Elections Without PTI…
By Qamar Bashir | Former Press Secretary to the President | Former Press Minister to the Embassy of Pakistan to France | Former MD, SRBC
The Election Commission, under the weight of severe public outcry and the collective demand of all political parties (with the exception of PML(N), has declared that the general elections will take place at the end of January 2024. This announcement, while arriving nearly 90 days later than constitutionally required, has been met with a relatively muted reaction from political parties. It appears that, rather than dwelling on the inordinate delay, political parties are content with the assurance that elections will indeed occur, dispelling earlier predictions of indefinite postponement by political pundits and analysts.
With the elections now just four months away, ideally, political parties will have ample time to refine and reconsider their manifestos, redefine their messaging and focal points, and offer the people of Pakistan a vision of a promising and inspiring future. This newfound clarity on the election date brings an opportunity for political renewal and the chance to inspire hope and dreams of a brighter tomorrow for the citizens of Pakistan.
But far from ideal, the political landscape remains complex and marred with uncertainties. The recent overturning of the amendment to the NAB (National Accountability Bureau) ordinance has dealt a significant blow to the core objectives of the government formed by the constituent parties of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). The leadership of both the PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) and PML(N) now finds itself once more under the influence of the establishment, with the same formidable threat that PDM parties had previously managed to blunt now looming ominously over their heads.
Furthermore, the recent nullification of the Supreme Court Procedure and Practices Act by the outgoing Chief Justice has shattered the hopes of both Nawaz Sharif and Jehangir Tareen to participate in the 2024 elections. This legal development has created additional complications and uncertainties in an already intricate political landscape.
The PML(N) party appears to be in a weakened state when it comes to public popularity. After being in government for over 16 months, they have faced criticism for their handling of the economy, which has brought the country to the brink of financial collapse. Despite this, they continue to emphasize their efforts to save the country from default, without acknowledging the heavy burden this has placed on the people.
The consequences of their economic policies are evident in the form of hyperinflation, rising prices, a sharp increase in the exchange rate of the dollar, and one of the highest interest rates in the world, all of which have made essential goods and services unaffordable for the poor, middle-class, and even the upper-middle class. Millions of people have fallen below the poverty line, and unemployment rates have surged. As a result, many people are struggling to make ends meet, leading to widespread frustration and discontent among the public.
In this context, PML(N) and its allied parties have lost their narrative against price hikes, as many people view them as a major contributor to the inflation and economic hardships faced by the population.
Indeed, the perceived alignment of PML(N) with the establishment, their willingness to follow orders without question, their embrace of the Army chief’s economic and financial revival doctrine aimed at attracting billions of dollars in investment and their support for laws granting unprecedented powers to the caretaker government in terms of entering into strategic agreements with foreign countries, traditionally the prerogative of the elected government, have all contributed to their image as being closely aligned with the military establishment.
Their perceived failure to protect media freedom and prevent media censorship, as well as their apparent inability to safeguard the rule of law and the principles of the constitution, their perceived failure to insulate the courts from external pressures and influence, as well as allegations of using aggressive means to influence judicial decisions, have further eroded public trust in their commitment to democratic principles. Their perceived alignment with the establishment and the actions taken in support of these policies have, in turn, diminished their ability to maintain a popular anti-establishment narrative.
Ultimately, these factors have contributed to a sense of frustration and disillusionment among the public, leading to skepticism about the ability of political parties to govern effectively and address the needs and aspirations of the people.
It is evident that the PTI party and its leadership are contending with substantial challenges, marked by persecution and harassment. A significant number of their leaders find themselves either in hiding or incarcerated. Notably, the Chairman’s unwavering resolve and refusal to be deterred by these circumstances stand out. His ability to withstand immense pressure, maintain his determination, and remain resolute in the face of adversity serves as a testament to his unwavering courage and commitment. The Chairman’s steadfastness has the potential to inspire loyalty among PTI members and supporters, while also becoming a symbol of resilience in the face of perceived political persecution.
In a decade-old interview, Mr. Imran Khan declared that he fears only Allah, cannot be influenced or silenced, and follows his own ideology. His philosophy revolves around obeying Allah’s commands and giving back to society what he has received. His vision in government is to establish a welfare state where everyone is treated equally, irrespective of wealth or power, creating conditions for people to lead fulfilling lives in line with Islamic teachings.
He has backed these words with actions, even in the face of adversity, death threats, and assassination attempts. He hasn’t sought clemency, freedom, or compromised his principles for a comfortable life abroad. His unwavering character, courage, and determination set him apart from politicians aligned with the establishment.
While in France, I observed several aspects of a welfare state. Citizens with incomes below €900 per month receive state stipends of €900. The state supports families with multiple children, cares for orphans, aids businesses affected by disasters without applications, and offers free quality education and healthcare to those in need.
Notwithstanding the popular support for PTI, in a recent interview with a foreign channel, the caretaker prime minister asserted that free and fair elections could proceed without the PTI leadership participating. He firmly stated that actions and consequences would persist for all individuals, regardless of age, gender, or profession, who were in any way linked to the events of May 9th. The Army leadership, in their recent corps commander meeting, reiterated their commitment to pursuing those involved in the May 9th incident, promising further consequences and repercussions.
The exclusion of PTI from the electoral process has the potential to unleash a cascade of repercussions, including severe political instability, economic turmoil, and widespread social unrest. PTI supporters have an array of avenues to channel their deep-seated discontent, and the situation demands prudent management to avert a full-blown crisis.
PTI supporters, alongside human rights organizations and legal fraternity, may orchestrate peaceful nationwide protests and demonstrations. Their collective outcry would serve as a resounding condemnation of sidelining the nation’s largest and most popular party from the electoral landscape. This wave of public dissent could disrupt normal life, placing businesses, education, and essential services under strain, ushering in a period of social tumult and uncertainty.
The digital sphere, both within and outside Pakistan, stands as a potent realm for political activism. PTI supporters can harness platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to broadcast their grievances far and wide. Trending hashtags and viral campaigns can elevate awareness about their cause, fomenting a groundswell of support that transcends geographical boundaries.
PTI supporters facing exclusion from the electoral process may leverage international channels to garner support and seek intervention. They could engage in diplomatic efforts to rally foreign governments, international bodies, and human rights organizations to condemn this exclusion and demand a fair and transparent election. Additionally, they may explore legal remedies to challenge their exclusion, potentially by filing petitions in the judiciary. Such petitions could assert that their fundamental rights to participate in a democratic process are being infringed upon.
The exclusion of PTI from the electoral process would inflict severe damage on the credibility of the entire election system, threatening to plunge Pakistan into a maelstrom of political instability. Such a move risks stoking polarization and fomenting tensions among various political factions, adding fuel to an already volatile situation. The ensuing political instability, sparked by PTI’s exclusion, would cast a dark shadow over investor confidence, imperiling economic stability. Foreign and domestic investments, the lifeblood of economic growth, may wither, thrusting Pakistan into a daunting era of economic hardship.
Moreover, the repercussions may not be confined to Pakistan’s borders. Its international relationships, built on trust and cooperation, could be strained as global observers and partners express grave concerns over the perceived injustice and lack of fairness in the electoral process. The ripple effect of such a crisis could resonate far beyond the nation’s borders, painting a bleak picture of instability and uncertainty.
Now is the time for all stakeholders, including the government, election commission, judiciary, political parties, and institutions, to set aside personal and institutional vendettas. We must consider every citizen a patriot without casting doubt on their loyalty. Coercion and brute force should be replaced with love and affection to win true loyalty, as intimidation only begets obedience, not love.
The government and institutions should emulate a caring mother, nurturing every citizen without subjecting them to humiliation. Releasing political prisoners is an act of magnanimity that honors the nation and empowers people to choose their true representatives.
The caretaker government, establishment, and election commission should prioritize fairness, transparency, and open dialogue with all political stakeholders. Upholding democratic principles and ensuring a level playing field for all parties is the path to maintaining stability and credibility in the electoral process. It’s time to unite and build a stronger, more harmonious nation.
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