The ECP has finally offered some respite from the will-they-won’t-they that has been going on for far too many months now regarding the general elections in the country. Pakistan’s polls body has been dilly-dallying over giving a specific date for the general election for quite some time, and has been accused of shirking from its main constitutionally defined job: conducting an election in the country. Now the ECP says that general elections in the country will take place in the last week of January 2024 – after a preliminary list of constituency delimitation is published on September 27 this month. Naturally, the news has elicited a mixed response. Such has become the level of lack of trust in any of our governing systems that even the ECP’s announcement has been seen by many as not amounting to much since its a tentative announcement and no fixed date has been released. Optimists argue that at least the electoral body has given an idea of what timeframe it is looking at for the polls and probably wants to end speculation about whether or not elections will take place. There is also a thinking now that the political climate is pointing at elections in early 2024 – before the Senate elections in March 2024 – instead of the sustained rumours that this caretaker setup may just last way longer than it is supposed to.
Political parties have kicked off their election campaigns for all purposes, each party now essentially on its own. It may be in this context that some would see Nawaz Sharif’s most recent address to party workers via video link in which he blamed the old military establishment as well as the previous judicial establishment for his ouster from power in 2017. This is apparently part of the PML-N’s campaign. As for the elder Sharif’s return to Pakistan – which somehow always just ‘almost’ happens – for now he is still set to return on October 21 but with so many ifs and buts and hems and haws on the part of the PML-N it is tough to take anything the party says at face value. For example, former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif once again jetting off to London, barely a month before his brother makes his Great Return to Pakistan would naturally lead to speculations. Is the older brother ever coming back? What ‘message’ is the younger brother delivering? Is the ‘deal’ still on and was there ever a ‘deal’? In the world of Pakistani politics, we are condemned like Sisyphus to go up the hill asking the same questions we have been asking year after year, blue-eyed politician after blue-eyed politician. Given Nawaz Sharif’s past few years of honest talk, though, it could be quite possible for there to be tough asks from both sides if a deal is indeed in the works. Whatever the speculations, Shehbaz’s speedy return to London indicates something is afoot.
Meanwhile, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto has been on attack mode and said that the concern expressed by the PPP over a ‘level-playing field’ was related to the PML-N. Some observers say that what the PPP means is that a level-playing field should not mean that others are kept out of the elections to benefit one party. There are speculations whether the PTI will be allowed to contest elections. The PPP is not wrong in this because the legitimacy of the next elections shouldn’t be put at stake when the country is already going through a political and economic upheaval. An election without a party will not lead to a government that has any legitimacy and it will be difficult for the democratic process to continue if the people’s mandate is rejected.