BY-POLLS AND COUNTRY’S POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT
March 02, 2012
The by-polls in ten National Assembly and provincial assembly constituencies have revealed more than the tally of votes and the claims and counter claims of winners and losers. At face value, nothing seems to change radically as outcomes on eight seats matched the previous results of 2008 general elections. PPP remained dominant in Sindh, whereas PML-N and ANP also did well in their respective sphere of influence. Some setback jolted the PPP as it lost two of the seats which belonged to it in the general elections.
The manner in which the candidates went out for polls and the voting took place does not bode well for the future of electoral politics in the country; at least, in near future and in larger perspective it is a bad omen for the democratic system which is still rooted in the sand not the soil. The politics of patronage, allegations of rigging, violence in and around polling booths and all sorts of irregularities and malpractices remain flagrant and visible enough to be seen even for a layman. It is said that worst kind of democracy is better than best kind of dictatorship, and in large measures, it is quite true as democracy has an inbuilt filtering mechanism whereby negative tendencies disappear gradually and positive attitudes and behaviour flourish giving democracy the substructure where it can stand firmly and strongly. In Pakistan, such filter itself is corrupted and rendered unable to sift the wrong from the right, thus enabling the authoritarian mindset to stalk the political landscape of the country.
The by-polls have shown that the coming general elections would be a quite hotly contested affair raising much dust and producing melting heat. PML-N must have got a boost from the outcomes of the polls as it did not lose in its cherished constituencies. The PPP has come up with satisfactory performance in Sindh, but lost its stronghold. Multan, where most of the eyes were focused, produced a predictable outcome where both PML-N and PPP managed to cling on to their National Assembly seats, although without the heavy weights i.e., Quraishi and Hashmi jumping into the fray. Now minus Imran Khan, the polls present an incomplete picture. It is this variable which would have a decisive impact on the next general elections and consequently on the future dimension of country’s electoral politics and democratic makeup.
PTI has made inroads into the status-quo oriented bipartisan political scheme of things where either PPP or PML-N with the support of smaller parties managed to govern the country. The rise of Imran Khan has one disturbing element that it would further polarize the political environment of the country as the spoils of elections would now be distributed among three parties, hence producing weaker and strained coalitions. At the far-right another cobbled together alliance is emerging with the catchy label of Difa-i-Pakistan Council (Pakistan Defence Council), which is going to create some noise, but given the electoral performance of the religious right in the country, one can predict the outcome for this noisy and hasty medley of have-beens.
The current political chess-board is lying wide open with the players sitting finger-crossed as to what should be the next move. It seems that Imran Khan is at an advantage if he keeps addressing the public meetings; otherwise a feeling is creeping in that he has lost the momentum. The risk is that if he goes full gear in organizing and addressing the public rallies, his rhetoric which is already out of sync with the reality would lead him to more populist approach giving the opponent a fair chance to dub him a psychedelic demagogue. The parties and candidates must have been hard at work to analyse the build up to the by-polls and their outcomes. The swing constituencies with more than two neck and neck contenders would be under a charged environment where violence may erupt with like uncontrollable genie out of bottle.
PTI has already voiced its opposition to the 20th Amendment terming it non-democratic and a quidproquo arrangement between the two major parties. If matters come to a head between the PTI and the current setup, the thrust of the contest would again be focused on PML-N which shares the perception of the rightist force along with the PTI. Any such tussle would bruise PML-N more because of incumbency factor where people feel that Shahbaz Sharif could not live up to the much-trumpeted credentials of a clean and efficient administrator. As the battle-ground is going to be the upper Punjab, the PTI would capitalize on the literate population of the areas which used to be the pocket constituency of PML-N.
The next general elections whose timing is still a matter of conjecture underlining the frail democratic setup and polarised political environment of the country is going to be a critical turning point for Pakistan. There is a limit of making mistakes, and if lessons are not learnt, then things might reach the point of no return. There is already a pervasive sense of gloom and pessimism cutting across all segments of country’s population, so there is no alternative to success for the political leadership. Democracy can survive and flourish but in order for that to happen politicians from all over the country must pose a front to the challenges testing the very existence of the country. It is only after that they should contend with one another to acquire and exercise power in a prescribed way which is duly acknowledged in a democratic polity.