A view of how the politics towards the polls is shaping in Pakistan and what it the Establishments approach.
Political activities are rising across Pakistan after Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and President Arif Alvi agreed to hold general elections on February 8 following the Supreme Court’s order in the election delay case.
Unlike the national and provincial elections in the past -2013/2018 there does not appear to be a party which has a clear lead in the electoral hustings set for February 8, next year. There is no indication as to any, “selection,” or preference by the Establishment - the Pakistan Army and the Inter Services Intelligence or ISI who too seem to await developments demonstrating a lead established by a party either based on the general public mood or the “electable,” collected by its leadership.
The only clear indication from the Establishment is that the Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf [PTI] led by former Prime Minister Mr. Imran Khan who is facing multiple legal cases now will not be welcome. However, a rump of the PTI is hoping to cash in the popularity of its leader to pose a challenge to other parties in Punjab. Punjab as is well known is the battleground region in Pakistan with majority of the seats in the National Assembly apart from the large provincial assembly. expected to participate.
There are three parties which will be in the fray in Punjab - Pakistan Muslim Nawaz [PMLN] led by former Prime Minister and Supremo Nawaz Sharif “recalled,” from exile and granted a number of legal reprieves, the rump PTI and the newly launched. The fourth Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has a small support base in South Punjab but will not emerge as a major challenger.
The politics of Punjab is based on the feudal class providing the lead, but this phenomenon may have been eroded by the PTI which galvanized the young and disillusioned voters fed up with the old style of polity.
Thus PML N has lost a large section of the support base in Punjab to the PTI. Mr Nawaz Sharif has been inducted from exile to galvanise the Party as neither his daughter Maryam Sharif nor the former Prime Minister and official President of the Party Shahbaz has been able to win over those who deserted the Party and the new voters. Nawaz apart from using his well worn charisma is also looking for electable candidates for the Party given uncertainty of support.
The new kid on the block but headed by a veteran political leader is the Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party or IPP founded by Jahangir Tareen on 8 June 2023 seeing the opening after Imran Khan’s virtual exit from politics – voluntary or engineered. The IPP is registered with the Election Commission of Pakistan on 5 October 2023. Several former leaders from political families of DG Khan, Rajanpur, Muzaffargarh, Vehari, Lodhran and Multan are said to have joined the Party.
As per the Dawn, Tareen has influence in Karachi, interior Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Balochistan. The IPP is also being called in some circles as the King’s Party but does it have the depth to form a government in Pakistan and in Punjab remains a question mark. Realising this deficit, it is believed that Mr Tareen was in London to discuss the ‘future strategy’ with Mr Nawaz Sharif prior to his return to Pakistan but was shunned by the PML N leadership.
Thus, the IPP and the PML N may be facing off in Punjab along with the rump PTI.
The PML N has even expressed willingness to have an understanding with the PTI less Imran Khan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and those involved in the May 9 attacks on military assets and infrastructure.
Senior leader of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Rana Sanaullah, stated inasmuch so if Khan was out of the equation. How far the PTI will bite the bait remains to be seen?
Of the other major parties Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is dominant in the Sindh Province and attempted to made inroads in Punjab particularly the South which has not been successful but efforts will continue. PPP is also in talks with the PTI and has called on the Party to join the Charter of Democracy (CoD) knowing perhaps the weakness of the Sindh based party in Punjab.
PPP is also concerned over outreach of the PML N with the parties in Sindh such as the Muttahida Qaumi-Movement Pakistan (MQM-P) a delegation of which has met Nawaz Sharif. "Mian sahib has been suggested to go to other provinces. I suggest he should stay in Lahore," said PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari Bilawal to the press. These remarks came after Mian Nawaz Sharif visited Sindh and Baluchistan - two provinces where his party does not have high presence but is hoping to rope in the electable.
Dispelling any concerns of the PPP, PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif attempted to appease PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari calling him a younger brother, as the two have worked together for 16 months during the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) coalition government. "Bilawal Bhutto is like a younger brother. [We have] worked together for 16 months," he said. Yet Shehbaz knows that the brotherhood in politics is a noble notion which is violated in practice.
Even though the situation is developing what emerges is a possible coalition that may form a government in Pakistan post elections. Who leads the same will be determined by the number of seats and the post polls electoral adjustments which appear inevitable.
Whatever formulation emerges the Establishment will be content as far as no single Party emerges as a dominant force which can threaten its control over Pakistan politics. Towards that end the Establishment may attempt to shape the polls so that no party gains and overwhelming majority in the National Assembly and Punjab which in fact may come even naturally given the emerging formulations.