Spearhead Analysis – 11.07.2018
The former PM, his daughter and her husband stand convicted. They have a long judicial process ahead of them as they go into appeals and judicial reviews of the judgment that convicted them. There will be a reaction from their party members—almost mandatory as we have seen from past outbursts against court proceedings as each sought to outdo the other to curry favor from their deposed leadership. The reaction will come from those whose political future was tied to the family leading the party and they will be hoping against hope that the legal process will have a loophole that can be exploited. The problem is even a miraculous legal outlet will not bring them back into politics and whether they remain an influence factor in the party is also questionable. Their decision to return to Pakistan on Friday the 13th has led the PML(N) under the ousted PM’s brother to announce a 100 000 strong welcoming rally at the airport. The government has hinted at plans to airlift the convicts from the airport to jail What actually happens remains to be seen.
The present Chairman of the PML(N), the former PM’s brother has a difficult task ahead of him. He may be jubilant inside because he had always opposed the confrontational attitude of his elder brother, but he has to muster the party in support of his brother when he returns from London to begin the judicial battle. How he does this balancing act will be interesting to watch. Past such events have evoked bubble type responses—a flare up and then a slowdown and then nothing. If there is patience and restraint all around there is no reason to doubt that things will be different this time around. After all, more interesting cases are coming up and there are the elections. From media reports it seems the ousted and convicted PM is disappointed at the lackluster response to his misfortunes so far—he wants a show of massive support. The government would have wanted him to stay put abroad.
The PTI is on a roll. It made a good showing in Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the 2013 elections and it is set to repeat that performance not only in those two provinces but also in Punjab the stronghold of the PML(N). The PTI leader cannot hide his jubilation and has a permanent smile on his face. He is the only one untainted by any past incumbency and the only one who has a team ready to support him—and not one of them is a relative or a crony. The PML(N) in Punjab will be a factor but its significance will depend on how effectively it can ditch the ousted leadership as well as demonstrate that it will move away from relatives and cronies and start indicating its new outlook—unlikely but a possibility. Mr Abbasi (the PM after Mr Sharif) failed to rise above personal loyalty and even publicly stated that he was not the PM even though he was. People wonder what scared him into such a stance when he had the opportunity of a lifetime to show the nation what he was capable of. Not a surprise that there are rumors of the PTI being supported by the ‘establishment’—it’s the PML(N) that seems most concerned.
The PPP under its new youthful leader is trying to make waves outside their stronghold Sindh but so far not even ripples are discernible. Its older leaders are around but some have baggage that may surface before the elections if NAB has its way. In any case the action by NAB will be a damper on ambitions of the family running the PPP. Astute leadership may save the day for the PPP in Sindh though it will be challenged more than ever before on the basis of its past performance—voters have vented their anger at politicians who in their perception did not deliver on their provinces. This is where the PML(N) may have an edge—in spite of the talk of corruption in mega projects the metro train, the metro bus and the infrastructure projects have made a difference. No one knows the total cost of these projects and how the resources were mustered and how much subsidy is being paid from tax payers money to run these projects. Also the PML(N) has a vote bank—slightly dented but still there and then there is the matter of a sympathy vote overshadowing the disadvantage of incumbency. NAB activity is raising hopes and concerns. The civil servants who were the prime movers for the former Punjab CM and the former PM have been nabbed and face serious allegations of wrong doing. Former President and Chairman PPP and his sister are to be investigated after the arrest of his key man—a banker. People ask if this to contain and isolate PML(N) to prevent a violent reaction considering the timing of the NAB action but the more pervasive view is that matters are taking a logical course so that the elections are held in an environment of full exposure and disclosure.
A new element in the coming elections is the advent of ultra- right religious parties some with a violent and militant past. The general perception is that this is a mainstreaming exercise to move them from their largely irresponsible existence to a realization of the environment and a sense of responsibility for their actions. Past such supported ventures have led to consequences so the effort will be to keep them from becoming a pressure group in parliament if they get elected. The total predicted tally for the independents and these new religious groupings is about 60 to 70 seats. In a hung parliament with PTI expected to bag the maximum seats followed by the PML(N) and the PPP these three score plus people will be a sought after prize.
Manifestos announced by the major parties are just manifestos without a strategy to implement them. So far no party has outlined anything even remotely strategic. Tall promises that cannot be implemented count for little with the youthful voters who are the majority. What they want to see is a clear implementation plan or at least its outline. The economy needs fixing with short medium and long term measures. A foreign policy coordinated with the internal security and economic policies is needed. The PSEs have to be made viable by an independent board of governors who are experts. The bureaucracy, heavily tarred by the political brush, needs to be rehabilitated on the basis of merit and competence. The Executive has to govern effectively so that the Judiciary can revert to its own job and Parliament has to be seen to be functioning. In the interest of sound policy formulation, oversight and review of policies and good civil-military relations the NSC has to be made the bedrock of decision making. Foreign exchange stashed abroad will return when the internal environment changes and witch hunts stop—this will happen when there is effective, strong and competent leadership in the banks and all financial institutions and revenue collecting agencies. Pakistan needs to prepare thoroughly now if the new government has to go to the IMF and if it is to beat the FATF blacklisting threat. Stabilizing all facets of the internal environment immediately after the elections must be given top priority.
(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to an individual)