Pakistan News

Election day prep

Election day prep

There are no clichés left to describe the current state of affairs in Pakistan. There aren’t many adjectives left either. They just seem inadequate or overused, though the crises are palpable. Reading the newspapers in the morning is enough to induce an anxiety attack while the discussions on television leave one bemused for they continue to be focused on leaks, rumours of technocratic set-ups and sources that are certain about which political leader is on his way down and who is about to take off.

In the meantime, the economic crisis grows by the day, the government refuses to address it because it wants to avoid paying the political price in the shape of a defeat in the elections while PTI continues to thunder on, aimlessly. The problem is the crisis is already far bigger than we can cope with and the government (or rather the PML-N) doesn’t have much political capital left, even if they can find a magical way of getting a free pass from the IMF for now. The elections will be an uphill battle even if the IMF is charmed into giving waivers on everything and more.

No wonder then the inflation (and the storm to come), the PML-N’s inflexibility and PTI’s non-stop anger and agitation are all reasons lending credence to the talk of a technocratic government and even worse — a speech which begins with a phrase more familiar to us than “ghabrana nahi hai”. And this phrase is: “Meray aziz hamwatno”.

The hours we have dedicated to these options are surely even more than those spent discussing cricket in Pakistan.

All our Neros are busy with activities which usually only begin in earnest when an election is due.

But is there really such a plan? Because if there is, why are all our Neros busy with activities which usually only begin in earnest when an election is due? And this is as true of television channels as it is of politicians. (Consider the pace at which anchors are moving back and forth between news organisations and hiring is picking up; this is usually an activity which coincides with election cycles.)

But look beyond, and politics is where the real action is taking place. Even if it’s just the PTI which is desperate for an election, the rest are not coming slow either. Everyone is gearing up for D-day. In Karachi, efforts are being made to patch up MQM like Humpty Dumpty and one newly inducted governor is filling in for all the King’s men. Farooq Sattar, the grumpy elder relative, is being brought back to the fold as well as the prodigal son, Mustafa Kamal. Only the bhai in London is still out in the cold! He still remains unacceptable, despite the new untouchables who have since emerged. And if those who watch the city and its politics closely are to be believed, the putting together may not work, as it did not in the nursery rhyme.

In distant (in more ways than one) Balochistan too, there is much political activity. And here it is a case of new wine in old bottles (or is it the other way around?). Some of those who had joined BAP when it was the new flavour in the province are now being welcomed into the PPP fold; and many others too have been seen knocking at the party’s door. PPP is rightly celebrating the politicians’ decision while the development also lends credence to the rumours of PPP and Bilawal Bhutto being the hope once again, as they were in the post-Musharraf period — whether the populace is also as hopeful as they were in 2008 remains to be seen.

And then oddly enough on Sunday, the newspapers (in plural) carried a story about the PTI dissidents who had brought down the PTI government in the beginning of last year now coming together — with an eye on the next election. According to some accounts, the PML-N, after the July 2022 by-election, perhaps feels it is not strong enough to carry them to victory and has waved them goodbye. And these electables, who left the PTI because it wouldn’t help them win and because the PML-N ticket was needed for success, are apparently strong enough to make a new party and win enough seats to form a significant group, which would then become the kingmaker.

The logic here is a bit non-sequitur but only for the nitpicky lot. Some of the most famous ones among those named had denied the story by the evening but clearly, some abandoned electables are searching for an election day plan.

And then there is PML-N itself. While some of its members hint darkly at delayed elections, its senior leaders have organised a number of workers’ conventions and the statements of its key ministers every weekend at constituency-level activities also suggest a party which is preparing for elections. Maryam Nawaz’s elevation to not one but two key party positions and a date for her return is also not coincidental — her father is making his plans for the party and its new leadership with an eye on the next election.

All of this would suggest to those watching from the sidelines that parties are gearing up for elections. And others are too. After all, a large portion of this activity is aimed at limiting the PTI and its possible successes come next election. And if people are being brought together or shifted around or prepped, it really will be of little help in forming a technocratic set-up or giving a speech on PTV. (Or is it?) Perhaps it can be safely said that some plan (be it A or B or Z) does include some kind of an election.

However, this is not to be treated as a prediction on my part. Far from it (I am yet to be inspired by all the tarot card readers and soothsayers who held forth on television on new year’s eve). Judging by official accounts, elections are months away and in Pakistani politics, a week is a long time.

The writer is a journalist.

Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2023

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