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The election conundrum

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The National and Provincial Assemblies have completed their tenures and caretakers have assumed controls to see through Pakistan till the next transition. Despite a week in office, the cabinets are incomplete. As the realities of the onerous challenges dawn on them so will the late inductions into the cabinets.

It is also important to take cognisance of the international and regional dynamics on the outcome of these elections. Though to ordinary voters, it may appear to be just another election, Pakistan’s political parties need to carry out a quick appraisal and comprehend external factors that may affect the ultimate outcome in this mother of all elections.

Though the caretakers are exclusively required to conduct credible elections and hand over power to the elected government, Pakistan’s peculiar circumstances warrant immediate action on three counts to arrest the rot. If not, any new government particularly parties thriving on anti-US rhetoric will default on its election promises.

As the budgetary year closes, Pakistan’s debt trap is the biggest source of concern. So far, no economic team has been selected to prepare the framework of negotiations with the IMF and the draft of the 2013-14 budget. This factor alone would put the newly-elected government in a weak bargaining position.

Endemic institutional corruption continues to run beyond the scrutiny of the election candidates. In order to forestall the Nab inquiries into the PSO affairs where annual corruption runs into trillions, an effort is at hand to palm off Chairman PSO Sohail Wajahat Siddiqui to the federal cabinet. His position as minister will prevent the Nab from investigating into the mega scandal during the course of the election campaign.

Control of violence, particularly in Karachi, has been left to the directives of the Supreme Court. Punjab once again became the ugly scene of communal violence at Gujranwala. Balochistan is already on a boil.

The methods of scrutiny through Articles 62 and 63 have opened a Pandora’s Box of contradictions in Pakistan’s politic body. In case Ayaz Amir’s disqualification is not overturned in appeals, it will set a precedence to deny space to the moderate and educated elements that tend to see Pakistan in the light of the Lahore Resolution, rather than the ideology of Pakistan imposed by military dictators.

It appears that some segments of this confused and inconsistent scrutiny will impact on social harmony in Pakistan and political aspirants of the future will be reluctant to debate questions that pertain to the difference between ‘Jinnah ka Pakistan’ and ‘Dictators ka Pakistan’. In contrast, those involved in planning, abetting and promoting violence have gone scot-free. The fake degree cases being handled by session judges will also result in a high rate of convictions.

It appears that in this game fiercely contested by President Asif Ali Zardari, judiciary, Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the establishment, the die has been cast and the familiar narrative of regime change has morphed to a new methodology. Odds now are against the President and his NRO allies. The high attrition of mainstream politicians presents two scenarios.

First, the parties may still go ahead by trusting reins in the hand of second and third tier leadership. Secondly, the casualties may force some parties to boycott the elections.

The rider clause is that all disqualified candidates will be automatically debarred from holding party positions under the Political Parties Act and lose it forever. This may lead these parties into agitation and lawlessness on the streets that may run berserk.

The logical outcomes thence are elections on schedule or extension in the caretakers morphing into a technocrat interim government for a fixed period under orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Alternatively, if elections go as scheduled, Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf with a major part of its top leadership intact could turn out to be the most winnable group to contest and lead a future coalition. However, its lack of homework in Sindh, Southern Punjab and Balochistan may deprive it of a ruling majority.

The scrutiny of ex-President Pervez Musharraf would decide his role in any future political dispensation. With his papers rejected in Kasur, he faces an uncertain future and an uphill task with far-reaching consequences. Deprived of presidential immunity, the scrutiny would ultimately disqualify President Zardari as a candidate with Faryal Talpur remaining the obvious choice.

Against this backdrop, the caretakers backed by the presidency, seem in no hurry to commence a stabilisation process against terrorism. This means prolonging and fanning discontent and fractures, depriving the next government to take a head start on the three critical issues mentioned above.

The biggest fear is that if there are no settled elections in Pakistan, the downturn would continue and plunge the state into chaos and a fierce internal conflict with an overhang of US-led withdrawal from Afghanistan. To overcome this scary scenario, the interim option would present itself as the most logical in a carefully crafted but dangerous situation.

In case the above scenario is possible, the flurry of recent diplomacy between London, Dubai, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bonn and Ankara indicates awareness of the fallouts of the contemplated exit from Afghanistan on Pakistan.

In this context, probabilities lead to possibilities. Otherwise, what explanation could one offer on the return of ex-President Musharraf and the silence of PML-N and PPP on the development? It appears that within Obama’s new political direction, the USA wants to give Pakistan a chance to bring prosperity and peace within and the region.

However, the complexity of a government that lacks capacity, a wait and see establishment, self-serving politicians and an expected split mandate may lack the combined will to put Pakistan on that elusive road.

Since the arguments in this article are based on an overhang, nothing would be complete without factorising Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai is running towards the end of his two term tenure in 2014. Given the traditional and primordial Afghan tendencies, he will be tempted to shift his focus to the lower trajectories of rhetoric and tirades against Pakistan.

One of the effects of such a U-turn in Afghan politics will be their traditional propensity to ignore all suggestions and do things the Afghan way. This would put the Pak-Afghan relations on a downward trend till such time a new President is chosen. Though expediency would demand a return of a Pashtun face, there remains a strong possibility of men like Abdullah Abdullah to return to power, if a similar electoral drama is also enacted across the Durand Line.

To continue exerting pressure on Pakistan and Afghanistan with weak coalitions, the dreaded AfPak variant could melt further converting both sides of the line in one unstable geographical zone to the determent of Pakistan’s interests.

It appears that there are some elements who wish the Pakistan Army to undertake fight to the finish strategy. This school feels that such a fierce and prolonged engagement would serve the ends of the ‘memo strategy’ and cause the demise of a military-led establishment.

It is in the overhang of such international and regional environments that Pakistan is passing through the electoral process, which could take many twist and turns in the days to come. Yet, all political parties are focused on electoral issues, rather than what lies in wait for them.

Though constitutionalists would wish that the democratic process should continue, the anathema lies in the very transparent term of free, fair and credible elections. The process of qualifications under the constitution would invalid at many old and familiar faces with the possibility of violent reactions.

To get over this hill and continue with the evolution of democratic norms should be the concern of all political leaders. Once in power, they can debate and bring changes to Articles 62 and 63 that give sweeping powers to the ECP.

It is also in the interests of Pakistanis across all divides to continue the debate between the Lahore Resolution and ideology of Pakistan in line with the dynamics of Pakistan Movement. The key to restoring democratic stability is, therefore, in the hands of those who are most likely to be penalised under the qualification clauses.

“Que Sera Sera!” What will be, will be!

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/asianet/130409/the-election-conundrum