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Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid leader Chaudhry Pervez Elahi has a bad feeling about the post-election political landscape in the country because he fears the “present, pronounced divisiveness in the nation’s political life could potentially push Pakistan into a long period of confusion, chaos and anarchy after July 25”.

“The environment in which the July poll is being organised is totally vitiated by political acrimony and bitterness. People are sharply divided across political lines and polarisation has peaked (in the lead-up to the election). No one is ready to tolerate others. The net result of this election will be chaos and anarchy. That is not a good sign for democracy or for the country and its people,” the president of the Punjab PML-Q tells Dawn in an interview.

“Elections are meant to unite people, not divide them. It would have been much wiser to delay the vote for a month or two to defuse the situation and implement (political and economic) reforms. Gen Yahya Khan lost half of the country in 1970 because he had insisted on holding the election on time. The election commission, judiciary and establishment will all be to blame if the country finds itself in the midst of political and economic chaos and anarchy post-election,” he warns.

But, in the same breath, the 72-year-old politician from Gujrat adds that the time to postpone the election is already past. “Now politicians should brace themselves for whatever results the election is going to throw up and make their decisions to tackle the new situation accordingly. We cannot suggest solutions based on assumptions about the future, but parties should now be ready to set aside their differences and sit together for the well-being of the country and people once the election is over.”

In 2008, Gen Musharraf had engineered our defeat by striking a deal with Benazir Bhutto. We were winning from Punjab despite the NRO between Musharraf and Benazir.

Chaudhry Pervez Elahi

Pervez Elahi advises the army against involving itself in the election process as is apparently being demanded by certain parties. “That is dangerous territory for the army. It should not repeat the mistake it had made under Gen (Ashfaque Parvez) Kayani in the 2013 elections. The same goes for the judiciary. The losers are sure to cry foul and question the fairness of the entire exercise,” he adds.

“So far both the military and judiciary have acted as independent, nonpartisan actors. Still, the judiciary’s already being maligned by many (for allegedly meddling in politics ahead of the vote). If the army doesn’t keep its distance, its image will also get tainted like it was under Gen Kayani in 2013.”

Take a look: Musharraf ensured PML-Q defeat in 2008 polls: Shujaat

He predicts that no single party will be in a position to muster enough seats to form its government independently in the centre or in Punjab. “No party will get absolute majority. It will be a split mandate and the single largest party will depend on others to form a coalition. I don’t see any good coming out of the next election,” he laments.

“Even if Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf emerges as the single largest party, he will have a hard time convincing others to sit with him in a coalition. He (Imran Khan) has bad-mouthed every party leader so much that no one is prepared to join him in a future set-up.”

The PML-Q leader, who served Punjab as its chief minister between 2002 and 2007 under Gen Pervez Musharraf and as deputy prime minister between 2011 and 2013 under then president Asif Ali Zardari, spoke at length about the development work he had done during his stint in Punjab.

But why didn’t the people re-elect the PML-Q in 2008? And why was it wiped out in 2013?

He explains: “In 2008, Gen Musharraf, with the help of Tariq Aziz, had engineered our defeat by striking a deal with Benazir Bhutto. We were winning from Punjab despite the NRO between Musharraf and Benazir. We reached out to him and requested him to stop the ISI from rigging the poll in the province against us. We told him that if the PML-Q lost the election, the Pakistan Peoples Party will take no time to impeach him. He didn’t listen to our pleas then. Today he cannot come back home,” says Pervez Elahi, who had helped his cousin, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, create the PML-Q out of the PML-N and by gathering ‘electables’ to support the military dictator who had ousted Nawaz Sharif in October 1999.

“Despite all odds stacked against us, we won 53 national and 80 provincial seats in 2008.”

In the years leading up to the 2013 vote, he recounts, the PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz poached his party’s members of the national and Punjab assemblies and broke away a large number of them.

“Then our brief alliance with the PPP towards the end of the latter’s term cost us hugely. We joined the coalition with the PPP in order to prevent our members, the so-called electables, who have no sense of honour and loyalty or moral obligation, from quitting the party. By the time the election date was announced they left us anyway, in the same fashion they are leaving the PML-N today.”

He adds, “We also could not gauge public mood and failed to realise that the PPP had lost so much public support in Punjab because of its bad governance in the run-up to the election. Our alliance with the PPP cost us dearly. The rest of the job was done by Gen Kayani and former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry who worked closely to finish us in Punjab and bring the PML-N in power.”

Pervez Elahi claims that the 2013 election would have produced a split result with the PTI, PML-Q and PPP winning more seats from Punjab than they actually did, if it were held in a fair and free environment. “I blame Gen Kayani and Iftikhar Chaudhry for helping Nawaz Sharif win the election as a result of a deal with him.”

In the July election, he claims, his party has fielded candidates from all four provinces. “We have issued party tickets on most national and provincial assembly seats across the country — Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Sindh. In Sindh, we are part of the opposition alliance, the GDA, and in Punjab we have made seats adjustments with the PTI. We are in contact with every party except the PML-N. I expect the PML-Q to show a better performance on July 25, if fair and free election is held and no party is preferred over the others.”

Published in Dawn, July 5th, 2018