindi, our long march will witness success.”
The recent tactical moves by the PTI make it evident that the party is focusing on elections. It has successfully preserved its popularity. After the change of regime, Khan has addressed more than 50 impressive gatherings. These are being seen as part of the party’s mass contact campaign. He started a long march, though the participation remained lower than expected. The long march is once again on its way. The only difference is that Shah Mehmood Qureshi and other PTI leaders are now leading it. The PTI supremo is still addressing his supporters through a video link from his Zaman Park residence in Lahore. He is scheduled to reach Rawalpindi to join them.
What happens once Khan reaches Rawalpindi is still uncertain.
“We will decide our next move after reaching Rawalpindi,” says Qureshi.
Khan may stage a sit-in or announce another round of rallies. Staying connected to the people through rallies will benefit Khan by increasing pressure on the government for early elections and maintaining the political momentum.
Unlike the PTI, other parties have not entered the election mode. The PML-N is completely stagnant. The PPP has undertaken some political activity in Sindh for local government elections but its frontline leaders are not in the field. Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) and other components of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) are also not showing signs of preparation for the next elections. Only Jamaat-i-Islami is holding country-wide rallies to reclaim its vote bank, lost mainly to the PTI.
Advisor to Prime Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira tells The News on Sunday: “A government never goes into election mode till it decides the schedule. Since we have decided to hold the elections according to the original schedule, we will go into the election mode when the schedule is announced.”
About Qureshi’s statement that the PTI might opt for negotiation with political forces for civilian supremacy, he says, “The PPP has always stood for the same cause. The problem with the PTI is that its leaders issue conflicting statements. If they are serious, Khan should start talks with the government on other issues first. We can think about it.”
Senator Taj Haider, one of the PPP’s most senior stalwarts and head of its election cell, tells TNS, “We are quite active in Sindh for the local government elections. We hold daily meetings with hundreds of presidents and secretaries of ward organisations from various districts. We never lose contact with the masses.”
He says major party leaders are currently occupied with the country’s affairs. “They are serving the people. They will be amongst the masses soon, once a course is set for the next elections.”
The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism and analyst