For the first time in 67 years, Pakistan is likely to witness Independence Day celebrations marred by street agitations. Imran Khan remains adamant as ever to go ahead with his ‘Azadi March’ and to descend upon Islamabad with millions of his followers until the resignation of the Prime Minister and announcement of mid-term polls. In a press conference held at Islamabad, he emphatically declared that the time for negotiations was over and he would not settle on anything less than what he was demanding.

The government on the other hand, is engaged in an intensive consultative process with its political allies and top brass of the administration to devise a political and administrative strategy to deal with the emerging threat, while trying to reach out to the PTI leadership for an amicable solution to the impasse. It is really encouraging to note that during the deliberations of a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister to firm up measures to cope with the ever changing political scenario, he discarded any vindictive move against the PTI and categorically asked the PML(N) and likeminded parties to avoid supporting any move of no trust against the KP government; reflecting his commitment to each other’s political mandate and political accommodation, so vitally needed to strengthen any democracy.

One of the redeeming factors for the government in the ongoing battle is that a majority of the political parties represented in Parliament including the PPP, though they acknowledge the PTI’s democratic right to record its protest against the alleged rigging, do not support any move to dislodge the government or derail democracy. Yet another positive development is that the PPP is trying to mediate between PTI and PML(N) and contacts have already been made at the highest level to defuse the situation. As is said, there is no final word in politics. Imran, despite his publicly maintained stance on the issue, might show his willingness for a negotiated settlement of the imbroglio. There are also indications that instead of marching on Islamabad simultaneously with their supporters, Qadri and Imran might hold their rallies separately which makes the government’s job rather easy. A failure of reconciliatory efforts would be unfortunate for democracy, and scuttle the national unity so badly needed to win the war against terrorism.

While it is difficult to ascertain Dr. Qadri’s motivations for his proposed revolution march, Imran’s objective and rationale for the Azadi March is well known and can be put to incisive scrutiny to establish its legitimacy or otherwise. Imran’s agitation is premised solely on rigging in thirty five constituencies, with specific emphasis on four constituencies and the contention that he was forced to take this course by the denial of justice by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the Supreme Court (SC). But his claims are not corroborated by ground realities, the independent sources and the concerned authorities who conducted the elections. Imran’s claim that the election tribunals had meted out discriminatory treatment to its petitions is not correct. It is not just the PTI but other parties too, whose cases have not been decided within the mandatory period of 4 months and in most cases, the delays have occurred due to stay requests by the parties concerned. PML(N) has more petitions pending than the PTI. As such, there is no justification to present such delays as rigging against the PTI and a denial of justice. With regards to the PTI’s claim that even the SC did not provide justice to the party, it is pertinent to point out that SC is not a primary trial court and under article 225 of the constitution, only election tribunals are responsible for hearing the election petitions. SC can only review those decisions. That is exactly what the SC told the PTI when it presented its case before it. It is quite evident from the foregoing that the stance taken by the PTI on the issue is not supported by ground realities.

The PTI contention of rigging in 35 NA constituencies which Imran believes went against them, is also belied by facts. The data shows that out of 35 constituencies, where the margin of victory was lesser than the rejected votes, PML(N) had won 12 while PTI, PPP and independents clinched 1,4 and 6 seats respectively. The rest went to several other parties. Even the Fafen Chief Executive is reported to have contradicted Imran’s claim by saying, “The term 35 punctures cannot be used for these constituencies as no single party was affected by the overwhelming number of rejected votes. Imran’s claim that UNDP election data operators had stopped working on May 11 has also been refuted by UNDP.  PTI’s demand for mid-term polls is also a glaring contradiction of its own contention on page 98 of the white paper issued by it which clearly said that it was asking for the thumb verification of four constituencies not to challenge the overall results but to curb future fraud.

However, there is no denying the fact that our electoral system as well as the legal arrangement to dispose of election petitions has a number of flaws and inadequacies which need to be removed to make the elections more transparent and credible. Some would also require amendments to the Constitution; at this juncture, all political parties, including the PML(N) and PTI, will have to show political maturity, flexibility and make a concerted effort to effect electoral reforms without further loss of time through consensus  as was witnessed in the case of  the 18th amendment. Imran should also be given credible assurances that legal impediments in the disposal of his election petitions will be removed. There is a strong possibility that he might agree to back-off from his demand for mid-term polls.

However, if he still insists on going ahead with his march and create a law and order situation which is very likely to occur in the prevailing atmosphere, he cannot expect the government to be a silent spectator. And if God forbid, the situation goes out of hand and the third force is constrained  to intervene by the turn of events, it would not do so on behalf of any political party. The entire democratic edifice would crumble and the country would be consigned to an uncertain future. 

    The writer is a freelance columnist.