Just what might the political landscape look like once the dust settles?
023 is the election year in Pakistan. The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) dissolved the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assemblies in January 2023 and the National Assembly and the remaining two provincial assemblies will complete their term in August this year. There are still no signs of candidates and parties preparing for elections except in the PTI, which is visibly keen on early elections in the Punjab.
The PTI and the Supreme Court of Pakistan are currently holding to account the governments of the Punjab and the federation, as well as the Election Commission of Pakistan, for their failure to hold the elections in the Punjab on May 14, a date set in the end by the SC. The ECP says setting a date for elections is beyond the court’s jurisdiction.
In the wake of recent violence, some political analysts believe that polls will not be held in 2023. However, Pakistan Peoples PAarty (PPP) stalwart Qamar Zaman Kaira says that elections will be held this year. He says the PPP will discourage any attempt to delay the elections beyond October.
As for elections to the Punjab Assembly, the PTI, the PPP, Jamaat-i-Islami and Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan have already issued tickets to some candidates. The PTI has issued party tickets to 285 candidates and the PPP to 222 tickets. There are 297 general seats in the Punjab Assembly. The PML-N has not shown any enthusiasm for the elections. Several PML-N leaders had been saying all along that the elections would not be held on May 14. On that count, they have proved right.
In the wake of the May 9 incidents, the PTI is under immense pressure. Most of its top leaders have been arrested. [Some have been released, recently.] According to a handout issued by the inspector general of police, more than 3,500 PTI workers have been arrested in connection with the attacks on sensitive installations. On the ground, there is no one left to deal with the media. PTI leaders Shibli Faraz, Farrukh Habib and Iftikhar Durrani are reaching the media through video messages and Imran Khan has been tweeting and addressing his followers regularly. If the situation persists, it will cause a deep dent in the PTI. Several of its stalwarts could succumb to pressure and leave the party. Already, some leaders like Amir Mehmood Kiani and Maulvi Mehmood have announced their decision to quit the party. If the situation returns to normal, the PTI will have to make extraordinary efforts to regain its lost momentum. Incidents like attacks on military installations and government offices have damaged Khan’s popularity.
Meanwhile, Khan’s old comrade, Jahangir Khan Tareen, is once again active. He is considered likely to launch another party. Several electables from the PTI in the Punjab might join the new party. If this happens, the PTI will have difficulty finding candidates for the next general elections. It will then have to rely on relatively new faces.
The PML-N has been saying that elections should not be held until a level-playing field is available to all parties. According to Maryam Nawaz Sharif, all support to Khan from powerful quarters must be withdrawn and cases against him must be decided on merit. This can be read as: if Khan is not convicted in any of the cases against him, the conviction of Mian Nawaz Sharif should be reversed.
Since being named the chief organiser, Maryam Nawaz has addressed some impressive gatherings; met youth, lawyers, labour and other wings of the party; and tried to motivate them to play their role in the party and politics. However, it seems that the only way to charge the PML-N supporters is the return of Nawaz Sharif, which is unlikely in the short term.
The PPP has secured Sindh as the local government elections have shown. For the first time, it looks likely to install its mayor in Karachi. It is now eyeing the Punjab, Balochistan and the KP. In the Punjab, it has set itself a target of winning 15 to 20 National Assembly seats and 25 to 40 Punjab Assembly seats. In KP and Balochistan, they expect similar trends.
It is safe to say that the next elections will be held in 2023 only if the political situation normalises. If the political polarisation increases, elections might be delayed. In case elections are held, new electoral alliances and seat adjustments might be made. A hung parliament is expected. No party is likely to win a majority to form a government on its own. The emergence of new coalitions for the federal and Punjab governments cannot be ruled out. The PPP might play a central role in the formation of the new governments the way it did in removing Imran Khan and making Shahbaz Sharif the prime minister in his place.
The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. He tweets at @BukhariMubasher