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Of elections and simmering economic and political crises


Ansar M Bhatti

The September 2, 2023 strike, organized by Jamaat-e-Islami in response to the alarming surge in petrol and electricity prices, can be hailed as an unequivocal success. The overwhelming participation resulted in the closure of a majority of businesses, sending a powerful message. Although such widespread protests and strikes may not immediately sway the rulers, they undeniably lay the groundwork for more frequent and impactful demonstrations in the future.

The nation has experienced a series of economic and political challenges in recent years. These challenges can be traced back to the moment when Nawaz Sharif was removed from office through a court order, a decision that many perceived as being based on tenuous legal grounds. It’s important to clarify that this doesn’t absolve the Sharif family of corruption allegations. Over the years, they have accumulated significant wealth during their tenures in both provincial and central government positions. However, what stood out was the sentencing of Nawaz Sharif in a case that had not previously been discussed or debated at any stage, raising questions about the fairness and transparency of the legal process. The primary catalyst for his removal ostensibly stemmed from his deteriorating relationship with the Establishment of the time. He had probably become ‘unmanageable’ hence he has to be removed.

Then in 2018 the project Imran Khan was launched with this hope that he shall behave and remain within his limits. The relationship worked well for the initial two years nevertheless things started getting bad and then from bad to worse when Imran Khan tried to fly independently. His wings were consequently clipped and a hotchpotch type government was put in place to run the day to day affairs. It was a disorganized and chaotic government, struggling to manage the nation’s day-to-day affairs. Regrettably, this government proved to be a resounding failure, causing significant harm to the country’s economic and political landscape. The leader of this government Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif dissolved the National Assembly few days before the stipulated term in order to get maximum time for electioneering.

As per the Constitution, the election must take place within 90 days after the dissolution of the assemblies, however powers-that-be plus PML N want elections to take place somewhere in January or February 2024 – a timeframe which has already been rejected by other political parties including the PPP. The President of Pakistan too wants elections to take place within 90 days for which he had already written a letter to the Election Commission however his plea was not entertained by the Election Commission of Pakistan, as a result of which the President was supposed to announce date for the elections.

According to recent reports, a momentous high-level meeting unfolded at the Presidency on Friday, September 1, 2023. This meeting saw the participation of the President and two other high-ranking officials from the Establishment. Notably, the President was reportedly advised against announcing his election date and was encouraged to entrust this decision to the Election Commission.

Intriguingly, insiders with knowledge of the proceedings suggest that the meeting might have delved into discussions concerning the Official Secrets Act bills. It’s worth noting that the President had previously publicly stated on social media that he had not granted his assent to these bills. Given that the President’s term is set to conclude on September 08, it’s plausible that this issue took center stage as well during the high-level deliberations.

With all factors considered, the paramount concern remains: will there be sustained economic and political stability, regardless of whether the elections are conducted within the next 90 days or later? Regrettably, the outlook for our nation’s political and economic future appears far from promising. The treatment meted out to certain political parties, their leaders, and their supporters speaks loudly of a dismal political trajectory for our country.

The establishment of a government through gerrymandering and political maneuvers is destined to exacerbate our existing challenges. In the recent past, we have witnessed similar scenarios with both the PTI and PDM governments, and these experiences have only compounded our difficulties. Efforts are underway to exclude the PTI from the electoral process, and this challenge extends to other major parties like the PPP and PML-N as well. The objective is to create conditions conducive to a hung parliament, wherein all parties find themselves compelled to seek the support of the powers-that-be for their political survival.

In contemplating the future prospects of the three leading contenders vying for the coveted position of Prime Minister – Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz Sharif, and Imran Khan – the ever-changing political landscape implies that all three might not necessarily be in contention for the highest office. Just as the caretaker prime minister can be surprising, the permanent prime minister might also catch people off guard.

Nawaz Sharif, in particular, faces a challenging journey if he wishes to reenter the race. His foremost obstacle appears to be his legal sentence and his relationship with the Establishment. For many observers, it seems that he has yet to gain the confidence of the establishment, primarily due to his previous stances towards the institution and its officials.

Shehbaz Sharif, often referred to as Shehbaz Speed, faced significant challenges during his one and a half-year tenure as the country’s leader, which unfortunately did not result in effective governance. His leadership period appeared to multiply Pakistan’s existing problems rather than resolving them. The once-promising image of a ‘reformer’ and ‘do-gooder,’ carefully cultivated during his time as Punjab’s chief minister, quickly faded when he took on the role of prime minister. This experience, marked by a lack of success and impact, raises doubts about whether the powers-that-be would be inclined to repeat such a leadership choice in the future.

Pakistan happens to be a land of miracles, however no miracle is expected to occur in case of Imran Khan. Even if he decides to follow ‘his master voice’ even then his chances to become the prime minister any time soon are dim. Those who are close to him staunchly believe, what sets him apart from other politicians is his ‘unwavering’ commitment to his ‘principles’, whereas many of his peers tend to pivot their stance opportunistically for personal gain.

When addressing the ongoing protests and strikes, it is imperative for the interim government to proactively devise a comprehensive relief package to avert potential turmoil in the near future. To effectively address this challenge, the government must demonstrate courage by expanding the tax base and revenue sources, ensuring that even those who perceive themselves as exempt from taxation are brought within the tax net. Additionally, tackling rampant corruption must be a top priority, as it remains the most significant impediment to progress and must be eradicated swiftly and decisively.

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