Articles of the year 2007

Divide and Win
Published on December 08th, 2007

The political battleground in Pakistan is shaping up into a grand finale with all the combatants arrayed into their positions for the showdown. With only five weeks to go for the elections, time is running short for the combatants. Some like the JI and Imran's TI have declared their intention to boycott, while the MQM, the PMLQ, are committed to running. The PMLN, PPP and the JUIF are negotiating their positions to extend an ultimatum to the Government for their participation. Their Charter of Demands is believed to include restoration of the Judiciary to the pre 2nd November position. This may be difficult, as the Government has retired some of the Judges, and sacked some. Legally it may now not be possible to reinstate these retirees, but then Pakistan is the State of the possible.

We can now assess the Strengths and weaknesses of the combatants, starting with the front runner the PMLQ as the bookies favourite. Pervez Elahi as the leading candidate from the PMLQ has the unqualified support of the Administration, and part of the Establishment, the other part being solidly behind the Sharif brothers. The PMLQ looks set to sweep the Punjab with a very few parts of Southern Punjab going the PPP way. When his accomplishments in the Punjab are tallied up, they can be almost as significant as Nawaz's two stints in power, and because they are in the recent past or still ongoing, their vote pulling capacity will be substantial. Also their have been no major scandals to offset these assets. The Chaudris have also established a good working relationship with the armed forces, so there is no negative feed back from this important arm of the Government. The MQM has established and now consolidated its base in Sindh, and with its highly organized and efficient managerial skill, can only extend its vote bank throughout Sindh—mostly at the expense of the rural PPP. This has increased with the absence of Benazir from Pakistan for almost 11 years, and now it is established as a main player in the political arena.

The JUI F, is now the biggest shareholder in the NWFP and Baluchistan. With the crafty Maulana Fazlur Rahman spreading his influence in the two provinces due to his wielding the power for the last five years. He is also ready to partake in the elections and is firmly against a boycott. And stands to gain a good deal of the JI votes.The three parties above have a very substantial following and with all three contesting can give a strong sense of credibility to the election.

The PMLN will have to contest with or without Nawaz, the latest news being that the rank and file of the PML is already geared up to participating with or without the boycott. Nawaz and Shahbaz have both been disqualified from the elections, and by not appealing their disqualifications they are sticking to their 'principled stands' have won considerable admiration from the rank and file which will translate into votes, for their nominees. The PPP is now negotiating with Nawaz for a boycott, and has already negotiated a 'First Prime Minister' with Nawaz. This will cost her in votes, for the people have not quite recovered from the NRO. When the election campaigns begin, and the mudslinging starts, it will be Benazir that will attract the most vicious remarks. For in an election campaign the hecklers will be out in force, with the TV cameras focusing on the dirt to fill their viewership.

Meanwhile President Musharraf is watching the unfolding drama, seemingly above it all. He has made his moves, removing anyone who was perceived as a hurdle. He is also fortunate that the opposition is frayed and is at odds with each other. Compounding these problems is the shortage of time, and with only five weeks, it seems that the voters have been ignored till now. There is no campaign, no posters, no blaring loud speakers, one cannot believe that an election is dead ahead. The voter is forgotten as of now. Even on Television the emphasis is on the Boycott, with the Bookies taking bets on the boycott and not on the candidates as such. Again it seems for now that Musharraf is holding the trumps, unless Nawaz, Benazir and Maulana Fazlur Rahman can sign a unanimous boycott. The bookies are giving extremely long odds on a boycott, pointing to an impossibility! The only unknown factor which could swing the entire election is the hamfisted handling of the Media. With the unbridled, hitherto unknown freedom enjoyed by the Media—thanks to the largesse of Musharraf, the crackdown has brought anger that is simmering amongst the Journalists. With their newly found importance, it will be difficult to rein them in, or persecute them. It would be far more sensible to bring them into the fold and offer an olive branch which would be of mutual benefit.