The report of the judicial commission rejected the complaints of the PTI and several other opposition parties that the May 2013 general elections were rigged and manipulated. By declaring these elections a true and fair reflection of the mandate of the electorate, the judicial commission provided legal legitimacy to the 2013 election and the electoral victory of the PML-N. The PTI is now facing a major political setback.
The judicial commission, however, has not resolved the issue of political acceptability of the results of the elections. It was not only the PTI that had complained about the election results; several other political parties, including those that supported the PML-N in the context of the protest by the PTI, also questioned the legitimacy of the election results. The legal legitimacy given by the judicial commission will not change the opinion of all these political parties regarding the elections. Therefore, the general elections and the PML-N’s ascendancy to power will continue to be questioned on political grounds by many political activists and parties.
The report of the judicial commissions represents a conservative and status quo-oriented approach. It took advantage of the terms of reference to downplay irregularities and procedural violations, including non-authentication of votes and multiple voting by one person, and declared these elections fair and free on aggregate. The second term of reference sought to know if the elections were manipulated in a “systematic effort by design”. The judicial commission assigned priority to ‘systematic’ or ‘by design’ manipulation over other issues that had undermined the credibility of the elections. It was clear during the proceedings of the judicial commission that systematic and planned rigging would not be proved. As the PTI could not prove systematic manipulation by an institution, government or political party, the judicial commission was able to confirm the first and third terms of reference, giving legal legitimacy to the elections.
Although the commission noted procedural and other violations in the elections, these could not influence the opinion of its members because they confined their inquiry to the issue of systematic and planned manipulation. In a way, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), as well as judicial and other officials on duty on polling day have also got a clean chit because procedural irregularities were not given weight.
The advice by the judicial commission to improve the management of the elections is not expected to carry much weight because if the elections represented the true and fair mandate of the people despite a host of deficiencies, why rectify those shortcomings? Why should the government or the ECP worry about these issues when these are not relevant in determining the credibility of the electoral process? The PML-N will focus on the legal aspects and the PTI and other political parties on political dimensions, thus reviving their mutual conflict. It will be three or four months before this conflict takes a definite shape. By that time the flood season and local bodies elections would either be over, or postponed.
The PTI cannot return to the slogan of electoral manipulation. It will have to explore new ideas to attract people other than its core supporters. The PTI derives major support from the middle and upper classes. It can no longer ignore the populace from the lower strata of society. New sets of issues are required to attract this section of the population. The PTI needs to pay attention to its organisational and internal discipline problems, and Imran Khan should use caution in making political statements and avoid returning to the old habit of public displays of sympathy for the Pakistani Taliban. He should adopt a non-ambiguous position on social and economic inequities in society, privatisation of state assets, and religious extremism and militancy. It would not be advisable to revive the dharna strategy of 2014. New strategies like public meetings and mass-level mobilisation need to be considered. Another issue pertains to the PTI working with other political parties. Its strategy of ‘solo flight’ requires a review.
The PPP’s declining fortune will not be retrieved as long as its leadership protects its interest by identifying with Nawaz Sharif. It faces organisational and leadership crises in Punjab that have turned it into a feeble and directionless political entity. Its activists are depressed and dismayed.
The ruling PML-N needs to change its policy of doling out state funds as gifts from the prime minister or the chief minister of Punjab. Instead, it should invest financial and administrative resources in coping with the energy shortages and the declining industrial output. Unless these two issues are addressed on a priority basis, the problem of poverty and under-development cannot be tackled in Pakistan.
The PML-N’s approach of conceding policymaking and implementation space to the military may work as long as the military-Rangers action is confined to Karachi where the PML-N has hardly any direct political stake. If the military decides to adopt a similar approach to control militancy, corruption and administrative inefficiency in Punjab, the PML-N will find it difficult to pursue stable relations with it.
Any attempt to retrieve the political initiative from the military can threaten the already fragile and semi-functional democracy in Pakistan.
While the PTI and the PPP need to revise their political strategies, the PML-N needs to recognise that its current triumph will prove to be short-lived if it continues to pursue its ongoing narrow and personalised governance based on the traditional sultan model. It needs to prefer professionalism to political loyalty and adopt socioeconomic policies that benefit the common people on a permanent basis, rather than pursuing glamorous construction projects that have much scope for corruption. The current floods will increase popular discontent against the ruling party, and serve as the backdrop to another confrontation between the government and the opposition.
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