As events prove, no political party is ready to contest Elections 2018, on the main issues identified as ‘Backdrop of US Policies in Region’, ‘Economic Development’ and ‘Water’. It is a Royal Rumble to win by hook or crook. Most parties are hell bent on playing to the gallery and where it matters most, the electoral campaign will hinge on unprincipled politics and injustice. There will be no space for egalitarianism, ideologies and interests of the masses. The electoral turnout will be lower than 2013 mainly because the silent voter would have lost the urge for being counted. Bus loads collected by electable could finally count but still may not matter. This leads to an interesting analogy.
A female cuckoo lays eggs in the nests of other birds. The Cuckoo destroys eggs of the host parent bird and replaces them with her egg. The Cuckoo eggs hatch much faster. The chick is much larger than the eggs/hatchlings of the host parent. It chirps continuously, to be fed with protein rich (non-vegetarian) food. The hatchlings also destroy the eggs and hatchlings of its host parent to maximise the attention they get. Cuckoo chicks live off proteins only to fly away to meadows and gardens to captivate everyone with their romantic whistles, a folklore of eastern romance. In reality, the Cuckoo is a parasitic, mimicry bird, living off others through murder and ejection. It can never be trusted.
Pakistan’s political system is infested with cuckoos that will forever edge out the Orwellian Sheep and amuse others with their romantically painful callings. They are the Unionists, Republicans, various hybrids of Muslim League and most lately PPP.
Elections 2018 is a time for cuckoo politicians to switch sides to nests that can provide them the protein rich meals. They make space by wriggling, dancing and tossing out the original hatchlings. Elections 2018 is declared as the election of electable by the leader of change ‘Imran Khan’. This sole reliance is based on good intentions paved on a road of deceit, back stabbing and double-edges.
Turncoats from PMLN, PMLQ, PPP, APML and other parties are flying towards PTI. It is here they expect a good harvest and a feeding frenzy. Majority have no ideology and have frequented every political party. Some have switched loyalties three to four times in as many years. Interestingly, those who are facilitating them flew in as vanguard in 2012-13, dismantled the entire party structure, blocked intra party reforms and imposed themselves in most powerful positions. Ideological hatchlings were jettisoned. As monsoons approach, ‘Sawan mein Pipiye ki Faryad’ (Cuckoo’s mating call) will be the beginning of a new love story.
But this time, there appears to be a difference. For shrewd political pundits, the rising popularity of PTI and its leader could be encashed for a later day. Rivals, who are also serious contenders, have flown out their own birds mimicking cuckoos. Others have decided to ditch their parent parties like PMLN-PPP to fight it out to win as independents and later claim the best piece of flesh. So a lot will depend on the elected strength of mimicking cuckoos and independents to make a difference in the new elected Parliament.
The competition between rivals is so intense that questions relating to ethics and morality in politics have lost justification. Every party like a cricket world cup wants to field a tried and tested team, and as so often happens to all but one, collect the ‘Remains of the Day’ to make a new team. The only suspense in this game is who will be the winner? Permutations and combinations could be many.
In an environment dominated by carnivore cuckoos, ideological workers and religious minorities have been jettisoned. The insensitivity prevails in every party. In the National Assembly Lists, money has made the difference. Hindu businessmen being richer and well-connected have taken the lion’s share. Large majority of Christians have been edged out in favour of tiny minorities in KPK and Punjab. In Punjab, PTI list was rejected being time barred.
It seems no party is ready to field and test new ideological candidates. PMLN has restricted itself in fielding close to the kitchen candidates. PPP is most likely to edge out the last of its ideological cadres to make way where money counts and can be preserved. Balochistan will return with its new breed of young leaders, most likely to swing towards Asif Ali Zardari who made them feel counted. MQM with its variations may not enjoy the old leverage but would still be reckonable to the one who offers them the best deal. A large chunk of independents will finally decide which way the wind blows.
With so many variables in play, the formation of the next federal government is wide open.
PTI seems to have reached a conclusion that Punjab and KPK matter most. But the strategy hinges on the ‘ifs and buts’ of electable. The statement by Shafqat Mahmood that PTI is likely to win 90 national assembly seats in Punjab means a 1000% increase from 2013 in Punjab. In terms of votes it means getting over 13 million votes in Punjab. Does the party have any organisational structure at Union Council and Primaries to amass double the numbers it got in 2013? KPK with majority of local government primaries may fare better, but then its people are known for ditching incumbents in elections. It is also KPK where ideological workers are most vociferous. The unknown factor of FATA merger makes predictions hazy. So the question PTI planners must consider is what happens if their party bags a total well short of a simple majority to make a government at the centre? Do they woo independents and other parties (PPP, MQM, and MMA) in the coalition or decide to sit in the opposition?
PPP has more options. Asif Ali Zardari is the shrewdest politician and will place himself in a winnable bargaining position. PPP is most likely to bolster its position with additional seats from Sindh, Balochistan FATA-KPK and Punjab. His party could even-out PTI in the national assembly. With mimicking cuckoos, a better ability to woo independents, MMA and MQM into a deal, he opens up more options. He also has a wild card to join with PMLN to form a government that may act as a strategy in his favour. His range of options is likely to make him the biggest beneficiary of elections 2018.
In comparison, PTI’s game plan in favour of electable appears inflexible. Unless Imran Khan makes this plan flexible to include the cadre of dedicated and motivated party workers, garnering 15 million plus votes in elections is impossible. These workers provide the ‘Teeth Arm’ in primaries and act as canvassing and polling agents. The party has a week to decide and create more winning options.
To retain the Cuckoo Elections or convert it into a more ferocious and emotive manoeuvre is a question of conscience for Imran Khan. It is up to him to put his trust in the inertia or prove that his party still means, Justice, Humanity and Self Esteem.
The writer is a political economist and a television anchorperson.