Published Apr 23, 2017 06:52am

Year five: victory or curse?

Cyril Almeida

THE predictable has happened, but now comes the unpredictable part: what next? Forget the law, let’s get to the politics of it.

At least the timeline is clear.

Thirty days to the month of switching off followed by Eid. Sixty days to a report that can’t be done. In between an election-year budget session.

The court may have just handed Nawaz a tool to prise away a part of the PTI’s core.

Already, an early start to summer — usually four or five months long, this year threatening an agonising six. In a year, a general election and before that, in 10 months or so, a Senate election.

Busy like hell.

So, who’d you rather be: Nawaz or Imran? Get out your crystal ball and let’s indulge in Pakistan’s favourite sport: politics.

Start with Nawaz, the clear winner this week. Winner because he still has his job; winner because Maryam has emerged unscathed; and winner because his fate is in his own hands now.

But winner mostly because this will have gone down well with the base — and possibly, ominously, beyond.

Forget the silliness of a 2-3 split and the faux-literary opening paragraphs. In the world of politics, a very different accounting applies.

And this is it: Nawaz had no clue Panama would happen; he couldn’t have anticipated the scrutiny; he didn’t really want this probe; the Isloo lockdown threat and a CJP looking to legacy on his way out made the hearings happen.

The hearings were held in a hostile environment, daily political screeds outside and withering remarks inside; the N-League looked shaken and the Sharif lawyers uncertain.

Then came a long, rumour-filled and conspiracy-fuelled wait for a verdict; Nawaz was going, going, gone. And yet, here he is, still among us, still PM.

The whole damn episode, instead of bringing him down, may have bullet-proofed him electorally. Because politically there are really only two options.

Either Nawaz is clean or he’s got the establishment on his side. And either of those options may as well be electoral gold for Nawaz.

If you’re thinking you’ll eat your hat if Nawaz is clean, save yourself a perfectly decent hat. Clean electorally is the chap who isn’t stupid or unfortunate enough to get caught.

With the N-League base, Nawaz stands vindicated. Nothing, not the combined hostility of the opposition, media and possibly the judiciary, was able to prove a single thing against him.

The flip side of believing the judicial process is flawed, is believing that the judicial process can be rigged.

For the N-League base, surely, Nawaz surviving by the narrowest of margins is Nawaz surviving the most vicious of attacks.

If your enemies can’t slay you, even when they gang up, there’s a leader worth supporting.

The base is secure.

More ominous is the potential effect beyond. The core of the PTI is the anti-corruption, urban cohort. If the census/constituency demarcation process delivers on time, the PTI core’s electoral footprint will grow.

The court may have just handed Nawaz a tool to prise away a part of the PTI’s core.

Think of it this way. In 2013, if you hated Zardari and Nawaz’s corruption and felt Imran may deliver, you’d have voted PTI.

The next time round, if after the greatest scrutiny in the history of politics, nothing is proven against Nawaz; if the N-League has delivered reasonably on its 2013 electoral promises; and if you’ve tired of Imran’s single-issue politics — would you maybe give Nawaz another look?

That’s all Nawaz needs — a second look.

And just maybe — and surely inadvertently — the court itself has buttressed the case for some PTI voters giving Nawaz a second look with this business of bringing the boys in.

If Nawaz survives the JIT, it would be the triple crown. First, the international dimension, the Panama Papers, ended up proving nothing.

Now, the Supreme Court itself, the highest court in the land, after months and months of the most intense scrutiny, has found nothing.

Next, if an investigation that ropes in the boys themselves ends up proving nothing definitive — by God, who the hell wouldn’t want to be Nawaz?

And if you go with the other option, that Nawaz has somehow brought the judicial-military establishment onto his side, that he’s done some backroom deal, then nothing like it.

Vote for a popular, results-delivering, three-term Punjabi prime minister who knows how to work with or prevail over the system?

The N-League may as well start printing ballots now.

But then there’s that year-long timeline ahead. And that’s why we had the spectacle of twin celebrations this week.

The PTI may be a one-trick pony — go Nawaz, go — but it’s a trick that’s allowed it to fight the N-League to a draw.

The PTI today is essentially where the PTI was four years ago: second, behind the N-League. A distant second maybe, but still second and arguably within striking distance if the stars align and the N-League stumbles.

And both could still happen.

There’s a funny thing about the five-year parliamentary system we’ve settled on: it feels out of sync with our politics.

The last time round, the fifth year had a touch of superfluousness to it; of political capital spent, ideas expired and a desultory wait for the political executioner.

Four years is enough, five a bit too much.

Imran and the PTI will know that. Nawaz and the PML-N will fear it.

Not for nothing is politics the national sport.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2017

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