AS the PML-N government enters its final weeks in office before the dissolution of the assemblies ahead of this year’s general election, the shape of things to come is already becoming apparent.
And, as the pieces of the jigsaw lock into place, it is clear that unless the voter is extraordinarily stubborn and resourceful, a fragmented political landscape is on the cards with many political parties and groups winning small victories.
Such a scenario, with no clear winner, would mean a weak government at the centre, most likely a coalition bringing together the most disparate of elements, which is unlikely to legislate effectively let alone be in a position to amend the Constitution.
As the pieces of the jigsaw lock into place, it is clear that a fragmented political landscape is on the cards.
Many will call me a conspiracy theorist and ask for ‘evidence’ but they will not dispassionately look at the pointers that some of us political commentators examine in order to piece together a complete picture.
When a coalition comprises a potpourri of political parties and political groupings, it is safe to assume that it makes itself vulnerable to being influenced and manipulated by extra-parliamentary forces. That limits the leeway such a government can enjoy to formulate and implement policies.
As I write these lines, the Supreme Court has delivered its verdict which translates into lifelong disqualification for former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Last July’s Supreme Court disqualification of Mr Sharif was not explicit about the period of his disqualification.
Assuming the PML-N was contemplating a constitutional amendment to remove Articles 62 and 63, under which Nawaz Sharif was disqualified, once the new assemblies were elected, the task would appear that much harder now.
After the last Senate elections, which saw the PML-N’s seats being decimated in Balochistan after a coup against its chief minister, the governing party may still have emerged as the largest single party in the upper house but, as the chairman’s election demonstrated, it fell way short of a majority.
One can safely say that if the voters do not turn out in droves to abort such a design if it indeed exists, the PML-N is unlikely to win (like the last election) enough seats to be able to amend the Constitution.
The various groupings that are being arrayed in different parts of the country are likely to deliver an anti-PML-N dividend as they are likely to erode the governing party’s support base most in its critical bastion of Punjab and the conservative Hazara areas of KP.
All knowledgeable political commentators see the coming to fore of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik against this backdrop and say, compared to other parties, as it will aim to take away mostly PML-N voters.
The purpose of the formation of the Junoobi Punjab Suba Mahaz seems also to limit the potential ability of the PML-N to grab a majority of seats from the Seraiki belt. In the 2013 elections, the party’s performance in the belt was so outstanding that it surprised many analysts.
This grouping can dent the PML-N’s numbers particularly if it decides after elections to join hands with the PTI or PPP for that matter. Balochistan, which has traditionally gone with whoever forms the central government, this time round seems to have made up its mind beforehand.
A senior Baloch politician described the newly formed Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) to me as ‘Balochistan kay Mayee Baap ki Party’ (the party of the patrons/godfathers of Balochistan). You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know what this joke was about in the security-clamped province.
Sindh’s urban centres, mainly Karachi and Hyderabad, from where the MQM won an overwhelming majority, now seems up for grabs with the PPP, PTI and some of the religious parties (including a militant one) eyeing seats after the Muttahida seems to have fragmented into three or more entities.
It will be interesting to see the impact if the MQM Pakistan factions known as Bahadurabad and PIB come together ahead of the polls as these two united can still garner enough support to keep the PSP threat manageable in the majority Urdu-speaking constituencies.
While all political parties albeit at different times have decried the ‘third force’ interference or outright involvement in the election process, even in government formation, their leaders have spent very little time on introspection on how they, themselves, facilitated this by becoming mere tools in the hands of such forces for narrow, momentary political gain.
The one thing that the military and other law-enforcement agencies must be given credit for is that a huge turnout cannot be ruled out as the security environment for both pre-election campaigning and the election itself has greatly improved since the last two elections. That can create its own dynamics.
The sacrifices of thousands of Pakistanis, so many of them in uniform, can’t be forgotten as the army chief rightly pointed out at an awards ceremony at GHQ this week. There can be no two opinions on this. We will remain eternally grateful for the sacrifices of our martyrs.
It will also be a befitting tribute to these martyrs, and their brave families, if we can build a society where everyone’s right to life and limb and their fundamental freedoms are guaranteed. After all, they fell while eliminating the tyranny of the terrorists in large swaths of the country.
Therefore, it will be wrong to demonise as foreign-inspired someone peacefully raising their just demands within the ambit of the Constitution. For the sake of national cohesion, we must listen to all aggrieved Pakistanis.
Sometimes the tone and tenor of the aggrieved may cause hurt, even offence. But a loving embrace, a healing touch is the answer. Discontent can’t be wished away. Any other route except dialogue runs the risk of boomeranging. Why take that route when there is no need to do so?
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2018