Samson Simon Sharaf
The future's not ours, to see
Que Sera, Sera. What will be, will be.”
Jay Livingston and Ray Evans
Pakistan’s electoral scene has complicated beyond conventional soothsayers and clairvoyants. A caretaker government is in power, but yet to show any intent or fervour to tackle the challenges it has inherited.
As a wild card, General (retd) Pervez Musharraf has returned with his uncharacteristic demeanour and a mysterious aura around him. As a development of reconciliation, the estranged ex-Chief Minister of Balochistan, Akhtar Mengal, is willing to re-enter electoral politics. While the former heads into an uncertain future, the latter will leave an imprint on the course of Baloch politics in Pakistan and stability of the federation.
Conspiracy theorists view the entry of Musharraf with linkages to the establishment and rise of a third force in electoral politics. They also opine that Mengal has been persuaded by outside actors to re-carve his space in a federation and provide stability in Balochistan, which is crucial to a safe US-led exit from Afghanistan.
I also wrote in my column, entitled “The 2013 Elections” on December 5, these elections are being conducted with an overhang of the contemplated US-led Nato withdrawal from the region. Hence, the politics of many actors will hinge on their specific roles to these objectives. If true, the run up to the elections will be a fierce contest between the forces of inertia and harbingers of change. Though Imran Khan with his slogan of “Naya Pakistan” leads the anti-status quo group, General (retd) Musharraf and Allama Tahirul Qadri also reckon themselves as contenders to either build synergy or disrupt it. The next few weeks will witness a resurrected military dictator turned democrat fortify his credentials before the courts or else face the indignity of irrelevance.
In contrast, the parties that governed Pakistan in the past five years will find it very difficult to defend themselves against the accusations of attrition caused to it during their tenure. Their credentials will be further challenged by rising inflation, energy shortages and corruption. It seems that to obviate these hurdles and retain a somewhat level playing field, some homework was done and embedded in the system. Hence, the episode of caretaker drama scripted to perfection. They are now set to follow a plan and pattern carefully crafted for them by the man on the hill, President Asif Ali Zardari. More than appeal to the electorate, the contours of this plan harbour on prolonging the status quo and gratify and groom goons, rather than the true representatives of the people. This is something that has put all incumbents in a fix and widened cracks within PPP, PML-N and PML-Q.
First, both camps floated names for the caretaker Prime Minister, followed by a slandering and malicious campaign against each other. Ultimately, the ball was thrown into the court of the Election Commission, who selected the least controversial as the caretaker Prime Minister.
Unfortunately, the man chosen is divorced from political realities, lacks insight into Pakistan’s pressing problems and is taking his own time in choosing his cabinet. It is still uncertain how the new government will tackle the issues of debt, energy, corruption and violence overshadowing the elections. This itself puts a question mark on the efficacy of the electoral process.
This was followed by the high drama of selecting a ‘love and hate’ Najam Sethi as the Chief Minister of Punjab. What happens in Punjab will decide the post-election course of politics. Najam with his ability to analyse and suggest is likely to emerge as the most influential member of the federal cabinet who would overshadow the Prime Minister. He will be the man to watch. The intriguing delay in selection of rest of the caretaker team does not auger well for the prospects of the country.
Secondly, as written in “Pakistan’s Stinking Black Hole” on February 9, 2013, the elections will also be overshadowed by Pakistan’s debt trap, corruption, energy shortages and violence. Logically, the caretakers have no option from shying away in order to pass the buck to the new government. Yet in Pakistan where anything is possible, the caretakers are most likely to go through the motions of conducting elections and nothing else. This will throw the onus of accountability on the Election Commission and occasional directions of the Supreme Court. As a result, all ex-rulers, who ought to be held accountable, will be relieved of many pressures to go their traditional style of electoral politics with the hope of coming back to power. Whoever wins will be handed a country in serious crises.
It is against this backdrop that political parties are in a race against time to finalise their candidate list. Those who enjoyed their days in power are rushing to clear defaults. They are also haunted by their misdeeds of incumbency, Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution and fake degrees. To compound matters, the sweeping popularity of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf jeer at them. To compound their vulnerability, Musharraf and Qadri stare down their throats.
I still believe that Musharraf had a chance in 1999, but erred in redeeming himself. Within a year, he fell prey and developed an ear to the clutter of fly by night reformers, sycophants and concentric circles of advisers. The international actors played on his self-assessed invincibility as vulnerability and nudged him into indispensability. I hope General Musharraf has had sufficient time for introspection about his logical role in future politics. If he thinks himself a messiah, he is once again on a false trajectory. Within the short time divided between party management, electoral politics and visits to the courts, it may not be possible for him to build a constituency of his own. However, nothing stops him to put his leadership skills, experience and prowess to best use in acting as a voice of reason and change for his countrymen. The best role he can carve for himself is to build synergy that naturally pours into the dream of a “Naya Pakistan”. That puts Imran Khan firmly on the deck of the ship that promises change for Pakistan.
The crises of federation and negative socio-economic conditions put 2013 at par with 1970. The elections will be overshadowed by divisive agendas, hate, violence and lawlessness. The ability of the law enforcement agencies and Election Commission will be tested to the last sinew. Parties with little electoral experience will be treading into unfamiliar territory. They will have no option but to fight to the finish.
Sick and tired of the moth-eaten system, all Pakistanis ask a question; would the 2013 elections be a game changer or will they sink Pakistan yet again into the proverbial black hole of Pakistan’s politics? The answer is, come out and vote.