NA-120: State vs. People?

Spearhead Opinion – 19.09.2017

By Hira A. Shafi
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

NA-120 ElectionThe NA-120 election which was dubbed as the ‘litmus test against the SC verdict’ has provisionally revealed N-League’s victory. According to the results, out of the 44 candidates, Kulsoom Nawaz and Dr Yasmin remained the most favored, bagging 61,254 and 47,006 votes respectively.

The Free and Fair Election Network- Pakistan (FAFEN) on its part- has issued a report on violations of some electoral laws and other procedures. FAFEN recorded an average of four violations per polling station in the 113 out of 220 polling stations it was allowed to observe. Some of these violations included: irregularities in voting, dubious counting processes and some incidents of breach of voters’ secrecy. However, it is uncertain if much heed would be paid to these observations.

The PTI accepted its defeat with surprising poise. Key party leaders applauded Dr Yasmins efforts for giving the ruling party ‘a tough time’ in a playing field favorable to PML-N- The NA-120 constituency.

Celebrating the party’s victory, Maryam Nawaz enunciated that the results indicate that the ‘NA-120 voters have rejected the SC verdict’.

Now raising the question of what is next for Pakistan’s democratic evolution?

The current situation, in the wake of the NA-120 results indicates an evident rift between the ruling family and an independent tribunal of the state.

After a lengthy legal battle surrounding the Panama gate case. On 28th July the SC in its verdict concluded that the former PM violated articles 62,63 of the Constitution and was asked to be discharged from his duties for being dishonest. The plethora of corruption cases against the ruling family were to be then investigated and implemented by the NAB and accountability courts, as the matter now falls under their jurisdiction.

The SC also gave the ruling family a chance to file for review petitions that challenged: the SC’s Capital FZE conclusion, the role of Justice Gulzar and Justice Khosa issuing a second judgement on the same case, and the SC monitoring NAB and accountability courts. So far, the SC has largely managed to defend its methodologies in relation to Capital FZE verdict and the authority of Justice Khosa and Gulzar.

However, the role of SC in monitoring lower courts remains a major point of contention.

Amidst the Panama probe another key issue which surfaced was a certain degree of nepotism which mires some key state institutions. Unfortunately, NAB was included in that list. Suspicions regarding the free and fair role in further implementations of the Panama Verdict, birthed  the  notion of  the SC monitoring the NAB process.

Nonetheless, The accountability courts have recently issued summons to the former PM and his sons to appear for hearings on the 19th of Sept. But, The ruling family along with several key PML-N stalwarts remains highly critical of SC’s supposedly ‘intrusive role’; often terming the entire verdict as a ‘judicial coup’.

Given the recent NA-120 win it is uncertain to determine how effectively the ruling family would comply to its legal obligations. The ruling leadership perhaps now aspires to ‘restore the essence of democracy’ by amassing adequate public support.

Many have indeed criticized the SC for ‘overstepping its mandate’ and creating hurdles in Pakistan’s democratic journey. But, one can also not overlook the current internal dynamics of the party. What is to be said about the actual functioning of NA-120 from a political standpoint? –keeping in view the winning candidate’s health conditions and what is to be said about the recent role of Maryam Nawaz from a democratic standpoint?  The contentions witnessed in replacing former PM, choosing a candidate for NA-120, lack of consensus on choosing the next party president, are some cases which highlight power politics.

Ironically another key vociferous supporter of ‘democracy’ has not shied away from targeting state institutions may it be ECP or NAB. After much delays, Imran Khan has finally complied to SC in relation to the Bani Gala case, one wonders what his own stance would be if an unfavorable verdict is ultimately given against him.

The Panama Case is a critical occurrence that has emerged prior to the next general elections. It has brought the country at a unique crossroad in its democratic journey. However, this time matter supersedes a contest between ‘democratic and undemocratic forces’ and instead boils down to the contest between ‘the divergent understandings of the concept of democracy’.  

Is democracy a mere personality competition forged along populistic narratives? Or does it also encapsulate the idea of independent and efficient state organs set in place to operate a system of checks and balances, maintain rule of law, protect the citizens and ensure that the line between democracy to an oligarchy is not crossed. The time is also ripe for key state institutions to inculcate some self-reforms, rid itself from the slight traces of nepotism and ensure that the true spirit of democracy is upheld.

A fringe facet of the NA-120 election has been the near complete sidelining of the PPP as a national party in spite of Bilawal Bhutto’s attempts to revitalize it. A cartoon in DAWN showing an owl perched on the PPP polling booth says it all. While the PPP needs to ponder over this, the PML(N) should also consider its future because by re-electing its past leadership and putting party interests before national interests it may be jeopardizing its long term future. The victory speech by Maryam Nawaz was not a mature response and by targeting ‘institution’s it has created a sense of unease. An article in DAWN dated 19.09 2017 by Ambassador Ashraf Qazi dwells on the consequences of the NA-120 for the smaller provinces and reminds one of George Orwell’s’ famous saying that ‘those who elect corrupt leadership are not victims but accomplices’. The most important aspect is that the march of democracy continues in Pakistan—first by the change of leadership as per the constitution and now by the NA-120 election and the acceptance of the results by all.