Wednesday December 06, 2023

‘Fair’ elections?

By Editorial Board
November 21, 2023
A tribesman ballot casts his vote in a polling station for the first provincial elections in Jamrud, a town of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on July 20, 2019. — AFP
A tribesman ballot casts his vote in a polling station for the first provincial elections in Jamrud, a town of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on July 20, 2019. — AFP

All gloves are off now that election season has started – at least as far as the PPP is concerned. The party’s young leader has spared very few words when it comes to the PML-N, the past few days and weeks having seen statement after statement from Bilawal Bhutto Zardari very openly articulating his party’s discomfort with what it says is an uneven playing field that has handed undue advantage to Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N. This is not entirely unexpected, given that many analysts had pointed out even when the PDM ministries were being formed that at some point the bonhomie was bound to come to an end and that the PPP would eventually find it convenient to let go of the friendly allies status with the PML-N.

While many are pointing to what they say is a contrast in approaches taken by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and his father Asif Ali Zardari, there is ample history to suggest that this could easily be a well-thought-out political strategy. Mr Zardari has said that he is hopeful of transparent polls and a ‘level playing field’, and is confident that the ECP will hold credible elections. His son would beg to disagree, having raised concerns about manipulation of the coming election and warned that his party will not accept election results if they are tainted with rigging or any kind of ‘interference’. The implication is that the PML-N is being favoured by the all-powerful that hold the reins to political power in the country; in fact, Bilawal has almost spelt out the who and what of it by saying that "parties with a two-third majority say they have reached an agreement". For the political observer, the contrast in approaches between the father and son duo of the PPP leadership may not be as dire as some may think. Mr Zardari is coming at what looks to be a tough position for the PPP from a more pragmatic angle. His past experience as the ultimate political negotiator in the country is not for nothing; but his son does bring in a much-needed ‘young’ element to our politics which is populated overwhelmingly by the boomer generation. Bilawal’s attempt to play to that strength may work in some places but will – per analysis – need a lot more effort and a lot more stepping away from the usual box of feudal or dynastic politicians he has been slotted in by virtue of his inherited position. At a time when ‘nepo children’ are scoffed at, the urban youth are not open to dynastic politics for the most part. This was part of the charm Imran Khan and his party had for them – regardless of the fact that many ‘electables’ that had joined the PTI too came from similar ‘nepo’ backgrounds.

This leaves us with the fate of the PTI. The chairman of the party is still in jail. There is little to suggest that will change any time soon. The party says it is ready to contest elections and that – per a recent interview of Zulfi Bukhari – their popularity is not only at an all-time high but they won’t even need to campaign as much as other parties because of that. One may see the statement as the usual flexing by a political leader but there is little evidence to show that the PTI has lost its vote bank. And if it hasn’t, and it is kept out of the elections, whose mandate exactly will bring in the next government? Perhaps both the other parties need to think about this very seriously – especially the PML-N which, whether rightly or wrongly, is being called out as the new blue-eyed party of the powerful. This is a tag the party had washed off after decades of politics. Do they really want it back?