All the political parties are already into their election campaigns much before the installation of the care taker government and the announcement of the election date by the ECP. The PTI has taken lead in presenting its election manifesto based on eleven point agenda unfurled by Imran Khan at a public rally in Lahore on 29th April. It was undoubtedly a mammoth gathering and well worth the money that was spent in creating media hype and behind the scene efforts put in by the well wishers of the party. But the fact remains that the arena was mostly filled with the people brought from all over Pakistan, especially KPK by the MNAs and the party leaders.
The PTI and its mentors might entertain the illusion that it was a successful re-launch of Imran Khan and could lead to denting the popularity of its staunch rival and presently the ruling party PML (N) but the people savvy of the dynamics of politics do not feel impressed by the show and rightly point out that public rallies, particularly the managed ones, are never a true reflection of any party’s appeal among the masses. They believe that in any public rally there are clearly three kinds of people i.e. supporters of the party, its opponents and the ones who come for the fun of it. The question is whether these rallies can be transformed into support at the ballot box or not. If the recent history is any guide the answer is in the negative.
Imran Khan addressed a similar rally in Lahore in 2011 and I would be honest to acknowledge that the people came on their own fascinated by the message that Imran Khan was trying to send out. People were constrained to say that a change was in the air and a third political force had emerged in the country which might sweep across the political landscape of the country. The election though produced entirely different results. The PTI could only muster 7 national assembly seats from Punjab and its overall strength in the federal legislature was slightly above 30. Even in KPK the party needed the support of other parties to form the government. The Tsunami seemed to have lost its momentum. The predictions made on the basis of attendance in the rally proved wrong.
Imran has been attracting large crowds in the public rallies that he has been addressing during the last 3-4 years as part of his campaign to dislodge the incumbent government but his party almost lost all the by-elections for NA and PA seats, AJK polls and the local body elections. Even after the Panama verdict the PML (N) had better of PTI in the by-election in Chakwal and Lodhran. The foregoing facts amply prove that the attendance at a public rally does not reflect true popularity of a party.
Majority of the political analysts and the recent Gallup surveys indicate that PML (N) despite the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif and the cases against him in the Ehtsab Court is still the most popular party in the country. It is generally perceived that there is a well orchestrated move by the non-political backers of PTI to push Imran Khan to the corridors of power. The proponents of this view cite the removal of the PML (N) government in Balochistan, horse-trading in the elections for the senate seats and the unholy alliance between PTI and PPP to deprive PML (N) from getting its own Chairman and Deputy Chairman of Senate, followed by desertions from PML (N) and PPP and their joining the PTI. They believe that some more electables could join PTI in the days to come. However they do not see the possibility of PTI winning the ensuing election fair and square. In their estimation the chances of Imran Khan becoming the Prime Minister are very remote unless some massive rigging is done in his favour. I however personally believe that the backers of Imran Khan at the most can push some electables into his basket but would not be in a position to rig the elections. There is also no guarantee that all the electables changing loyalties would surely win their seats.
People seem in a different mood this time and those who have sold their mandate, might have to face their wrath in the shape of their rejection in the polls. There are also portents suggesting that even in KPK the PTI might fail to retain the number of seats that it already has. The re-emergence of MMA is likely to give PTI tough time at the ballot box. Sindh remains exclusive domain of PPP and the MQM (notwithstanding the split). Balochistan remains unpredictable however there are chances of MMA gaining a few more seats. So on the basis of the realistic appraisal and the emerging ground realities the chances of PTI forming government at the federal level remain bleak as ever. The PML (N) even if it loses some seats due to some unforeseen factors would still win more seats than any other party. The PPP under Zardari according to the political analysts stands no chance of winning seats in Punjab unless it can put in money to buy some independently elected MNAs. As against PTI and PPP the PML (N) has a proven record of orchestrating a turn-around in the economy, checking terrorism in its tracks, minimizing the power outages and building extensive infrastructure which is the most important ingredient in propelling a sustained economic development.
In fact Imran is lucky to be still around courtesy his childhood friend the present CJ, who according to the former CJ Iftikhar Mhammad Chaudhry provided relief to him notwithstanding the fact that his case was similar to that of Nawaz Sharif. It was Justice Saqib Nisar himself who revealed his friendship with Imran Khan when hearing a suo motto case of encroachments in Bani Gala on 22 April 2017. Reportedly addressing Imran Khan he remarked “I too have played cricket in Aitchison College under your captaincy and even today I remember the shot that you played with such a force that the ball went out of the church. Your voice can bring betterment or bad effect in this country because people are with you as leader of the nation” No wonder that majority of the constitutional experts and lawyers held the view that the verdicts given by the SC in Panama and Imran case were not marvels of jurisprudence.
As per code of conduct issued by the Supreme Judicial Council and the internationally recognized principles of jurisprudence after having revealed the connection with Imran Khan the CJ should not have been part of the Bench that heard his case. Article IV of the Code of Conduct for Judges issued by the Supreme Judicial Court says “A Judge must decline resolutely to act in a case involving his own interest, including those of persons whom he regards and treats as near relatives or close friend. A judge must refuse to deal with any case in which he has a connection with one party or its lawyer more than the other or even with both parties and their lawyers”.
As far as eleven points of Imran Khan are concerned, in the absence of proper costing for the steps suggested and the revelation of how the resources required would be generated, they remain rants of a demagogue. It is only in the land of the pure that politicians can afford the luxury of bringing down the stars without having the means to access them.
n The writer is a freelance columnist.