Saturday October 16, 2021

Are we heading for early elections?

September 07, 2021

Prime Minister Imran Khan now seems to be in an election mood and looks far more confident than perhaps six months back to hold high profile local bodies elections in the Punjab in a bid to test the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s popularity as well as to judge his key opponent Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz's popularity graph.

He has recently given 'go ahead' to Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar for early LB polls and more importantly decided to contest it with the key coalition partner Pakistan Muslim League-Q.

Interestingly, Punjab Assembly Speaker, Ch Pervez Elahi, has won the goodwill of the prime minister, which also indicates that he will be running the show in future. Imran knows Chaudhrys’ experience in the LB system, who fulfilled their commitment made to him in 2018 when they supported Usman Buzdar.

Besides, the premier also wants to keep them away from future political maneuvering after reports that they have worked out some election plan with former president Asif Ali Zardari some two months back.

Although, no date for the next LB polls has yet been announced while the government also intends to make some drastic changes in the LB system, it may not be possible before Feb or March, 2022. Its outcome would set the tone for the general elections and in case the PTI wins in major cities, Khan can go for general elections by the end of the next year.

Thus, the country will surely be in an election mood in the months to come and the forthcoming Cantonment Boards elections this week on September 12th would be interesting to watch. The PTI, which has lost the last CB polls in 2015, is confident that after Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Kashmir and Sialkot, they would also sweep the CBs elections while the opposition parties too are ready to cause an upset in the backdrop of by-elections they had won under the PTI government.

However, prior to the LB polls, delimitation of constituencies as per the 2017 census has to be completed. Prime Minister Imran Khan and leader of the opposition, Shehbaz Sharif, through indirect contacts have shared the possible two members of ECP, whose seats had fallen vacant after their retirement but no consensus has been reached yet after Shehbaz rejected the two names proposed by the PM.

The PTI government is already working on a pre-poll strategy to ensure victory and smooth sailing in the next general elections. This includes giving voting and contesting rights to overseas Pakistanis and holding polls under the Electronic Voting Machines. Since there is a very little chance of consensus with the opposition on these two points, they may opt for a joint parliament session or issue and ordinance.

The move to ‘control the media’ through the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) and to get it implemented as soon as possible could also be a part of the poll strategy in view of the strong media, particularly electronic and digital media.

The prime minister, who himself is a keen follower of both electronic and social media in particular, knows its importance and time and again he had said the media played a key role in his party’s upbringing and election victory.

In the last three years, he had some strong reservations against the media and what he termed as ‘fake news’ targeting the government and his personality. Now his media team led by the information minister has floated the proposed PMDA amid strong resistance from all the media stakeholders.

Imran is in a mood to hold the LB polls in the first half of the next year and in case of ‘positive results,’ may not hesitate to go for early general elections by the end of 2022; otherwise, he would not take the risk before schedule i.e. Oct 2023.

Sensing the government and prime minister’s election mood, the opposition parties also got alerted and the revival of Pakistan Democratic Movement, PDM, with a big public meeting in Karachi could be seen in the same backdrop. On the other hand, the Pakistan People’s Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is already in a proactive election mood and after some public meetings in Sindh, he is now on a mission in southern Punjab, where the PPP is confident of winning a few seats, particularly after Imran Khan-Jehangir Tareen conflict.

While PMLN President Shehbaz Sharif is all for bringing back the PPP and ANP into the PDM’s fold, his recent telephonic conversation with Bilawal Bhutto showed he is facing resistance from none other than the former prime minister of his own party, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who a day after their talk criticised the role of the PPP and put the blame of the break-up of PDM on the PPP.

Sources said one of the reasons why Imran looked confident enough to issue instructions to Punjab chief minister to start preparations for the LB polls were the reports coming from the opposition camp of complete disarray. Therefore, he wants to take political advantage of growing differences between the Pakistan Democratic Movement and Pakistan People’s Party. An attempt by both Shehbaz and Bilawal to remove these differences has now been initiated by the PMLN.

One thing is certain that the election fever will soon start picking up in the months to come and if the PTI manages to win Sunday’s Cantonment Board elections, a confident Prime Minister Imran Khan will take the risk of going into the LB polls followed by general elections. But he certainly likes to see completion of corruption cases against the Sharif brothers and other key PMLN leaders for a smooth sailing in the next polls.

The writer is a journalist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang