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With general elections due somewhere after mid-2018, the expectations of the people and the stakes thereof has evolved dramatically with the political scenario changing almost on a daily basis. The Supreme Court (SC) verdict voiding Election Act 2017 and thus disqualifying Nawaz Sharif as party head has confounded all elections predictions by throwing what amounts to a monkey wrench into the electoral process.

In the NA-120 bye election held in Sept 2017 Begum Kulsoom Nawaz of PML-N polled over 61000 votes defeating PTI’s Dr. Yasmin Rashid’s 47000 votes. Ali Khan Tareen, son of PTI stalwart Jahangir Tareen who held the Lodhran NA-154 seat before being disqualified in Dec last, received over 90000 votes but lost by a considerable margin to PML(N)’s  Iqbal Shah.      Lodhran was a significant PML(N) victory, for the PTI a major upset in a stronghold from where Jahangir Tareen’s margin of victory in 2015 was almost 40000 votes. Even with PML (N) dominant, expectations for mostly a straight PML(N)-PTI fight in the Punjab will change. There is now likely a late PTI surge to coincide with defections by the disenchanted in the PML (N) camp, this process force-multiplying after Nawaz’s convictions in the PanamaGate case.

Sindh’s rural areas remain a strong support base of the PPP. Except for individual PML (F) exceptions, PPP’s candidates have won every election hands down since the party’s inception in late 1967, this despite not bringing about any major change in the lives of the common man. The backing of the entire administrative machinery makes pre-poll rigging very much a certainty. With the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) becoming a laughing stock and in a meltdown, Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) of former Mayor Mustafa Kamal, stands to gain. The joker in the pack be-devilling PPP is Rao Anwar who Zardari inadvertently confirmed as his rumoured “hitman” by labelling him “a brave kid” in a recent interview.  There was method in Zardari’s seeming madness publicly sending a message of support to Rao Anwar, his possibly turning “approver” adds to Uzair Baloch as a Zardari nightmare! Unfortunately Rao Anwar’s Catch-22 is that his detractors want him alive to face trial but his “friends”, and there many in the Sindh Police, want him dead.  Given the sorry history of witnesses against Zardari being murdered, not surprising that knowing this “routine” this “walking dead man” has done the disappearing act, from friend and foe alike.

Nawaz Sharif’s recent massive election rally in Peshawar notwithstanding he cannot overtake PTI in KPK. Following the PML (N), JI and JUI (F), PPP and Aftab Sherpao’s JWP may get the odd seat or two. Without an outright majority, PTI may well continue with a coalition govt with the JI. In our first-past-the-post system the loss of Nawaz the “vote getter” as opposed to Shahbaz Sharif the “doer” in the campaign trail will be badly felt by the PML(N).  Even given that they still get maximum seats in the Punjab, PML(N) will need the PPP and independents to form the govt in the Center. While the once-vaunted PPP may not have far more than a dozen seats or so, PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto has come of political age, being “re-launched” post Davos 2018. Interviewed by an Indian publication while attending the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos recently, he vowed critics by deftly answering some very loaded questions.

The recent run-up to the Senate Elections shows that manipulation and horse trading of the worst kind is the order of the day. Former Speaker of the Senate Wasim Sajjad has expressed forcefully that there must be direct elections to the Senate. An indirect election is always riddled with corruption, the whole process of democracy being called into question. The PML(N) faces a potential electoral disaster in the Senate by taking an emotional instead of a calculated risk by having the Senate applications signed by Nawaz Sharif, conceivably all PML (N) Senate aspirants could have their papers declared “void”. Subject to legal challenges, one can be sure that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will bail the PML (N) out somehow.

During the hearing of   whether a person disqualified by the SC can head a political party, some remarks were passed by the Court, the PML (N) is militating against this. Across most country judges do pass such remarks but what is relevant is the contents of their eventual judgment. While he was eloquent about the right of Parliament to enact laws without direction from anyone, implying the Supreme Court (SC) (and maybe the Army?).  The PM’s parliamentary initiative out of the blue was certainly a desperate attempt at a pre-emptive strike.  While he was correct, Shahid Khaqan should have added that it is also the moral and bounden duty of the SC to strike down laws repugnant to the Constitution.  On Wednesday last the SC gave a fitting reply by exercising “their” prerogative under the Constitution to strike down Election Act 2017.

Convicted or not, Maryam Nawaz is clearly not acceptable to the hard core PML(N) loyalists like Ch Nisar Ali Khan who has openly called her “inept to hold office” and that he will “not work under her”. Those who know her or have worked with Maryam do praise her political acumen and other qualities, unfortunately in public perception she comes across as a spoilt brat. Logic demands Shahbaz becomes PM but Hamza’s taking over as Chief Minister (CM) Punjab will be opposed by cousin Maryam with Shahbaz unlikely to trust Punjab to anyone else, he will most likely stay on as CM. The PML(N) will have to compromise like they did earlier in choosing as stopgap Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. PM Abbasi has surprised everyone, people generally across the board are more than happy with his commendable performance. Some hard-bitten foreign journalists asked me in Davos, “where have you been hiding him?” If the Establishment continues being comfortable with him, he will be the odds-on choice to be the next elected Prime Minister.

Given our bleak financial circumstances and other national headaches general elections may be delayed till September, or maybe even October. However the present political momentum and the damning court verdict gives PML (N) adequate reason for the elections announcement to come sooner than later, maybe soon after the Senate results, the elections being held 90 days thereafter.  Is electioneering possible during Ramzan and the heat? God may then well listen to the fervent prayers of all Pakistanis to rid us of the looters and murderers proliferating in our political leadership


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