Asif Haroon Raja
THE voters went to the allocated polling stations early in the morning of July 25 to take part in the 13th general elections. The voting started at 8 a.m. amidst sea of doubts, scepticism, hopes and high emotions. 85000 polling stations had been established all over the country and elaborate arrangements were made by the caretakers to ensure free and fair elections. For the first time, the Army spared 350,000 troops to ensure security and transparent elections. Extraordinary preparations had become essential in the wake of disturbed security situation, extreme political polarisation, intense PML-N and PTI rivalry, and former’s anti-judiciary cum establishment narrative.
Till the winding up of polling process at 6 pm, there were no complaints of rigging or mismanagement heard from any quarter. Over 55% voters polled their votes. Results of counting of votes of each candidate started appearing on TV screens from 7 pm onward. All went well till midnight after which all except PTI started complaining about poll rigging. President PML-N Shahbaz Sharif (SS) flanked by Mushahid Hussain, Maryam Aurangzeb and Musadiq Malik held a hurried press conference at 11 pm. They complained of lack of transparency and widespread irregularities in elections.
ECP Secretary Babar Yaqub vainly tried to cool down the tempers of the complainants. He admitted that failure of transmission system procured from abroad caused the delay in transmitting results. Another excuse given was that some polling agents had themselves left the rooms once they learnt that their candidates were losing. Earlier on, before and during the election campaign, Nawaz Sharif (NS) and his daughter Maryam kept the political temperature high by blaming the judiciary, NAB and the Establishment of pre-poll rigging and systematic demolition of PML-N aimed at giving a free run to PTI to win the elections. It was alleged that selective accountability, manipulation and coercion impelled 61 MNAs belonging to the ruling party to desert. They further alleged that BAP, PSP, GDA, and Jeep were the creations of Establishment to castrate PML-N.
PML-N that had retained its unassailable hold over Lahore fortress was for the first time breached by four contestants of PTI. Rest of 10 seats were retained by PML-N. Although PML-N has a narrow edge over PTI in Punjab, the PTI can form a govt with the help of independents, PML-Q, AML, and BAP. PTI ended the winning streaks of MQM in their strongholds in Karachi and emerged as the 2nd largest party in Sindh, but it failed to trounce the monopoly of PPP over Sindh, a setback in the July 25 outcome.
IK highlighted his future course of action. Unlike his rash and aggressive posturing, he appeared calm and composed and talked maturely. He renewed his pledges to make Pakistan a welfare state, set aside culture of ostentation and adopt austerity, start process of accountability from himself and his ministers, safeguard taxpayers money, promote culture of tax, strengthen anti-corruption systems, reinvigorate the slumping economy, spend more on human development and on poverty alleviation, accord preference to the deprived class and uplift their fortunes. He pledged to improve governance system and introduce a system never seen before. He intends to convert PM House, Governor Houses and State guest houses in Murree into public facilities.
He spelled out his foreign policy by highlighting continued closeness with China, learning from China’s experience in taking 70 crore people out of poverty and dealing with menace of corruption. He expressed his keenness to restore peace in Afghanistan and to open the border, maintain best of relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia, and play a conciliatory role to end differences among Middle East countries. He desired two-way friendly relations with India and resolution of core dispute of Kashmir through dialogue. He also stressed on maintaining balanced and mutually beneficial relations with USA.
In the end, he talked of allegations of rigging made by political parties. He welcomed a probe and assured his full cooperation. This reconciliatory bluster was aimed at soothing the rising tempers of his political opponents and to prevent PML-N from resorting to sit-in. While his policy assertions are well meaning, what he must not forget is that that he has housed large numbers of turncoats who have joined PTI in search of greener pastures. Old habits don’t die. With turncoats and the types of Jahangir Tareen and Aleem Khan around him, one wonders how he will implement the desired austerity and make Pakistan corruption free. I reckon, Aleem Khan is tipped as CM Punjab.
With regard to the contours of his foreign policy, I see it similar to the one pursued by the last regime or the previous ones. Big question is, will he be able to bring a change in rigid stance of India and Afghanistan, and remove the mistrust of USA, and above all, adopt a pro-active policy? His mention of open border with Afghanistan has raised many eyebrows. Already he was under severe criticism on account of his secret parleys with infamous Manzoor Pashteen and seat adjustments with him. After 70 years, Pakistan decided to fence the western border which is being done by the army at a heavy financial and human cost. Any reversal in this process will have serious implications. After NS, it’s now IK’s turn in the barrel. Let us see how he conducts himself and behaves under duress and takes timely and sanguine decisions.
But for the irregularities on part of the EC, elections were by and large fair and transparent. What is undesirable is the resentful mood of the opposition parties particularly the JUI-F that are trying to make the elections controversial and are bracing to start agitations. Hopefully, PML-N will not adopt disruptive politics to settle scores with PTI. Given the grave economic situation and troublesome security situation, resort to politics of agitation is least desirable, although some are of the view that PTI should be paid in the same coin. I wish IK and his party ocean of luck and pray that he lives up to his promises, rid Pakistan of its multiple ailments, make Pakistan prosperous and self-reliant, and restore the dignity of the nation.
—The writer, retired Brig, is war veteran, defence analyst and columnist based in Rawalpindi.