By Murtaza Solangi
The establishment wants a fractured parliament but the N-League will hold on.
The fog is lifting and blurry images are getting clearer by the hour. Pieces of the puzzle are falling in place. The much-talked about political engineering is in full swing. The goal is clear but multiple scenarios are still up in the air. The goal is a fractured parliament, with no party to have a clear majority. The goal is to have Nawaz Sharif and his ilk out of power both from Lahore and Islamabad.
In order to cleanse the system of the Sharifs, it was important to knock down all the important pillars of the structure. It started with the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif as prime minister in July last year. Later, it was also considered legally prudent to extend his disqualification for life. The Supreme Court also struck down the Section 203 of the Election Act which allowed a disqualified prime minister from heading his party, barring Nawaz from leading the party which still bears his name.
Now Khawaja Asif stands disqualified for life and the chances of the reversal of his disqualification through his appeal in the Supreme Court are bleak. The dark possibility of the disqualification of Ahsan Iqbal, Danial Aziz, Talal Chaudhry, Pervaiz Rasheed and Khawaja Saad Rafique also looms.
The Model Town case, already being pursued at the high court level, has been revived to be heard on a daily basis, with Shehbaz Sharif and his right hand man Rana Sanaullah as potential targets. Tauqeer Shah has been brought back and put on the Exit Control List (ECL) by the Supreme Court. He has been accused of being the man behind the massacre in Model Town in June 2014.
All eyes are now on the accountability court and the question of when it sends the former premier and his daughter to jail, bringing his media antics to an end.
Before that happens, a court order by the Lahore High Court preventing “anti-judiciary and anti-military” content in the media was enforced in an almost comical way by the TV networks. Muted speeches of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leaders and even some analysts reminded many of the old days of General Zia’s rule.
Recently during a seminar in Islamabad, speeches by Sharif’s allies were not aired. The speech of the former prime minister was censored here and there not only by private TV channels, but the PTV as well, while the minister of information stood helpless. All of this is happening under the PML-N’s government. One can imagine the turn things could take when the caretaker government takes over on June 1.
The decimation of the Sharif empire is not only happening at the political level but also at the bureaucratic level. Starting from Fawad Hasan Fawad, the man who operates the Prime Minister House, to federal and provincial secretaries, everyone seems to be in the dock in one or the other case.
All of this would send a chilling message to the PMLN’s party machine, where even at the bazaar level, reports of their main organizers switching to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) under coercion are pouring in.
Balochistan has already been won. But the big news about the province is that it is not the matter of if but when former chief minister Sanaullah Zehri joins the PTI. Sources close to the defeated ex-chief minister say that he been shown files of his wrongdoings to coerce him into joining the party of the former skipper.
Despite all this hullabaloo, no major leaders along GT Road have switched sides. So far only Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leaders have joined the PTI. Some MPs from south Punjab who joined the PTI were already known to be sleeper cells of the establishment who switch sides at its wink and nod. Even the ever-bickering Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan will not dare join the PTI because of the backlash.
Still, the recent Gallup poll puts PML-N at a double digit advantage over PTI with PPP wiped out. Asif Zardari, who claims that his party would do better this time, also admits that this time around the independents would carry the day. This seems to be the plan B of the former president who is said to be launching a bunch of electables masquerading as independents to switch or partner with him after the elections so that he can play the role of king maker. He is hoping that no party will clinch the simple majority.
All this is happening in the backdrop of the worst censorship and self-censorship in the county. First Jang Group, the most vocal and most influential media group, was brought to its knees and now it seems to have signed the dotted line. Followed by this is the new wave of censorship, both in Urdu and English print as well as online. This censorship also extends to archival material.
It is not just the rookies but big writers like Babar Sattar, Talat Hussain, Mosharraf Zaidi and veteran politician Afrasiab Khattak whose articles were found unfit to be published.
Elections are being held in this environment.
The rumour mills in Islamabad keep churning “news” that social media has become a big player today and is next to be hit. We have seen the bloggers’ saga before, so there is already a pattern that can be replicated to silence voices on the social media. Will it work? The answer to this question we do not yet know.
Three weeks from today, on Thursday, May 31, a ten-year democratic project comes to an end with suspicions still around if the elections will be held on time. Any number of excuses can be used to delay elections, even though the Constitution does not permit much delay.
However, if the elections are held in the backdrop of fear and the public perception gaining ground that the entire exercise is being conducted with the sole aim of depriving the PML-N from the provincial and federal power, the electorate may react to the perception like a wounded lion. If the GT Road roars in support of the PML-N, then all bets are off. With millions of voters out there, it will not be possible to tamper the results and all attempts to do so may result in violence that can bring the system to standstill.
Either way, Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz, his heir apparent, are digging in their heels. They seem to be mentally prepared to go behind bars and carry on the party mantle from inside.
Even in the worst conditions, the PML-N will not go away. If Zardari’s prediction, like that of many pundits seeing a hung parliament, comes true, the defeated PML-N might be the only opposition in the country. They already are the party in Senate with the most senators and might assume the charge of opposition in both houses of the parliament. The ghosts of the politics of 1990s, reincarnated by the PTI and the PPP, would haunt them the most when the PML-N comes to the hitting end in the post-election scenario.