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Opinion

August 5, 2018

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The vagaries of transition

On the threshold of a victory that he had sought with such dogged determination for many years, Imran Khan has to now submit to a crash course on power politics. And in many ways, this is a Faustian bargain.

So there he is ensconced in his citadel on the hill, ready to shake hands with the odd coteries of independents that are herded into his presence by an exceptionally resourceful Jahangir Tareen. A private jet does add value in this business of political persuasion.

It doesn’t obviously matter that Jahangir Tareen was himself ousted from the arena of electoral politics and the superior judiciary had judged him to not be ‘sadiq’ and ‘ameen’. He has emerged as the most visible negotiator of the party in this game of numbers. Elected members of minor parties and independents have to be lured to support the PTI in the National and Punjab assemblies. We are told that the winning score is now on the board.

On Friday, the PTI signed an important agreement with the MQM-P after negotiations presided over by Imran Khan. The deal is likely to have consequences for politics in Sindh where the PPP has a comfortable majority in the provincial legislature. However, six MNAs of the MQM-P will support the forthcoming federal government led by the PTI in exchange for a special federal package for Karachi.

In any case, the focus is on winning the allegiance of independents and on Friday, Jahangir Tareen told the media that out of 13 independent candidates of the National Assembly, nine have already joined the PTI. The tally in Punjab is said to be more impressive. Hence, the PTI is engaged in an activity that Imran Khan had defined as detestable in his campaign before the July 25 polls. He had insisted that independents would have no place in the PTI.

But politics enforces its own laws of expediency. Already, Imran had embraced the so-called ‘electables’ who, he had explained, had mastered the science of winning elections. What happened to the ‘electables’ on July 25 is another story and deserves attention. What was seen was that the science was perfected elsewhere.

Imran has his charisma, for sure. In a country that is obsessively polarised, the political contest between Imran’s PTI and Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N was still mired in such complexities that dire interventions were deemed necessary. There was an attempt to load the dice in the PTI’s favour, particularly in Punjab. Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz – the rising star on Pakistan’s political firmament – were in Adiala Jail when the elections were held. In that sense, there are battles that are still unresolved and may be fought through other means.

All this aside, Pakistan’s transition to a new administration as dictated by the outcome of the July 25 elections has somehow become very problematic. In the first place, the PTI wasn’t able to win a clear majority in the National Assembly even though it is distinctly the largest party in the house. The mandate is almost equally divided in Punjab. This explains the desperate wrangle for the support of the floating votes. Naturally, the PTI has a larger appeal with its proximity to power.

Meanwhile, the entire scene is murky and this process of transition is marred by strong doubts about the validity of the electoral exercise. More than 10 days after the polls, we are still not sure about when the new governments will take office and when we will be able to set foot, proverbially, in Naya Pakistan. With the kind of compromises the PTI is constrained to make, there is every likelihood of more of the same or even worse.

In the first place, prospects for political stability as a consequence of national elections don’t exist. All major political parties have already made a grand alliance and what has united them is the resolve to launch a protest campaign inside and outside parliament against alleged rigging in the July 25 elections. This alliance has agreed to field joint candidates in the National Assembly. Nawaz Sharif, who believes that the people’s mandate has been stolen, has sent a message from Adiala Jail to leaders and workers of his party to continue protesting the alleged rigging.

Irrespective of the extent of irregularities that may have affected the electoral exercise, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has certainly not been able to manage the task. This is unfortunate because the ECP, in terms of its authority and the legal framework, was accepted as more credible than other institutions. This time, it had the advantage of the newly-developed state-of-the-art Results Transmission System (RTS) to make sure that accurate results could be quickly announced.

Somehow, it didn’t work. It seemed as if Murphy’s law had come into play and almost all things that could go wrong went wrong. ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob announced after midnight that the RTS had “collapsed” and the commission was returning to the traditional method of tabulating the results manually. But an investigative report published on August 2 revealed that presiding officers were instructed to stop using the RTS, which hadn’t crashed.

The RTS mobile app was created by Nadra and its senior officials were said to have protested with the ECP for making a wrong announcement because, they claimed, the system was “fully functional” even after the ECP secretary’s news conference. In addition, a large number of candidates said that their polling agents weren’t allowed at polling stations during the counting process. Confronted with these charges, the ECP has now ordered an inquiry into the RTS fiasco.

Against this backdrop, the stage is being set for another confrontation in the political arena. Even if the elections weren’t controversial, the overall environment that has prevailed in the pre-poll phase of the entire process shouldn’t be acceptable when a new democratic administration is in office. Democracy guarantees fundamental freedoms, which include freedom of thought and expression.

On this front, Pakistan is in a bad shape. A rational debate on the national issues that these elections have raised doesn’t seem possible. The pity of it all is that Imran Khan has offered no hint that he is at least aware of this state of affairs. Therefore, we cannot presume that this pall of fear will be lifted with the birth of a Naya Pakistan.

A recent opinion piece in The Washington Post speaks about the “fear and dread of being a journalist and a citizen of Pakistan”. This is our Pakistan – and also Imran’s.

The writer is a senior journalist.

Email: [email protected]

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