Jul 04, 2018 Dr. Niaz Murtaza Comments Off on And the winner is…
And the winner is
With less than a month to polls, predicting their result remains tough. Before Panama, PML-N was predicted an easy 2018 win. Basking in CPEC’s glory, it was eying its political fruits before the nation got the real fruits. Panama wasn’t even in the longest list of states joining CPEC. But soon it upended CPEC from the national radar.
The change came less from the damage it caused to PML-N’s popularity and more from its visible and invisible foes exploiting the scandal well. A series of weak judicial verdicts (the constitution forbids using more critical words for them) against PML-N followed. This led to a few defections which picked up after the Senate polls farce. Many think they were spurred by invisible forces. Rumors soon arose they won’t allow PML-N back in power. Internal cracks created by external attacks hit it too. All this and Nawaz’s likely absence during polls may depress its voter turnout.
Thus, the chances of it forming a strong setup again look low. In 2013, it got 126 seats (before the reserved seats) and crossed the magic figure of 137 easily with independents, JUI-F, PKMAP and NP. It may not get more than 80 seats now. Some say Nawaz too wants to lose to block Shahbaz’s rise. But he needs his own PM to get a Presidential pardon if NAB convicts him.
PTI got 28 seats then and may increase its tally to 70-80 seats, PML-N’s loss being its gain. Some say even “key” forces don’t want PTI to get more, to keep it under check. PPP got 33 seats then and may reach 40 this time, ruling out it leading a federal coalition. This leaves around 75 seats for smaller groups (independents and smaller parties) which together had 85 seats then. Most of them do the bidding of invisible forces and may be united into a fourth force.
So, PML-N may need around 60 external seats to reach 137. It could still count on free-minded liberal parties (e.g., PKMAP, NP and ANP) for 10 seats. But if small groups are told to avoid PML-N, its only option would be giving Zardari legal immunity via the Presidency. The idea of running a coalition of 10+ parties may push it towards PPP too. But Zardari may not easily forego his anger towards Nawaz.
PTI too may need an extra 60 seats. It may be easier for it to woo smaller groups as they may receive the “right go-ahead”. But the idea of a 10+ parties’ setup will scare it too. Yet, unlike PML-N, it may not want to invite PPP, especially if it makes Zardari President, leaving it in a bind. Some say “key” forces also remain wary of making Imran PM given his maverick ways and Shah Mahmood as PM may be their price for roping in smaller groups.
But if the maverick in Imran says no, another, Senate-style option would be herding the smaller groups with an elderly, benign PM nominee in a coalition with PPP, with Zardari as President. He too may prefer this motley crowd over PML-N as he would have more informal powers then. This would leave the odd couple of PML-N and PTI to sulk together in the opposition and fight for the opposition leader slot. But this may hopefully energize both to work together for civilian supremacy.
But if this option fails and the smaller groups are being herded with PTI sans him, Zardari may quickly join a more stable and centrist, but dissident and corrupt coalition with the PML-N, PKMAP, NP and ANP to beat PTI’s chaotic coalition. However, an institutional coalition may then continuously hound it, sowing instability. Thus, post-poll coalition formation may be tricky and ‘90s-type rigging may produce ‘50s-type unstable coalitions with often changing PMs. All this can only be avoided if either PML-N or PTI wins 100+ seats, but that looks unlikely.
Who finally wins will depend on exact party seat numbers and tricks up “powerful” sleeves. Zardari may emerge as a PM-maker as no stable coalition is likely sans PPP. This would superficially validate the “Ek Zardari sub pe bhari” (One Zardari heavy on everyone) slogan. But unluckily he’s heavy on his party too, like a millstone around its neck, converting it from one winning national polls fairly once to one conniving to get crumbs of power via rigged polls now.
So the real winner with a roughly 80-80-40-80 hung assembly may be invisible forces which have long run politics and prefer pliant regimes over empowered, effective ones. But such a rigged regime may be wobbly. Of the only four of our assemblies (1972, 2003, 2008 and 2013) that reached term, three came from largely credible polls. Almost all those facing early ends came from rigged polls (except 1988). So history says an assembly born of rigged polls may not last the distance. Thus, the epic war between elected and invisible forces will continue, with neither side wresting a decisive win. The strong setup Pakistan urgently needs to tackle major national issues will get preempted by the games of “key” forces.
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