The two major political parties in Pakistan have finally agreed to hold elections in accordance with the constitution, which stipulates that elections must be held within 60 days if the National Assembly is dissolved at the end of its normal term, or within 90 days if it is dissolved earlier.
If the assemblies are dissolved earlier than their customary duration, the most pressing issue is who will benefit from an additional thirty days. With an additional month at their disposal, the IPP and PTI-P will have more time to adjust to the new realities that struck them and their members a little earlier than the rest of the nation. In many instances, the hastily garnered members learned of their entry into the new parties shortly before or during the widely publicized gatherings. The entire nation witnessed PTI stalwarts hiding their faces, avoiding the cameras they had previously sought affectionately, making deliberate gestures and moves intended to convey the message of their forced participation, and a few of them even claimed that they learned the purpose of the meeting only when it began. They will make the most of this extra month to create comradeship, gel together, understand the vision, mission, and objectives of their newly formed parties, and develop their manifestos, which is not a difficult task given that the only option they have is to copy and paste sections of manifestos of other parties that are readily available on the internet.
These extra 30 days may provide the PTI with much-needed time to heal its wounds, gather strength, regroup, and develop an election strategy with whatever strength and energy they have left after attending the multiple and never-ending court hearings in different parts of the country, many of which are scheduled at the same time and same day in different and distant parts of the country, and appearing before the GIT, NAB, and FIA and police stations and consuming most of the party’s time and energy.
In contrast, postponing elections will negatively impact both the PML(N) and the PPP. Both parties have exhausted all available options and discharged every round from their arsenals. Their greatest accomplishment, however, will remain the annihilation of the PTI and reduce the larger than life size of the PTI Chairman. They have used all of their intelligence, knowledge, and experience to improve the country’s financial and economic condition, reduce poverty, provide education to all school-aged children, reduce inflation, increase the value of the Pakistani rupee, attract investment, reduce imports and multiply exports, and align Pakistan’s ranking on all vital indicators with that of developed nations. These are their extravagant claims that contradict the facts on the ground.
Furthermore, they may be able to sell the growth in foreign exchange levels, which are expected to fall soon after making some crucial debt payments, because our liabilities have grown out of proportion to our sources of income. By any stretch of the imagination, we will not be using these borrowed funds and deposits to increase our sources of income, but rather to pay off urgent internal and external obligations. Soon, the people will be bitten by the IMF’s proposed financial and economic stringent measures and will be looking for someone to blame, and it will be in the interests of both the PPP and the PML(N) to allow the people to vent their feelings against the caretaker governments for two months before returning to power after winning the elections, which now look much more difficult with the formation of two new parties allegedly with the support of the establishment, to achieve some concrete objectives and not for fun. If only the PTI was the only target. the establishment might have chose to strengthen and support either the PPP or the PML(N), but it appears that the target is the PTI and the PPP/PML(N).
Like PPP and PML(N) this one additional month does not suit JUI and other smaller parties. This to them means one more month out of power, especially when they have a fixed vote bank that will not alter whether the elections are held a month earlier or later.
There are however two stakeholders which are going to benefit from an additional month before going to elections. The members of the caretaker government who will have a full month to enjoy being in power and establishment to consolidate and strengthen the gains it has made after 9th May and also further strengthened and finetune its new products IPP and PTI-P and made them strong enough to achieve all the set objectives which may include, either winning the election, or damaging the traditional parties so much that they would even if in the government will be ransomed by the opposition, giving complete control on national discourse to the Establishment.
The decision to go for election as per constitution was taken during a meeting between Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif held in Dubai, but fact is that the entire nation will remain on razor’s edge and in a state of disbelief till the elections are actually held on the face of different theories of setting up government of technocrats, extending the period of caretakers and our propensity to disregard and trounce constitution with impunity. The Nation is also deeply concerned and worried and correct in its right to express doubt regarding holding of free, fair and transparent elections, and even if held in fair manner, acceptance of its result by the stakeholders. One thing is certain that only that party would accept the result which will win the elections while all other parties are likely to reject the elections. PTI, which is battered, deeply wounded and truncated, is likely to reject the elections due to charges of pre-poll rigging which allegedly started soon after the ouster of PTI Chairman from the office of the Prime Minister and reached its peak after the unfortunate incidents of 9th May, in the guise of which the party as if now has been spilt by two cesarean surgical operations first into two parts and later into three parts, and while keeping in view the pattern, new splinter groups of PTI may emerge in Balochistan, Sindh and later in GB and AJK. At this point of time PTI most likely is the only party which is subjected to ruthless crackdown, therefore may feel correct in to object for not being provided with level playing field and may have ample reasons to reject the election results and continue its politics of agitation, only if, it was allowed to exist till that time, and Imran Khan was still its chairman. The PML(N), PPP and JUI will not accept elections results if the IPP and PTI-P will win more seat than its actual worth of disproportionate to other parties.
In this backdrop both PPP and PTI should rethink many times before committing to dissolve the assembly before its routine tenure. The routine duration of the NA will be completed on 12 midnight of 12th August, 2023. Which would mean that the summary seeking President’s approval will have to be sent to the President on or before 8th August. The president had the option to approve the proposal the same day, and if he chose not to approve, the assembly would automatically stand dissolved after 48 hours from date and time of sending the summary to the president house. But the big question is that, ‘can the government without any reason dissolve the assemblies before completing its normal period which ends on midnight of 12th August 2023’, the answer is yes.
The duration of the National Assembly is primarily governed by two articles of the constitution. Article 52 states that the “National Assembly shall, unless sooner dissolved, continue for a term of five years from the day of its first meeting and shall stand dissolved at the expiration of its term” If the assemblies are dissolved under article 52, elections must be held within 60 days of the dissolution date. Article 58 specifies the procedure to be followed if the NA is dissolved before the end of its usual tenure. It states that “the President shall dissolve the National Assembly if so advised by the Prime Minister; and the National Assembly shall stand dissolved at the expiration of forty-eight hours after the Prime Minister has so advised, unless sooner dissolved.” If the parliament is dissolved early, the Prime Minister is not required to give a reason, and it cannot be contested in any court of law.
Both PML(N) and PPP have already chosen who is going to be the next caretaker Prime Minister and members of the cabinet. Reportedly, their interviews have already been convened like they were convened in 2008 by Asif Ali Zardari in the newly constructed Bilawal House. The PPP is of the strong opinion that the caretaker Prime Minister should be a politician whereas, PML(N) may narrow down on one media elite. Rest is a piece of cake, the Prime Minister will write to Raja Riaz, the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, a stooge and would seek his opinion to complete the formalities. There is no likelihood of any impasse and therefore, the name of the caretaker Prime Minister will be finalized and notified in the coming days. Who after swearing in will choose his cabinet. The government once formed will be empowered to take day to day routine decisions and to assist the election commission in holding of so called free, fair and transparent elections, the credibility of which has already been under question even before they are held.
The only way to pull the country out of its financial quagmire, state of hopelessness and despair, and put it on the path to development and prosperity is for elections to be held in a free, fair, and transparent manner, and it is a hope against hope that all stakeholders will accept the election results. However, if we as a country fail this test, as seems inevitable, we will continue to slide deeper into obscurity and insensitivity.