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Election(s) Tug of War in Pakistan


Pakistan is facing a debilitating economic crisis with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) continuing with discussions with the Ministry of Finance and State Bank of Pakistan officials laying down very stringent conditions for release of the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) even as petrol pumps are facing fuel shortages, inflation is escalating and the Pakistan Rupee in a downward spiral. Rating agencies as Moody’s have already sounded a warning.


The political class however is engaged in a tug of war on scheduling three levels of elections – the first phase is provincial elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakthoonwa which is the outcome of dissolution of assemblies by the impetus former prime minister and chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI).


While as per the Constitution elections are to be held within 90 days of dissolution, there is no word from the Election Commission of Pakistan [ECP] regarding holding of polls.


Bye elections to the 64 National Assembly (NA) are also due after resignation of the PTI once again initiated by Mr Khan were accepted by the speaker of the NA just as these were to be withdrawn and PTI was hoping for a No Confidence Motion against the PM Mr Shahbaz Sharif. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has scheduled the votes for March 16 (for 33 seats) and March 19 (31 seats) across the country.


In the next phase is general elections for the National Assembly which are due prior to October this year.


Delay versus Urgent polls


With economy spiralling out of control this is hurting the people of Pakistan, thus the main constituent of the ruling Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) – the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML N) led by Party Supremo Nawaz Sharif in exile in London ostensibly on medical grounds and the Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif is not keen to hold the polls just now.


The PML N base in Punjab is weakened with the PTI having gained momentum in the urban areas in the last few months with economy being the main cause of loss of faith of the people in the government. An agreement with the IMF is expected to bring more pain, thus holding the elections be it the provincial or federal is sought to be delayed by the PML N till the shock weakens.


On the other hand the PTI and Chairman Imran Khan are fighting for early elections finding the timing opportune with the people likely to vote for their party through populist appeal to the voters. Mr Khan has been making appeals to the President [from his own party] who has asked the Election Commission of Pakistan [ECP] to hold elections soonest in the interest of democracy.


Within the PDM however there are differences on participation in the National Assembly bye polls Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is unwilling to boycott the bye elections to the National Assembly seats and give a free run to Mr Imran Khan as requested by the PDM.


The PPP may be perceiving an advantage in participation in the polls rather than leaving the field completely to the PTI led by Mr Imran Khan. “The party leadership has decided in principle to contest the election at any cost. The PPP rather wanted the PDM not to leave the election field open but it has its own reasons,” Punjab PPP acting president Rana Farooq Saeed told Dawn on February 11 and has launched a campaign in Lahore the same day.


There are also differences in the PML N with some leaders having filed their nominations for the bye polls. “By boycotting the by-poll, we will not only give a free hand to the PTI to bag all seats but put ourselves in an awkward position as well. How can we ignore the possible PPP request seeking support for its candidates. Our decision to boycott the poll seems rather emotional and not based on rationale,” a PML-N leader from Punjab was quoted by the Dawn.


Mr Nawaz Sharif is also banking on his daughter Maryam Nawaz who has returned to the country from London as is out to challenge the PTI in the polls directly targeting Mr Khan. Maryam is expected to match the charisma of Mr Imran Khan on the voters but will require time to shape the public opinion, thus the attempt to delay polls as long as possible.


ECP


The ECP having sought the security picture from the Police is unlikely to go in for early polls especially after the devastating terrorist attack on the police lines in Peshawar which saw the loss of lives of over 80 and was claimed and then denied by the Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP).


The Punjab Police has already conveyed to the ECP that the security situation is not favourable for holding polls. While having announced the bye elections, provincial elections are yet to be considered.


Enter the Courts


Not to be left behind, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial on February 10 said the “solution of all issues of the country is only possible through the people’s decision” as he heard PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s petition against the August 2022 amendments to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) ordinance.


And the Lahore High Court (LHC) a day prior suspended National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf’s acceptance of the resignations of 43 PTI lawmakers and put by-elections in 43 constituencies on hold. The petitioners stated that PTI lawmakers had requested the speaker not to de-notify them, as they had withdrawn resignations but the speaker still went ahead and accepted their resignations.


Wither Pakistan Army and ISI?


The Pakistan Army and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) under the new Army Chief General Asim Munir is keeping away from the public glare with the former Army Chief retired General Bajwa being accused by the PTI of virtually running and ruining the country.


General Munir choose to visit the UK for five days for a closed door meeting in Wilton Park the UK foreign ministry’s think tank.


There are rumours that he also visited the United States during this period which were denied by the Army’s media arm the DGISPR.


When in London for five days did General Munir met with Mr Nawaz Sharif or his confidants one will never know.


Conclusion


Importantly the elections may not bring about change in the lives of the people of Pakistan for neither the Sharifs, the Zardaris or the Imran Khans are will to take the hard steps necessary to overcome the gloom and doom.

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