Aug 14, 2018 Dr. Niaz Murtaza Comments Off on A step forward?
Doctored and engineered is how some describe the polls results. But large parts of the middle-class consisting of doctors, engineers etc. see them as a move towards “Naya Pakistan”. Though losers allege poll-day rigging too, the main issue still involves pre-poll rigging which can’t be resolved by election tribunals unlike the former. Irrefutable proof of such rigging would include video-tapes of secret meetings or telephone calls or solid trails of money transfer, which are impossible to get unless a whistle-blower emerges. But doubters like me can cite strong circumstantial proof of similarities to the 1990 polls and the now proven ISI-IJI scandal. These include dodgy dismissals (via four iffy and fast-tracked court verdicts against PML-N while the PTI foreign funding case stalled), odd mass defections from PML-N, biased accountability and severe media curbs imposed by secret forces.
All these likely served as signals to candidates, dharra leaders and voters that the PML-N will be eased out and PTI is now the “ladla” (favored) party. Some say disgust with PML misrule, especially among the many new youth voters, explains PTI’s win. But this logic is weak as its provincial record was similar to the PML’s: a few pluses but manifold more minuses. Also, PTI won largely by fielding unclean electables like PML rather than new clean people. This also completed its move to a status-quo party. Fans say at least its top man is honest. But we have actually been ruled mostly by honest top men who failed to end misrule and even harmed Pakistan badly (Ghulam Mohammed, Iskandar Mirza, Yahya, Bhutto, Zia and Musharraf). The bottom line is that a party slightly less corrupt but more likely to toe the Pindi line has replaced a party more corrupt but less servile to Pindi. Still, the options for the losers are limited as sans aid from secret forces, street protest or assembly boycott may fail. Thus, they may wait to strike after PTI’s honeymoon ends once the economy and Khan-Khaki terms turn sour.
But the options for PTI are limited too. Despite an aiding poll climate, it’s a victor with a slim margin from a rigged poll, that too after coopting footloose independents (many really being Pindi dependents) with little loyalty to it. Its assembly ranks include similar recent entrants, making its hold unstable. It may not have to partner with a major party. But the flip side of that plus is that other parties may soon gang up against it to give it a tough time.
Its hands are tied in most policy areas. PML-N’s mishandling of the external deficit may mean going to the IMF soon, which may impose conditions that reduce growth and jobs and increase inflation. Its laudable aims of good regional relations are subject to veto by its hawkish patrons which aided its win. The USA will expect it to deliver the Taliban and may make that a condition for an IMF loan. Legislatively, it will be hobbled by its lack of a two-thirds majority in NA and a simple one in Senate. Its aim to deliver good governance is restricted by its low capacities. Yet, it will face high demands from the middle-class given its promise of a new Pakistan and the limited grasp of even its literate fans about the structural issues that hobble fast progress in Pakistan. So, it too may fail like the PML-N and PPP in resolving key challenges.
In addition, several serious minuses have now become part of politics. Acrimony among parties and across parties and unelected institutions is high. The power of unelected institutions to form an alliance against elected ones to influence political outcomes has increased, given their success in upending the largest party (PML-N). The image of courts stands tarnished and the media’s freedom severely curtailed on sensitive issues. The Pindi boys will feel even more unchecked in controlling foreign and security policies and even politics despite their oath clearly banning forays into it. The role of secret agencies in polls has reemerged. If Imran was wise and a true democrat, he would foster good ties with other parties to make PTI less prone to Pindi tricks. But unluckily he seems to be neither.
Conservative Punjab’s hold on politics has increased. The two largest parties and almost all key unelected institutions will be headed by conservative Punjabis. Sindh and Balochistan had returned centrist parties in majority in 2013, unlike Punjab and KP. But the number of seats held by centrist parties has reduced there too and nationally. Finally, new extremist parties have entered the Sindh and Punjab houses.
Against these minuses, I can only cite the large number of female votes (but the number of female candidates was still low) and the smooth polling as opposed to the chaos in counting later. Thus, at best the 2018 polls represent half-steps forward in a few areas but two steps backwards in many more areas. But I hope as a person that the PTI disproves my prognosis as a social scientist and delivers a new Pakistan.
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