In the modern age of the 24-7 news cycle, one-liner facebook statuses and 140 character tweets, news stories have a short life expectancy. News breaks, gets covered, gets discussed and is beaten to death, all within a matter of hours. Viewed in that context, the PTI rally in Lahore has clearly bucked the trend. Just as the turnout at the rally was beyond expectations, the longevity of the story around it has also beat expectations. In an age where a day is an eternity, this story lasted well over two weeks.
As discussion and analysis of the rally tapers off and dust settles on the most successful rally in modern Pakistani political history, attention turns to PTI’s electoral prospects. As PTI tries to convert its street power into parliamentary power, the external challenges it faces are three-fold: firstly, it lacks what are referred to as “electable candidates”, secondly, it has to contend with a dubious electoral system and thirdly, it is likely to face opposition from a state machinery keen on arresting PTI’s meteoric rise.
PTI’s primary internal challenge is inexperience which may lead to poor decision making. It should follow three guiding principles to protect itself from ill-advised decisions. Firstly, it must resist the temptation to support any unconstitutional move. Secondly, it must jealously guard its hard-earned anti-status-quo mantle by rejecting any one who is joined at the hip with the status-quo. Thirdly, it must never ever, under any circumstances boycott the elections. If PTI follows these guidelines and takes measured steps to address its external challenges, it has a plausible path to power. Lets dive into this path now.
The PPP seems singularly focused on the Senate elections to be held in March 2012 and is keen to capitalise on the numerical majority it possesses in the current Senatorial electoral college. After winning the Senate elections, PPP will have nothing to gain from the existing setup and in a bid to ease the pressure on the government is likely to announce general elections a few months ahead of the slated date of February 2013. For the sake of discussion, let’s put down October 2012 as the approximate date for the next general election.
PPP is currently not visible in grassroots politics and seems to have left an open field to its opponents. This could be an implicit admission of its shortcomings on the governance front, but is more likely an indication of complacency vis-à-vis its prospects come election time. PML(Q) exuded similar confidence prior to the 2008 elections and Pervez Elahi was lining up for the PM slot. What happened to PML(Q) is now part of political folklore. The fact of the matter is that PPP is in for a rude awakening when the people go to the polls next time. It is undeniable, however, that the incumbent government enjoys certain administrative advantages during elections. Owing to these advantages and a dwindling but loyal vote bank, PPP is likely to retain a significant parliamentary presence.
PML(N) is also eyeing the Senate elections amid fears of being marginalised in the upper house. It could resign en-masse from the parliament and try to force early general elections in a bid to delay the senate elections. To avoid looking petty and power-hungry, they will try to give their actions a populist makeover. Unfortunately for them, the people have wisened up and will see through their maneuverings. PML(N) will fall flat in its efforts to remain relevant and support for it will erode further. In the October 2012 election, it is likely to ally with PML(Q) and retain pockets of support in rural Punjab, but nothing to match its current strength.
By coalescing the disaffected masses around it, PTI has clearly established itself as a viable third option. PTI needs to keep at it and deliver more of the same. If it avoids the pitfalls mentioned earlier, PTI will deliver a strong performance in the October 2012 elections. Passing on compromised electables will cost PTI some seats but will solidify its anti-status-quo credentials. Riding on strong performances in Punjab, KP and Fata, PTI will emerge as the single largest party in the parliament. With help from Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Mahmood Achakzai in Sindh and Balochistan respectively, PTI will eke out a few seats in these provinces, allowing it to stake the claim of being a truly national party. It will not have enough seats to form the government though, and true to form, it will not compromise with parties it has consistently lambasted and will take its place on the opposition benches. The result will be a hung parliament with the single largest party in opposition.
Meanwhile, in the “Greater National Interest”, the other political parties will begin negotiations to form a coalition government. Frantic wheeling and dealing between PPP, PML(N), PML(Q) and the other usual suspects will precede the formation of a weak government marred with infighting and squabbling over division of the spoils of war. The masses will deem their mandate muffled and their voice subdued. The government might hobble along for a few months, but when time for presidential elections comes around in October 2013, matters will come to a head. Asif Zardari, being the incumbent, will naturally be PPP’s candidate. PML(N) and PML(Q), having already paid dearly for being soft on Zardari, will not support him. Unable to break the deadlock over who gets to be president, the carefully cobbled-together coalition government will fall. At that point there will be no constitutional way out of the impasse except fresh elections, perhaps to be held at the end of 2013.
With its political edifice crumbling right before its eyes, the rulers-that-be will be unable to exercise any influence over the outcome of these elections.
Fed up with the state of affairs, a seriously ticked off electorate will then unleash the tsunami that has become a household word today and usher in a PTI government with a bhaari (heavy) mandate rivaling PML(N)’s super-majority from 1997.
Wishful thinking, you might say. Umeed pai duniya qaim hai, (hope springs eternal) would be my response.
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