Taking bets on polls in 2023

Published August 7, 2022
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

THE topsy-turvy world of Pakistani politics that owes itself mostly to political engineering experiments gone bad continues to provide new twists and turns daily. Thankfully, however, the economy, at least to my untrained eye, seems to be doing better than this time last week.

On some positive news from the IMF country boss that Pakistan had met all requirements for the Fund to resume its package after formal approval from its board later this month, the stock market shrugged off its jitters and posted decent gains.

More critically, as a result of the IMF statement, an increase in exports and nosediving imports due to government measures, the rupee halted its free fall against the dollar and also regained about 10 per cent of the ground it had lost alarmingly over the few weeks the current government has been in office.

Read: Elections and new voters

Some pro-government commentators saw a link between the rupee’s gain and the buoyancy in the bourse while others linked the currency’s recovery to the ECP making public what many legal experts described as a damning verdict in the PTI ‘prohibited funding’ case filed by one of the party’s founding members Akbar S. Babar.

Frankly, I don’t see how the ECP decision could have been a source of comfort for the stock and forex markets; the positive movement in both merely coincided with it as there were far more sound economic reasons for the development.

The fact that Imran Khan’s resignation has not been accepted and processed means his desire to contest nine by-elections may not be fulfilled.

Akbar S. Babar filed his case some eight years ago, making some substantial allegations of illegalities in the PTI’s fundraising endeavours. Don’t ask me why it took the ECP eight long years to conclude the extraordinarily prolonged and detailed proceedings and announce its verdict at this stage. Your guess is as good as mine.

But there were discernible signs of nerves in the PTI, and the party, despite condemning the move as an attempt at a ‘technical knockout’ of Imran Khan from the political arena, could not react robustly enough.

The euphoria generated by its Punjab by-elections win and the installation of a key ally as the chief minister of the country’s most populated province appeared to have been dampened by the ECP saying the PTI and its top leader namely Imran Khan had a case to answer for.

It seemed for once the shoe was on the other foot. Ministers who had been rarely seen defending the government over the past four months, came out strongly and assumed an aggressive posture against the PTI.

Had they overcome their fear of being called out for having inflicted severe pain on the shirtless via runaway inflation thanks to the fuel price hike, falling rupee and rising food prices, or had they simply seen an opportunity to deflect attention from the economic hardships? I can’t say. But for once they weren’t missing.

This issue is likely to be played out in the legal/judicial arena after the government decided to send a reference to the Supreme Court. The aim is to seek the disqualification of Imran Khan from holding public office as he signed the declaration certifying the PTI accounts submitted to the ECP as party head.

I think the fate of any politician should be decided in the political arena by the voting public. In recent memory, from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Nawaz Sharif, politicians who are seen by the establishment as troublesome and obstinate civilian supremacy advocates are removed from the scene not by the people after the politicians’ possible failure to deliver but via machinations that are Machiavellian in nature.

This has always been counterproductive as the mess prevalent in Pakistan today would tell you. Politicians should always talk to each other to find the middle ground. Here the PTI leader is at fault when he says he would never ever talk to other political leaders. He labels them as thieves and thugs.

This obviously has created fertile ground for extra-constitutional forces to further drive a wedge between various politicians and also convince some to be their proxies so that less and less power is wielded by the elected public officials.

As these lines were being written Imran Khan had announced that he would contest from each of the nine National Assembly constituencies where by-elections have been necessitated following the PTI’s mass resignations after the ouster of its government at the centre.

It still isn’t clear why the Speaker of the National Assembly accepted and sent only a handful of resignations to the ECP for de-notifying the members and withheld dozens of others including that of Mr Khan himself.

Whatever the reason, the fact that Imran Khan’s resignation has not been accepted by the NA Speaker and processed by the ECP means his desire to contest the nine by-elections that is being described by some commentators as a brilliant move may not be fulfilled.

Constitutional experts will speak with more authority but the little that I have read leads me to believe that an elected member of a House can join the fray for election to another House — for example, the provincial assembly or the Senate in case of National Assembly members but not for the National Assembly itself. Let’s see how things pan out.

The Punjab by-election results and the Supreme Court verdict in the provincial chief minister’s election, giving PTI ally Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi the top job, and the continuous slide of the rupee, were factors leading me to believe elections were round the corner as recently as last week.

This week the ECP verdict with all its potential pitfalls for Imran Khan and his party, as also signs of some economic stabilisation, seems to have altered my outlook. I suspect if the economy continues to respond to Miftah Ismail’s prescriptions, irrespective of the many bitter pills one has to swallow, elections may wait till the middle of next year.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2022

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