Elections 2018

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And Orwellian Doublespeak

Despite hiccups aplenty, Elections 2018 are finally being held. Pakistan in its checkered political history since 1970 has held ten national elections. But 2018 is unique in many respects.

Serious doubts have been expressed about the fairness of these elections. Except for the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) questions have been raised at the ability of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the caretaker governments at the federal level and in the provinces to provide a level playing field to all the parties.

Mechanically speaking on polling day voters are expected to have the freedom to exercise their franchise freely. But voters have already been presented with a fait accompli of sorts. The real rub is in fairness of the whole process that started many months ago to break the back of the PML-N, especially in its stronghold Punjab.

Not only the erstwhile ruling party, the PPP and some other political parties have complained of the not so hidden hand exerting maximum pressure on ‘electable’ candidates of these parties to switch their loyalties to the PTI. The sleuths have played their cards by cajoling, browbeating or even threatening candidates to switch their loyalties, albeit with mixed results.

The PML-N by default or by design (perhaps both) has been at the receiving end of the stick. It’s main vote catcher three times prime minister Nawaz Sharif is now incarcerated serving a 10 year jail sentence along with his daughter and heir apparent for seven years, both convicted on charges of corruption.

Not that he is squeaky clean, but the unholy haste shown to put Sharif away just before the elections date smacks of political vendetta according to critics. The ubiquitous establishment answering charges of meddling in the process blandly claims that it has nothing to do with (managing the) elections. But those in the PML-N-and the PPP to a lesser extent claim that they have been consistently arm-twisted by middle to lower level sleuths.

Plans were slightly upset when contrary to expectations that Sharif on the pretext of tending to his ailing wife in London will not return to serve his jail sentence. But he surprised many by heading to Lahore along with his daughter.

The caretakers and the security agencies were constrained to put the city under siege. Mobile telephone services were suspended and the Rangers blocked major arteries by placing scores of containers on that fateful Friday.

The main purpose to block Sharif’s possible interaction with his supporters was achieved when as soon as he arrived he was successfully whisked away to Adiala Jail near Rawalpindi. But the whole operation further damaged the credibility of the upcoming elections.

Another collateral damage has been the credibility and impartiality (or rather lack of it) of the caretaker provincial government in Punjab. Headed by a respected former academic the chief minster and his cabinet never rose above their personal biases against the PML-N and in favour of the PTI.

Not that he is squeaky clean, but the unholy haste shown to put Sharif away just before the elections date smacks of political vendetta according to critics

Some of the cabinet members of the Punjab caretaker setup are in fact cardholder members of the PTI. In the meanwhile scores of PML-N workers are being held either without any charges or on spurious grounds. Those who had assumed the days of preventive detentions harking back to military rules are in a state of shock.

No stone is being left unturned to ensure victory of the King’s party at the hustings. But yet there are apprehensions in some quarters that the PML-N despite the odds heavily stacked against it might just bag enough seats to remain a major player.

Perhaps the PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif is reading too much into the lackluster crowds at the Khan’s recent election meetings. But the PTI chief is rightly hopeful that he will be able to sweep the elections and form a government on his own strength in the parliament. This is quite possible but not without some favourable tailwind from the powers that be.

The conventional wisdom is a hung parliament. But many a time the war gamers have been proved wrong in the past. In the 1970 elections it was not being anticipated that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto with his newly formed rag tag PPP would sweep in West Pakistan and Sheikh Mujeeb Ur Rehman in East Pakistan.

More recently general Musharraf in the 2002 elections carved out PML-Q from the leaderless PML-N and the Patriots from the PPP. Despite the intensely overt engineering the King’s party could barely scrape through to form a government.

In the present scenario despite concerted efforts to break the back of the PML-N it is largely intact. In Baluchistan the overnight emergence of BAP (Baluchistan Awami Party) earlier in the year was a new phenomenon without which the PML-N could not have been deprived of a majority in the Senate, thus enabling it to amend the constitution to its own advantages.

Similarly the now defunct Janoobi Punjab Sooba Mahaz (South Punjab Province Front) comprised of turncoats will go the way the wind blows, just like a weathercock.

Another interesting development to watch is how some of the jehadists and sectarian outfits fare in the elections. Of course some of these proscribed organizations were overnight dry cleaned to participate in the elections. Perhaps their assigned role is to play the ubiquitous spoiler.

In the past such infantile strategies have boomeranged. The Taliban and the MQM were created as a result of this very mindset.

PML–N senators including Pervez Rashid and Mushahid Hussain Syed have demanded that the election commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the caretaker government address their concerns about fairness of the election process urgently. Perhaps it is too late in the day for the PML-N senators to complain, as the die has already been cast.

Those who had assumed the days of preventive detentions harking back to military rules are in a state of shock

In the Islamic Republic, this is an age of Orwellian doublespeak. Everything including the elections is ostensibly being conducted to strengthen democracy. But the real – albeit unstated – purpose is to achieve just the opposite.

George Orwell in his eerily futuristic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four about the powers of a totalitarian state never used the word “double speak”. Nonetheless doublespeak came to be known as: a language that deliberately obscures disguises or reverses the meaning of words.

Surely elections 2018 just might prove to be the ultimate Orwellian elections.