The pressure seems to have got to the Prime Minister. He has spoken of a fresh election, perhaps, in October. That may be, perhaps, the earliest an election can be managed. The first question is of the electoral rolls. They are supposed to be updated annually by the Election Commission. However, they have not. The matter has reached the Supreme Court, which has given a date for the completion of the task. However, the Election Commission itself has given March 23 as the date on which it would be able to complete the task. As the Supreme Court is ready to unseat those elected on the existing lists in by-elections, it would not be sensible to assume that the Supreme Court would not postpone elections until the lists are prepared.

The second task is the passage of the budget due in June. The Prime Minister may have in mind 1988, when the governments were dissolved in May, before the budgets. As a result, the first thing the new governments did was pass budgets - in November - for 1988-9. The governments had relied on an enabling provision in the Constitution, which allowed spending to continue. However, there was no room for policy decisions.

There is another reason for the government to want to hold elections after the budget. It would allow it to give an ‘election budget’, one in which people are not burdened with taxation and given benefits. As elections are due in early 2013, an early election would be any election before that.

It must not be forgotten that any election means that the opposition gets another chance at forming the government, and the government puts itself at risk. It will only do so, if it looks likely to renew its mandate, or if it thinks that its chances will only diminish.

Dissolution is a prerogative of the government, specifically of the Prime Minister. The parliamentary system does not really fix tenures, as the presidential system, but merely fixes an upper limit. One advantage is that the government can go to the country if an important enough issue arises. Many would argue that the government does, indeed, face such a problem now, and that it should go to the country. However, one disadvantage is that there is constant speculation about when the government might dissolve. There is an automatic incentive for the opposition to keep on pressing for a replay of the previous election, with the hope that this time the result will be different.

At one level, there does not seem to be any particular reason for a fresh election, but there has been a definite agreement, at least among the opposition, that the next election need be cleaner than in the past. The presence of a large number of bogus votes gives substantial power to someone who knows where they are, and who can cast them. That they exist has now been established; the power and method of casting them lies in unknown hands, but it is, perhaps, a matter of time only before they are identified. It should be remembered that these votes may well determine the result in an individual seat, but only if the two top candidates are sufficiently close, and if enough constituency results can be determined, the whole result can be changed. Perhaps more relevant, results can be exaggerated, to yield larger majorities than would have been obtained in an ‘unadjusted’ poll, or to moderate larger majorities into smaller ones. More significantly, smaller parties can be given more seats. Whoever can manage the results can determine the shape of the next government.

In a presidential system, it is more difficult to rig an election. True, in a presidential system it is possible to manipulate the system, but that has to be done at the earlier stage of candidate selection, for the very reasons that make it difficult to rig are the ones making it difficult to contest, with the result that the candidate selection has to be a longer process, and thus manipulable. The parties can be absolved of knowing about the manipulation of results here, because now that a major source of manipulation is about to end, in the form of dodgy electoral rolls, one party or the other should have baulked at the revision of the lists. There is the possibility that the parties know nothing about the lists, but the candidates must, and the relationship between parties and candidates is deep, but not necessarily permanent. If the parties are in ignorance, the candidates, or whoever controls the bogus votes, must have already worked out countermeasures to ensure that the next elections are as manipulated, or as fair, as the last.

Going by previous experience, the PML-N stands to win at the next election. Apart from the fact that there has been a history of alternation of power, the PPP government has signally failed to deal with the problems faced by the people, which are a combination of backbreaking inflation and series of national humiliations brought on by taking the USA’s part in the war on terror. This has been another reason why the PML-N has been campaigning for a fresh election, and the PPP resisting: the PML-N belief that it will win.

However, the PTI provides a complicating factor, and might be a reason to make the PPP go for a fresh election. If the PPP was more or less guaranteed a win, it would still be reluctant, mainly because of its ministers. For them, even an election win is no guarantee of stability, because (even if they do not lose their seats) the post-election reshuffle might see them dropped. In the peculiar circumstances of Pakistan, where the PPP Chief is not even in the National Assembly, the one person who can advise a premature dissolution, the Prime Minister, is virtually certain of the present tenure ending his stint.

The Prime Minister risks a lot when he opts for a dissolution: He loses his job, even putting his seat at risk. However, he does so in the hope of renewing his mandate, perhaps, of improving it. Yousuf Raza Gilani is unlikely to be reselected as PM, a position he has not achieved because he has won the party for himself, but because he has been selected by the President. Thus, he shares with his Cabinet colleagues the reluctance to give up a cushy job at the taxpayer’s expense.

Another factor, which will give the government pause, is the expiry of the tenure of the Chief Election Commissioner. The Election Commission is focal, and not just because Imran Khan sought reforms. However, the Commission is about to lose its CEC. If a new CEC is appointed, he will need a little time to settle in before he embarks on the task of a new election. From that perspective, October seems the right date.

The government should look to small gains. If it loses the next election, it should be glad that it will carry into the next Parliament, which will last until 2017 (barring earlier elections) a majority in the Senate, at least until March 2015. That advantage alone, combined with the preference to remain in government, is enough alone to explain the government is not using a dissolution to satisfy the opposition, as well as to put to rest its clashes with the military over memogate and the judiciary over the NRO.

Of course, the fact that the multiple crises of governance that have made the government so hapless will not be solved by the next election and people do not really see the present government, or either of its potential successors, as solving the problems they face. That is another reason the government has to put off elections, and perhaps the most important.

    The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as Executive Editor of TheNation.

    Email: maniazi@nation.com.pk