Election Fever

Spearhead Analysis – 17.07.2018

The former PM and his daughter were convicted while abroad. They chose to return to Pakistan because it was in their political and personal interest to do so. The legal process of appealing against their conviction could only be set in motion once they returned and now this has been done by their legal team. It was a foregone conclusion that once they landed in Pakistan they would be arrested and sent to jail and it is only after that that the process of obtaining bail could start. All this took place in a dignified and restrained manner without histrionics or any disturbance. The media frenzy of reporting trivial details was farcical and is a trend that will continue.

The Chairman of the PML(N) the former PM’s younger brother vowed to muster crowds of people to welcome their leader. Going by past experience of such gatherings the government took established precautions. Containers were placed at selected sites to be moved to block access if required. Rangers and police were deployed to ensure security and crowd control in case people became unruly or began damaging property or creating a law and order situation. For a brief period, mobile phone service was interrupted. None of these measures were new or unprecedented. In fact, the PML(N) government had done much more during their tenure—the killing of 14 people by the police in the Model Town protests is an example. The Caretaker government took all possible steps to prevent violence or disturbance. It seems the PML(N) also did not want street confrontations as they dispersed when they could not reach the airport. There is muted criticism within political circles over a lack of enthusiasm and motivation to get to the airport before the convicts arrived. It is probably true that those who tried to rally were a few thousand. And that a show of support was discernible.

Debates over numbers, PML(N) attitude, the election focused stance of the current PML(N) leadership etc. will continue but the main thrust of the entire political institution is towards the elections—just a week away. Except for a straight forward statement by the ISPR the military has not responded to allegations of interference, manipulation or pressures on the media and electoral candidates. The military and its assets are concentrating on ensuring a secure and peaceful environment during the elections after being requested to do so by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). Because of the large number of personnel required the military has called up reservists to beef up their strength. Those making allegations of manipulation and pressure against the military have not presented an iota of evidence to back their accusations. This was highlighted starkly in a BBC interview by Stephen Sackur of the CEO of the DAWN media group who is also the President of the APNS (All Pakistan Newspapers Society) and therefore charged with voicing the media’s concerns. Except for quoting social media and vague assertions by people no evidence was presented of ‘deliberate political decapitation’, ‘selective patronage of politicians’, ‘pressures on media’ etc. What did emerge during the interview was that ‘seeds of doubt’ were being planted to ‘undermine the credibility’ of the elections and that the DAWN Group had its own grievances stemming from its past publication of stories that muddied the waters in civil-military relations. The DAWN CEO did credit the military for having secured the internal environment and he did state that the elections were likely to be free and fair and that the democracy environment was headed in a positive direction—there are discernible signs of these happenings in the run-up to the elections.

All sorts of critical views are being freely expressed and these are being tolerated. Politicians are being super brave in their utterances. Allegations of a particular segment being hounded in some sort of holy judicial-military nexus are finding no takers—after all no institution invented the ‘Panama Leaks’ and nor did any one force those now convicted to commit the humongous blunders that have brought about the result now on display. There is excitement and vibrancy in anticipation of a good turn-out on election day. The young middle class that has emerged through their own professional, entrepreneurial and business skills is now in the vanguard—they thrive even as the governments founders in the aftermath of its economic policies. They see the PPP through the lens of its last stint in government and its more recent performance in Sindh.  They see the PML(N) in the context of where their governance has taken the country but by no means forgetting what they did deliver. They see the religious parties in terms of the economic, security and foreign policies needed to steer the country towards a future and they see the smaller regional parties in terms of the centrifugal tendencies that need to be curbed and the cohesion, tolerance and economic interests that are far more important. Finally, the PTI hat was being seen as the harbinger of change is now being viewed from the angle of the ‘electables’ it is fielding and the pay-back that they will demand if they win. Not too difficult to predict the election result in such an environment.

The greatest concern is in the state of the economy especially in the wake of the fourth ‘managed’ depreciation of the rupee. This has to do with all the deficits, the enormous debt and the now near certainty of a return to the IMF. The realization is now dawning on all that without political stability, without a good civil military relationship and without overdue structural and decision making reforms the economy is unlikely to improve. This will be the first challenge for the incoming government.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to an individual)