As the general elections are approaching, the estranged PML-N leaders are increasingly talking about their perceived marginalization and political victimization. They are making complaints about pre-poll rigging. They look dissatisfied for not being offered a level playing field ahead of these polls. So they have just pushed a political narrative forward that the Khalai Makhlook (aliens) are trying to render PML-N politically irrelevant in the country thorough ‘political engineering’. Essentially reinforcing this narrative, PML-N ‘supreme leader’ Nawaz Sharif has recently said that only PML-N is the target of disqualifications and political victimization in the name of accountability and rule of law while their opponents are getting favoured treatment. Similarly, PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif has been critical of the ‘biased’ accountability drive against him and his senior bureaucrats in Punjab though he is also talking about political reconciliation and dialogue. Coincidentally or otherwise, there has been a series of political developments in Pakistan during a year or so which is just strengthening the PML-N’s current political narrative.

The troubled PML-N is likely to dispute the credibility and fairness of the forthcoming polls in the country. It would try to make the results of these polls controversial. Though not necessarily justifiable, this political party apparently has many reasons to do this. To begin with, the party’s former president Nawaz Sharif was first removed from the premiership by the apex court for not disclosing his ‘unwithdrawn receivables’ last year. Later, the ‘supreme leader’ was not only disqualified for life to contest elections to become a member of Parliament but was also debarred from heading his own political party. Now a firebrand PML-N leader Daniyal Aziz has been convicted and disqualified in a contempt of court case by the apex court. The troubled party’s other prominent leaders like Ahsan Iqbal, Talal Chaudhry and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi are also facing contempt of court proceedings. An election appellate tribunal disqualified former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi from contesting elections from his home constituency. Last week, NAB readily arrested Raja Qamar-ul-Islam, a PML-N candidate in NA-59, over his alleged involvement in Punjab’s Saaf Pani Company scam as soon as the party leadership officially announced its nomination in this important National Assembly constituency.

A large number of PML-N’s ‘electables’ have joined PTI during the last few months. In another mysterious development, a number of PML-N candidates from the Southern Punjab region have announced contesting elections as independent candidates after returning their party tickets. Two months ago, more than a dozen ‘disgruntled’ PML-N lawmakers from Southern Punjab, who had formed Junoobi Punjab Suba Mahaz (JPSM), formally merged into PTI to contest upcoming elections under the PTI banner. So PML-N is no more a strong political party in the Southern Punjab region. PML-N candidates are also facing strong criticism and condemnation from a particular religious group for introducing a controversial amendment in Khatm-e-Nabuwwat clause of electoral laws last year. A few days ago, former law minister Zahid Hamid was attacked by a group of similar people while he was going to get electoral symbol from a local Returning Officer in Sialkot district. Earlier, we have also witnessed a number of shoe-throwing incidents targeting various prominent PML-N leaders, including Nawaz Sharif.

Noticeably, PML-N has been the primary victim of the ‘jurisprudence’ evolved by the apex court to disqualify any parliamentarian for being not a ‘Sadiq’ and ‘Ameen’. Now the provincial High Courts and election tribunals have also started disqualifying legislators on this very ground. Certainly, this ‘sword of disqualification’ will be hanging over heads of parliamentarians in the future too. Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) is actively participating in the upcoming elections. It has fielded its candidates to contest elections throughout the country. The sudden emergence and rise of TLP in Pakistan have raised many eyebrows. It is believed that this party has been ‘sponsored’ to undermine the political strength and relevance of PML-N in the country. It is a fact that the major chunk of the followers and supporters of this party is a particular conservative segment of the society which has been part of the traditional vote-bank of PML-N. TLP is unlikely to make any significant breakthrough in these elections. However, it will certainly minimize the PML-N’s prospects for winning these elections.

Nawaz Sharif has also maintained that his party candidates are being pressurized to contest elections in their individual capacity after opting for the election symbol of ‘jeep’. PML-N defectors Chaudhry Nisar Ali and Zaeem Qadri have been allotted a ‘jeep’ as their electoral symbol by the ECP. Strangely, PML-N candidates from the Southern Punjab, who have returned their party tickets, are also applying to get ‘jeep’ as an electoral symbol. Probably, ‘jeep’ and ‘crane’ (an electoral symbol allotted to TLP) would help do the desired ‘political engineering’ in the country. The electoral symbol of ‘jeep’ would soon represent another anti-PML-N electoral alliance.

At the moment, it is almost obvious PML-N won’t be in a position to form next government following the upcoming polls. Naturally, it would try to make these polls controversial. It has already rejected the appointment of Dr. Hasan Askri Rizvi as the caretaker Chief Minister of Punjab after formally recording its protest over this issue. Therefore, PML-N leaders would overplay the perceived ‘bias and partisanship’ of the superior judiciary, accountability institutions and the caretaker government against them. They would also try to establish a nexus between these state institutions and the military establishment. Moreover, if PML-N, as an electoral political party, collapses altogether before the upcoming polls as a result of ongoing ‘political engineering’, it may boycott these polls to avoid a major defeat. Nawaz Sharif has already hinted at boycotting these polls. Indeed, this would be another unfortunate development. This PML-N move would undermine the very credibility and transparency of these polls internationally.

Pakistan is currently facing many grave challenges domestically and internationally. The changing geopolitical dynamics in the region are indeed a matter of serious concern for Pakistan. Low economic growth rate, low revenue collection, high public debt, and rising fiscal and current account deficit continue to plague the country’s economy. At this stage, we can by means afford another controversial election accompanied by another prolonged protest and agitation by the opposition political parties. Therefore, the superior judiciary shouldn’t excessively exercise its extraordinary jurisdiction to disqualify legislators. NAB and other investigating agencies should also refrain from apprehending contesting candidates until the ongoing electoral process is over. Similarly, the all-powerful military establishment should also try to dilute the impression that it is manipulating politics to the disadvantage of PML-N. PML-N should not be provided an opportunity to dispute the results of forthcoming polls. Indeed, there is no point in doing things which would eventually render these polls controversial.

 

The writer is a lawyer and columnist based in Lahore.

mohsinraza.malik@ymail.com

@MohsinRazaMalik