As the summer temperatures soar high and test the patience of this land of the pure, so does the political temperatures as the general election loom closer. The Prime Minister of Pakistan has stated that the elections would be held before the 27th of July and that is also what the time frame should be according to the rules but this time around, there is something in the air suggesting otherwise.

There are whispers and rumors, apprehensions and hope, fear and yet a definite excitement, for what the coming months might unfold for the future of this country. The rather interesting thing about these elections is that the delay in election for, even a few weeks, holds the possibility of dramatically changing situations on ground. That is the reason there is a mixed response from different parties for the possibility of a delay. It is interesting to see how well the major parties are prepared and what is their position in case of the general elections being held in time.

Despite strong suggestions by political analysts and predictions by many politicians from the opposition parties, Pakistan Muslim League did not split up into smaller fractions nor did it collapse totally. It is still largely intact except for few members of parliament who joined PTI. Especially the strong hold of PML-N which is Central and West Punjab is very much intact. There are some disgruntled party members in South Punjab who have formed a group with the slogan of demand for a separate province but so far there does not seem to be a strong following or major campaign for their demands. The situation in Punjab is holding for the time being for PML-N. It can however change rather quickly in the case of delayed elections. At present the people are flocking to the jalsas of Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam and their narrative seems to have a nice ring to it for the party worker.

Chaudhry Jaffar Iqbal, Secretary General of PML-N, answering a question about the situation of Mian Nawaz Sharif said that, “His popularity has increased after his dismissal from office on a weak charge. The people believe that he has been dealt unfairly. His narrative is gaining popularity every day”. However he also said that delay in the elections would adversely affect PML-N and it does not want any delay even for a few weeks. This response towards the importance of election timeframe speaks volume of the existence of a pressure situation on ground for the politicians and candidates which can cause unforeseen defections and changing loyalties at the last minute. These pressures and the possibilities give credit to the ever growing perception that establishment wants to engineer the election results of their choice and wants to places politicians as pawns on a chess board to be moved at will.

Is that the reality and is the establishment actually driving the situation on ground to get the results of their choice and more importantly would it be possible to do so on a large scale? All this would be evident as soon as the list of final candidates is announced by the contesting political parties. The things in favour of PML-N, for going into the upcoming elections is the infrastructure development and civil works in Punjab, improved security situation all over the country and largely overcoming the energy shortfall crisis which was their primary agenda point in 2013. However there has been a major campaign by opposition against them on corruption charges, financial mismanagement, skyrocketing and ever mounting debts which are crippling the economy and the poor management of national assets which are a huge burden on the national exchequer. There are also allegations on super luxury and VVIP lifestyle of Mian Nawaz Sharif and his family who have used the national exchequer for their luxury living, love for cuisines and lavish dinners, fleet of luxury cars and foreign trips and army of personal security fleets which have been an enormous burden on the already resource strapped economy of Pakistan.

The major opposition party PTI has declared a campaign against this kind of rule of the elite in Pakistan and raised the slogan of ‘Change’. The contours of this change are still not chiseled sharply but one thing is certain that within a very short period of time they managed to catch the imagination of millions of people of Pakistan. There however remains the lingering shadow of PTI being backed by the establishment which is putting its weight behind the party. There might not be any hard evidence to this but the many incidents of the past three years and the constant statements of the party leaders and chairman PTI in favour of the establishment give credence to this perception. The PML-N leaders, Mian Nawaz Sharif and his daughter have openly and consistently alleged PTI to be a King’s party. Also in the mix is now the judiciary which is being criticized by PML-N as being biased and unfair toward it which PTI denies and has stated to be standing firmly with the judiciary.

But even if that is true or otherwise, what strengths does PTI hold for going in the election and are they well prepared for it this time around. According to Shafqat Mehmood PTI MNA from Lahore, PTI is fully prepared and ready to go into elections anytime. He said that PTI has formed a very water tight system for the section of final candidates for contesting elections. There is a selection board of twelve members headed by the chairman Imran Khan, selection criteria are decided and there is a pool of candidates to decide from. But the ground reality is that PTI has delayed its deadline for the applications for tickets further from 4th May to the 13th of May which according to Shafqat Mehmood was done on the demand of the candidates but then there does exist a rather non hurried, relaxed attitude towards the awarding of tickets. Also the board itself included two members, Rai Hassan Nawaz and Jahangir Tareen who themselves have been disqualified by the courts to contest elections. So the credibility of the selection board does come in question.

The month of Ramadan would commence on the 17th of May and the election campaign would not be able to commence till after the Eid holidays which will lead us to the end of the month of June. That would leave about twenty odd days for the election campaign in case the elections are held on time. This seems to be a point of worry for some of the aspirants and Zafar Iqbal a PTI candidate from Faisalabad was quite vocal about it. He said that the attitude of the party seems to be quite causal and they are not leaving enough time for the contestants to prepare. He was of the opinion that the delay in announcing the candidates also gives weight to this perception that somehow the elections are going to be delayed. However Asad Umar, senior PTI member responded to this as totally unfound. He said that there were no reports of any delay in the elections and that the delay in allocation of party tickets is only on the demand of the people who were actually waiting for the new delimitations and constituencies to be announced. He was confident that the party would easily finalize and announce the tickets well in time before the end of May.

On the question of what PTI brings to the public as their performance, Asad Umar, Shafqat Mehmood both expressed confidence that PTI’s performance in KPK has been a tremendous success and would win them even more seats than the last time. The important thing is if the voter believes in this or not.

 

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore. She has extensive experience in writing on development economics and disaster management.