If the government was under the impression that it could get away with simply ignoring Imran Khan’s demands, then former president Asif Ali Zardari’s statement on July 15 should serve as a rude awakening. The chief of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), who has generally avoided criticism of the new government since he completed his tenure as president, broke his silence on the matter with a statement that essentially backs the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI)’s call for a recounting of votes cast in the 2013 General Elections.
Up until now, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has been able to play down the PTI’s demands given that the largest opposition political party, the PPP, has made no such demand or even endorsed the call. But the scenario changes drastically with Zardari’s statement and the government must take note immediately.
You can blame the PPP all you want for joining in late, or for changing its stance, but the reality is that the ruling party’s dithering on the matter has actually made the situation even worse. Initially the PTI’s demand was more manageable: a recount in four constituencies. But the PML-N, which had come out with a massive majority in the 2013 elections, scoffed at, and even mocked, the call. That was a mistake.
Clearly the ruling party should have nipped this in the bud, one way or the other; but it was allowed to fester. Fourteen months of frustration on, the PTI’s demands have now increased: they now want a complete audit of the 2013 elections. And the PPP’s endorsement is of that new demand.
Whether or not the PTI’s claims of rigging in the 2013 elections are true, the government has opened itself up to suspicion by not addressing the party’s reservations head on. There will be understandable resistance on this new demand — after all, recounting over 45 million votes is a massive undertaking. Yet, some sort of steps must be taken to satisfy an increasingly hostile opposition. To use the former president’s words, “the heavens would not have fallen” if the PTI’s demands had been addressed. But the risk of ‘falling heavens’ does increase with further resistance. The bottom line is that the PML-N cannot ignore this any longer — and will do so at its own peril.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th, 2014.
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