Islamabad, the capital of gossip, is now firmly divided into two camps: those who know the elections will not be held and those who are not sure because they can’t see the route through which the delay will be orchestrated. The small minority which is still certain that elections are to be held is far too small and irrelevant to count at the moment.
If rumours are to be believed, the PDM and the powers to be are in no mood for elections, for the popular will is in PTI’s favour. Imran Khan’s popularity is seen to be soaring, thanks to his bayania (narrative), the state of the economy and the PDM’s bumbling — or rather that of the prime minister and his financial wizard. And as no one really wants him to win, the elections will not be held. While Islamabad is home to many rumours which may have a short shelf life, this particular piece of gossip is lent credence to by the assertions of PML-N leaders and ministers. Some of them such as Ahmed Ali Khan or Irfan Qadir have baldly stated that elections held after the constitutional limit will be valid or have hinted that the economic situation doesn’t warrant such an exercise. A recent disclosure by the KP governor points in a similar direction.
But this is easier said than done, like most deeds in Pakistan including last year’s vote of no-confidence or Ishaq Dar’s promise to rein in the dollar. So far, only Dar sahib has been reined in, thanks to the IMF which refused to blink.
The first challenge remains the legal way. The constitutional provisions for the National Assembly are there, say the legal eagles, but there is no excuse to delay the provincial assembly elections. The former, on the other hand, can be extended for six months or so. In other words, if the provincial assembly elections are to be delayed, it will either require the courts to resort to the doctrine of necessity and legalise the impossible or violation of the Constitution in an uglier manner.
One finds it hard to believe that technocrats can be a solution.
Will the courts oblige, and if so, will the legal fraternity, among others, stay quiet? The answer varies, depending on who you ask. The PTI will kick up a fuss for sure.
But this also leads to a second question. What will remain in place? Will it be the existing set-ups of a PDM government in Islamabad, along with the PPP and BAP in the provinces? And then these caretaker set-ups in Punjab and KP? The latter in particular is intriguing, for Mohsin Naqvi and his crew don’t inspire much confidence as a cabinet which can remain in charge for too long. Naqvi’s professional achievements have been justly highlighted across our media platforms but do they equip him to provide the direction for the budget in a year beset with financial difficulties?
Or is it that the much-hyped technocratic set-up will finally materialise in all the key places. These nameless but hardworking, and focused men (and hopefully) women who will know how and what to do and do it immediately, without concern for public opinion and elections. This, in fact, has been a persistent rumour since last year as the PDM struggled with the pressures of an economic meltdown and the demands of election. Those whose eyes gleamed at the prospect (I don’t really refer to Shabbar Zaidi here), are said to include PML-N wallahs who thought such a set-up would give them a chance to also claim victimhood — for being forced out of power once again — and blame someone else for the economic woes. But this raises questions too. What would give such a government the legal validity? And about who would become the face of the tough decisions, if all the parties are ostensibly out in the cold and free to bash the nameless ones, imposing miseries on the people.
Let me present a more concrete example. At 8pm every weeknight, as Hamid Mir is joined by Usman Dar and Musadik Malik who lament about the miseries of the people, who will be sitting on the third chair, explaining why these decisions were needed to save the riyasat? And even if someone is sitting on this chair, who will he or she speak on behalf of? Shaukat Aziz may have been the technocrat par excellence, but he spoke and acted on behalf of Musharraf. And people have a way of finding their Musharraf, if I may say so.
And for these prosaic reasons, doubting Thomases like myself find it hard to believe the technos can be much of a solution.
Moreover, how long can such governments, representing no one and everyone, stick around for to make the hard decisions? For our hard decisions simply begin with this IMF package, and then the next programme Pakistan will have to go into immediately and then figure out some structural reforms to avoid a forever cycle, which the rest of the world is no longer interested in offering. So where will we finally end this project? Or is the aim to simply exhaust those supporting the PTI?
No one who is sure of the delays can provide any concrete answers to these questions, which is par for the course in Pakistan, where everyone is aware of the end results without knowing exactly how we’ll get there. It’s a bit like Ishaq Dar who was sure in London that he knew the real value of the dollar and how to talk to the IMF but then got stuck at the first roadblock he hit after becoming finance minister.
The reason for this lack of clarity is not seen to lie with the government solely. But perhaps also the indecision or confusion elsewhere. Indeed, Pakistanis love the analogies with Neros and the people aboard the Titanic but equally apt is Shakespeare’s Hamlet and his indecision. And this indecision is not just about elections but also the economic agenda, which will not become the primary concern in the absence of political stability. So why not aim for political stability rather than half-baked solutions and stopgap measures?
The writer is a journalist.
Published in Dawn, January 31st, 2023
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