Will elections help?

April 17, 2022

Many people are arguing that Pakistan needs fresh general elections to overcome the current political and economic crises in the country. Former prime minister Imran Khan is also demanding an...

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Many people are arguing that Pakistan needs fresh general elections to overcome the current political and economic crises in the country. Former prime minister Imran Khan is also demanding an immediate fresh election. He has refused to recognize the newly formed government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, and is ready to go to any extent to further destabilize the newly formed coalition government.

After his ouster from power through a vote of no-confidence, former PM Imran Khan has launched a public campaign to achieve two clear objectives: the first is to exert maximum pressure on the newly formed coalition government to call fresh elections immediately. He is ready to go to any extent to achieve this political objective.

Imran Khan believes that he is enjoying a sympathy wave in sections of the population and early elections will benefit him. He is also using the foreign conspiracy narrative to whip up anti-American sentiments. He will continue to campaign around his toxic political narrative so as to avoid discussion on the poor performance of his government.

The second objective is to deprive the new government of political stability and legitimacy through different tactics. The PTI will use the resignations from assemblies to further destabilize the political situation. Street protests and other pressure tactics will be used to keep the pressure on the new government to go for elections.

The PTI already announced its members’ resignations from the National Assembly and (the now former) deputy speaker Qasim Suri had claimed to accept the resignations of 123 PTI lawmakers. But there is confusion on whether he sent these resignations to the Election Commission of Pakistan to denotify them. The PTI may even resign from the Punjab Assembly to exert more pressure on the coalition government.

A controversial election like the one in 2018 will not help end the political polarization, instability and confrontation. PTI Chairman Imran Khan is demanding an early election but what will happen if he loses the election? He will immediately reject the results and will start a new campaign against the elected government.

Look at his reaction after he lost the majority in the National Assembly. He is not ready to even accept the fact that he lost the support of the majority MNAs in the National Assembly. Will he accept the results of a fresh election if he loses? No. The same applies to his opponents. Will the PML-N, PPP, JUI-F and other parties accept the results of an election they lose?

Pakistan not only needs a fresh election but an election that nobody can point a finger at. We need free, fair and transparent elections – without any interference, and without pre-poll rigging, political engineering and manipulation.

This kind of election might help overcome the political confrontation and polarization. But if the election results become controversial and the losing party refuses to accept defeat then more confrontation and instability will follow.

In a mature and stable democratic society, fresh elections can solve the political crisis with the formation of a new government but in countries like ours where election results have never really been accepted the losing side always cries foul. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to develop the democratic tradition and culture of accepting defeat.

When the PTI was in power, the opposition used to demand fresh elections to end the political confrontation and polarization. But now the government of PM Shehbaz Sharif is sending mixed signals. Before forming government, the leaders of the PML-N, PPP, JUI-F and other parties were saying that they wanted to hold elections after reforming the election laws. They should stick to their promise of early elections in November this year.

The better option for the ruling coalition is to come up with electoral reforms and present a popular budget before announcing the new elections in November this year. The delay in the elections might not help the coalition government. Its focus should be on passing a balanced budget with maximum relief for the people.

The people of the country want immediate relief from rising inflation. They are in a desperate situation. If the new government fails to provide this relief and bring down prices then it will face the wrath of the people. The IMF programme, however, will limit its ability to provide relief to people. The IMF prescription of economic stability might add more burden on the people. This coalition government is not in a position to take the tough and long-term decisions required to stabilise the economic situation. It will be hard work to clear the economic landmines laid down by the PTI government. The longer the Shehbaz Sharif led government stays in power, the more likely it is that the blame of the economic crisis will shift towards this government.

The government should focus on short-and-medium-term economic measures to stabilize the economy. The government has been forced to increase the price of electricity for the month of April – by Rs4.82 per unit. Such measures will badly hurt the poor. The government has decided not to increase the prices of petrol and diesel for the next 15 days. But it will be forced to in the coming period. It is better for the coalition government to help the Election Commission of Pakistan to fully prepare for the next elections in October/November this year.

Pakistan cannot afford another controversial election. Instead of providing a stability and strong government, controversial elections will bring more chaos and instability. A fresh mandate is necessary for the government to take tough decisions on the economy and to get democratic legitimacy and popular support.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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