Guess Who’s Com­ing to Din­ner

The forth­com­ing elec­tion is go­ing to be a wa­ter­shed in Pak­istan’s po­lit­i­cal and con­sti­tu­tional his­tory, set­ting a clear di­rec­tion for the fu­ture of the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal tra­jec­tory.

Southasia - - Contents - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

Will the up­com­ing elec­tions bring real change to Pak­istan or will old faces re­turn to the ech­e­lons of power?

His­tory was cre­ated on March 16, 2013 when both the civil­ian govern­ment and the par­lia­ment com­pleted a full five-year term in of­fice - for the first time ever in Pak­istan. The stage has now been set for a tran­si­tion of power to an­other govern­ment through peace­ful elec­tions.

Per­haps the most re­fresh­ing fea­ture of this elec­tion is that the army and the ISI are keep­ing them­selves scrupu­lously aloof from the elec­tion process. Reg­is­tered vot­ers num­ber over 86 mil­lion and the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion has al­lowed some 148 po­lit­i­cal par­ties to run.

Wrestlers are warm­ing up in their re­spec­tive cor­ners. The main con­tes­tants - PPP, PML (N), MQM and PTI - have pre­sented their am­bi­tious man­i­festos, each, promis­ing the moon, as usual. Com­mon pledges in­clude health­care, em­ploy­ment and ed­u­ca­tion. PPP has tried to re­vive the “roti, kapra, makan” le­gend, promis­ing low-cost houses for the poor and in­creas­ing min­i­mum wage. New fea­tures in­clude cre­at­ing a new prov­ince in South Pun­jab and seats in the National and Provin­cial As­sem­blies for la­bor. Amaz­ingly, the PPP man­i­festo is only in English. Oth­ers have is­sued their vi­sion in both English and Urdu, an­nounc­ing it al­most pri­vately and with­out much fan­fare.

Be­cause it was in power for five years, the PPP man­i­festo is un­der greater pub­lic scru­tiny. There is gen­eral re­sent­ment with the PPP-led govern­ment’s fail­ure to re­vive a slow­ing econ­omy, curb the en­demic cor­rup­tion in govern­ment in­sti­tu­tions, con­trol sec­tar­ian killings and over­come per­sis­tent elec­tric­ity break­downs, some­times of up to 18 hours a day. More­over, with its nom­i­nal GDP growth of 3.7%, Pak­istan is cur­rently the weak­est South Asian econ­omy. To curb the en­ergy cri­sis, PPP and PML (N) man­i­festos prom­ise gen­er­at­ing ad­di­tional elec­tric­ity of 12‚000MW and 10,000MW, re­spec­tively. How­ever, on the for­eign re­la­tions front, PPP re­mains silent.

The PML-N man­i­festo, for its part, em­pha­sizes selfreliance and sovereignty. It pledges to dou­ble the rate of GDP growth from 3% in the last 5 years to over 6% in the next 5 years and ac­cel­er­at­ing the rate of in­dus­trial growth from 3 to 8 per cent per an­num and agri­cul­tural growth to an aver­age of 4% per an­num.

The MQM, in its 22-point man­i­festo, be­sides dwelling on ed­u­ca­tion, health and em­ploy­ment, adds the spe­cial fea­ture of lo­cal govern­ment.

Stand­ing in stark con­trast to the “tried and tested”

po­lit­i­cal par­ties, PTI’s man­i­festo is quite am­bi­tious. It even adds a touch of fri­vol­ity with its prom­ise of root­ing out cor­rup­tion within just 90 days! It prom­ises to con­trol load shed­ding within three years but does not spell out how, much like the PPP and PML (N). PTI also pledges a uni­form ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, timely and af­ford­able jus­tice, dis­cussing the de­fense bud­get in Par­lia­ment and turn­ing Pak­istan into an Is­lamic wel­fare state; but how all of this is to be achieved, the man­i­festo does not spell out. Im­prov­ing ties with In­dia and the US, get­ting Pak­istan out of the US war on ter­ror and stop­ping drone at­tacks are other such pri­or­i­ties on PTI’s agenda.

Most amaz­ingly no one has yet touched the is­sue of how to bot­tle the ge­nie of sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence and re­solve the Tal­iban is­sue. Within the first 10 days of April, more than 30 Pak­istan troops and 50 Lashkare-Is­lam fight­ers were killed in pitched bat­tles in the Ti­rah val­ley. The Tal­iban, al­lied with the LeI, were bid­ing their time as the army pounded the LeI strongholds with gun­ship helicopters and ground troops.

Other par­ties in the field in­clude PML (Q), ANP, JUI (F) and PML (F). Ja­maat-e-Is­lami (JI), which had boy­cotted the 2008 elec­tions, is also con­test­ing this time. Even Dr. A.Q. Khan, the fa­ther of Pak­istan’s nu­clear bomb, is run­ning in al­liance with the JI.

But the most con­tro­ver­sial can­di­date is Pervez Mushar­raf. His nom­i­na­tion pa­pers were re­jected from Karachi, Kasur, Is­lam­abad, and Chi­tral. Mean­while, pe­ti­tions ac­cus­ing him of high trea­son were heard in the Supreme Court. How­ever, the prayer to de­tain him was dis­missed, be­cause, the court per­ceived it as the pe­ti­tion­ers’ in­ten­tion to pre­vent him from elec­tion ac­tiv­i­ties.

The scru­tiny of nom­i­na­tion pa­pers tick­led on­look­ers to death as Re­turn­ing Of­fi­cers grilled the can­di­dates about their knowl­edge and prac­tice of Is­lam. An­other or­deal was se­cur­ing a clean chit from rel­e­vant in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing NAB, FBR and the State Bank, re­gard­ing tax pay­ment, loan re­pay­ment and clean hands. Ini­tially, such stal­warts as the famed colum­nist Ayaz Amir, ex-prime min­is­ter Raja Pervez Ashraf and exmin­is­ter Faisal Saleh Hayat were dis­qual­i­fied, but later their pa­pers were ac­cepted on ap­peal. Dual na­tion­al­ity hold­ers were screened out as well as those who pro­duced fake de­grees in 2002 and 2008 elec­tions. Due to strict scru­tiny of the nom­i­na­tion pa­pers, the num­ber

of nom­i­na­tion pa­pers filed has re­duced con­sid­er­ably com­pared to the 2008 polls. An­other in­ter­est­ing fea­ture of the en­su­ing elec­tions is that two women can­di­dates filed nom­i­na­tion pa­pers from tribal ar­eas, which in­di­cates that democ­racy is tak­ing roots even in ar­eas tra­di­tion­ally con­sid­ered to be po­lit­i­cally back­ward.

In the midst of all this, Balochis­tan re­mains the prob­lem prov­ince. Sar­dar Akhtar Men­gal, chief of his own fac­tion of the Balochis­tan National Party (BNP) and a for­mer chief min­is­ter of the prov­ince, has said that the BNP could pull out of the con­test if the law and or­der sit­u­a­tion in the prov­ince did not im­prove. He has spo­ken of tor­tured, man­gled bod­ies still turn­ing up in towns all over Balochis­tan and has lamented the fact that the Baloch peo­ple con­tinue to go miss­ing. In­terim chief min­is­ter of the prov­ince, Nawab Ghaus Baksh Barozai re­cently an­nounced the pos­si­bil­ity of trav­el­ing over­seas to speak with Baloch sep­a­ratist lead­ers in self-ex­ile, such as the Khan of Kalat, Bra­hamdagh Bugti, Hyr­byair Marri and oth­ers. He has also been con­tact­ing key Baloch lead­ers at home, in a bid to hold elec­tions smoothly.

So far, po­lit­i­cal power un­der elected gov­ern­ments has al­ter­nated be­tween the PML (N) and PPP. The lat­ter has al­ways en­joyed pop­u­lar sup­port in Sindh and ru­ral Pun­jab, while ur­ban Pun­jab has been the hub of PML-N. The out­comes of elec­tions in Balochis­tan and KP have been var­ied. But this time both face a for­mi­da­ble con­tes­tant in Imran Khan’s PTI. The crowd he pulled on March 23 at La­hore, the power base of Nawaz Sharif’s PML (N), sent alarm bells ring­ing for both the PPP and PML (N). The rise of PTI as a third ma­jor force on Pak­istan’s po­lit­i­cal stage has made the elec­toral en­vi­ron­ment more com­pet­i­tive.

Ac­cord­ing to the US-based In­ter­na­tional Repub­li­can In­sti­tute (IRI) sur­vey, PTI is still the sec­ond most pop­u­lar po­lit­i­cal party in Pak­istan af­ter PML-N, de­spite a 6% de­crease in its pub­lic rat­ings in the last six months. The 2013 elec­tions will, there­fore, be a three­way con­test un­like the two-way fights be­tween the PPP and PML-N in the past. The ur­ban, up­per mid­dle class sup­ports PTI in Pun­jab and KP and the party re­mains deeply pop­u­lar with young peo­ple.

Out of 86.1 mil­lion reg­is­tered vot­ers, 47 per­cent or ap­prox­i­mately 39 mil­lion peo­ple are be­tween the age of 18 and 35. Ac­cord­ing to NADRA out of th­ese 39 mil­lion, around 30 mil­lion are newly listed in the

elec­toral rolls. Their over­whelm­ing num­ber can be a game changer, tilt­ing the bal­ance in PTI’s fa­vor.

Mean­while, ter­ror­ist out­fits like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and es­pe­cially Tal­iban (TTP) have threat­ened to dis­rupt the elec­tions through in­tim­i­da­tion and as­sas­si­na­tions. Their avowed tar­gets in­clude Pres­i­dent Zar­dari, his son and PPP chair­man, Bi­lawal and other lead­ers of the PPP, be­sides ANP and MQM. This has robbed the cam­paign of the usual hoopla of ral­lies and meet­ings as­so­ci­ated with elec­tions. Ac­cord­ingly, the ANP has aban­doned the plan of hold­ing pub­lic meet­ings in Karachi. It has re­moved its ban­ners, closed its of­fices in the city and has re­sorted to door-todoor vis­its to can­vass votes. Asif Zar­dari and Bi­lawal Bhutto re­main un­der tight se­cu­rity not dar­ing to come out in the open to ad­dress pub­lic meet­ings. So scared are they that on the oc­ca­sion of ZA Bhutto’s death an­niver­sary, for the first time, there was no usual crowd at Garhi Khuda Baksh on April 4. Un­for­tu­nately, the MQM’s elec­tion can­di­date, Fakhrul Is­lam, who was run­ning for the Sindh Assem­bly PS 47 seat has be­come the first vic­tim of a Tal­iban at­tack. He was gunned down in Hyderabad on April 11 dur­ing an elec­tion cor­ner meet­ing. This in­ci­dent will un­doubt­edly force the MQM to re­con­sider how to run their elec­tion cam­paign.

On the other hand, the Tal­iban have promised not to dis­rupt the cam­paigns of Imran Khan’s PTI or Nawaz Sharif’s PML (N). The same goes for other “right­ist’ par­ties like JI, JUI (F) et al.

Opin­ion polls seem to in­di­cate a con­test be­tween the right and left par­ties. One set that in­cludes PPP, MQM and ANP rep­re­sents the left and ad­vo­cates for so­cial free­doms and lib­er­ties, peace with In­dia, stronger re­la­tions with the U.S. and curbs on the army’s power. The other com­pris­ing PTI, PML (N), JI, JUI (F) etc., rep­re­sents the right. It is anti-US and anti-In­dia though Nawaz Sharif in­vited In­dia’s Prime Min­is­ter Va­j­payee in 1999 to Pak­istan.

Which di­rec­tion the coun­try’s pol­i­tics take will, how­ever, be de­cided on May 11, 2013, should elec­tions be held as per sched­ule. It is im­per­a­tive for Pak­istan’s fu­ture that they do.

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