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January 8, 2018

Election year


January 8, 2018

For some, the new year brings nothing new other than a change in the calendar. But for most, it brings new hope and promises – another chance. For Pakistan, it brings the unprecedented, the third consecutive democratic elections. Will the nation be third-time lucky?

The last decade has been nothing short of fickle. The only stability we had was instability – from numerous terrorist attacks, worsening economic conditions to the most uncertain political scenario we have had in decades. Not long ago all political pundits were in agreement that Nawaz was looking at another five years, if not ten, in power. Even his most staunch opponents could not have predicted his sudden downfall and the looming threats to his dynasty.

The recent rise in religious political and extreme right-wing parties has stamped the fact that 2018 will not bring forth any single majority party in the center. In the meanwhile, Trump has shifted into top gear in his narrative against Pakistan. His administration has suspended the entire security aid to Pakistan. In the coming weeks, we could see further sanctions and strong-arm tactics.

As we stand today, there doesn’t seem much room for Nawaz being able to make a comeback. And rumours of undemocratic interventions may have been rife in the past but they are long forgotten now. Whatever happens now will happen in the guise of democracy. Nawaz’s woes have worsened since the recent APC brought all opposition parties together on Tahirul Qadri’s invitation. The opposition parties have agreed upon requesting a retrial of the Hudaibya steel mills case along with seeking justice for the Model Town killings. And we cannot be absolutely certain at the moment how damaging the issue of Khatam-e-Nabuwat will be for the PML-N’s vote bank.

It is almost certain now that the 2018 election results will witness polarisation like never before. The controversial census results have further chipped away up to nine potential seats from Nawaz’s electorate stronghold of Punjab. This might not amount to much but when combined with lost right-wing votes we may see a significant reduction in the PML-N’s cake. The biggest change in 2018 as compared to previous elections will be in urban Sindh. Altaf Hussain will mostly be irrelevant now and the MQM Pakistan will basically be competing for the Mohajir vote with Mustafa Kamal. The biggest beneficiary here would be the PPP. Renewed efforts by anti-PPP forces in Sindh, namely the Grand Democratic Alliance, do not seem to pose any real threat either.

Nawaz did not start the new year on a positive footing. By dropping the petrol bomb on the public, contributing to inflation, the PML-N will lose popularity further.

In the coming months, the rupee is expected to further deteriorate against the dollar exposing Ishaq Dar’s failed policies. Throw in the withholding of millions of dollars of aid by the Trump administration along with further sanctions and we are certainly looking at an economic meltdown. The PML-N government needs every help it can get to avoid a massive embarrassment in 2018, and Nawaz and family almost certainly need an NRO-type deal.

This is the beauty of democracy. A couple of wrong moves, some miscalculations and you will face the wrath of the voters. What happened in 2013 is mostly irrelevant. What happened in 2017 can also be made irrelevant through smart political maneuvering.

Nonetheless, this year will be long. The path to the elections will be a nail-biting finish. Whatever the outcome, the elections must be held on time and accepted through a consensus. That is the only hope for Pakistan’s infant democracy.

The writer is a former Pakistani diplomat and currently chairman of an NGO. He tweets @nadirgabol

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