The 25th of July, 2018, has ushered a new era of governance in Pakistan. To view this as a victory for one political party would be to demean the gains of this electoral process. The 2018 General Elections were not simply a victory for one man (i.e. Imran Khan) or one political party (i.e. PTI); instead, this election was a victory for all those who had, for too long, suffered the slings and arrows of status quo. It was a victory for millions of faceless Pakistanis who had suffered at the hands of a despotic rule of two political parties… nay, of two families. It was a victory for the victims of Model Town Massacre; for the children of Kasur sodomy scandal; for the martyrs of APS Peshawar; for victims of Baldia Town tragedy. It was a victory for Zainab.
In the aftermath of the 2018 general elections, I am reminded of a key passage from the American Declaration of Independence, authored by Thomas Jefferson. He wrote, “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”
This right, this “duty” was performed by the people of Pakistan, and we must congratulate them for a job well done.
Moving on to the issues at hand: what does the 2018 election mandate mean for PTI? Why were there so many ‘electoral upsets’ in this election? Do these upsets indicate a particular stream or bent in our democratic sentiment? Pertinently, what areas of governance require immediate attention of PTI’s fresh mandate? Did Imran Khan’s victory speech indicate a governance model that embodies public sentiments? How difficult will it be to implement Khan’s dream? And will the promise of this dream be restricted to KPK (where PTI is the majority) and Punjab (where PTI is expected to be in government)? Or will it spread to other parts of Pakistan? Most importantly, will PTI’s mandate find traction in Sindh, where the ruling political party (PPP) has campaigned on an anti-PTI slogan?
Let us start with a few electoral observations: even a cursory look at the electoral results reveal that the people of Pakistan have rejected entrenched pillars of traditional political power. The tainted-politics of the past three decades, embodied in the likes of Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, Mehmood Khan Achakzai, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, and Dr. Farooq Sattar, has been entirely uprooted. The likes of Siraj-ul-Haq and Asfandyar Wali Khan have also lost their seats. Cities like Faisalabad – where, until recently, the contest was between two different factions of PML(N) – have rejected symbols of traditional Punjabi politics. Rana Sanaullah lost his Provincial seat, while Talal Chaudhry and Abid Sher Ali lost his National Assembly constituencies. Members of MQM and PSP – all remnants of a violent past – have been dealt a humbling blow. In fact, many of the seasonal members of PTI, who joined the party after its populist swell, e.g. Nauraiz Shukoor (from Sahiwal) and Zulfiqar Khosa (from D.G. Khan), find no space in Naya Pakistan.
In many ways, the 2018 General Election has been a vote for change. It has been a vote for newer faces, and a fresh start. And what exactly would be ‘Naya’ in this Pakistan, Imran Khan tried to outline in his victory address on the morning after the elections.
Khan’s address – far more humble in tenor than Nawaz Sharif’s speech in 2013 and Zardari’s press-talk in 2008 – outlined some of the issues that the new government will strive to address. A careful review of Khan’s speech would reveal that he spoke about three distinct issues: 1) Domestic policy, 2) Foreign policy, and 3) Allegation of electoral rigging. Each of these requires deeper analysis.
During the half-hour address, a humble Imran Khan dedicated most of his time speaking about domestic policy issues and agenda for his upcoming government. Invoking the example of Medina’s social welfare State, Khan emphasized that his government will focus its energies on ensuring that the largest fraction of our National Exchequer is spent on the poor and destitute amongst our populi. Specifically, Khan pointed out certain damning facts – that 50% of people in Pakistan live below the (internationally recognized) poverty line; 45% of our children suffer from diseases relating to malnutrition; 25 million Pakistani children are not in school; and Pakistan has the percentage highest maternal death rate and water-borne diseases. In the circumstances, Khan emphasized his desire to focus “human development”. Also, he pledged that financial accountability institutions (and process) will be strengthened (without descending into political victimization). Stressing on the need for humility in governance, Khan revealed that symbols affluence in our governance (i.e. Prime Minister House and Governor residences) will be used commercially for adding revenue to the national exchequer.
Next, in terms of foreign policy, he stressed the need to friendly relations with all neighbours, and resolution of all outstanding issues (including, specifically, the “core issue” of Kashmir) through dialogue. But, importantly (in the case of U.S.) he said that bilateral ties will be based on the principle of “mutually beneficial” relationship.
And finally, in terms of rigging allegations, Imran Khan pointed out how, despite the fact that the ECP and interim governments were constituted by PML(N) and PPP, he would support the demand for opening and reviewing any and all constituencies where rigging has been alleged.
These are all welcomed comments and agenda from someone who is about to become our Prime Minister. In a country where the perks of governance have (historically) entailed immunity from accountability, this agenda promises a brighter future for all. The entrenched forces of status quo have every reason to be worried. If the drive for accountability is met with a governance structure that encourages it, we are likely to see results hitherto unprecedented. And wouldn’t that be a sight!
In light of the electoral results, in all likelihood PTI will form government in the Federation, in KPK and Punjab. Balochistan will have an independent/non-aligned government, whereas PPP will continue its (tainted) rule in Sindh. In the circumstances, Khan and his government are likely to face three major challenges in implementation of their stated agenda: 1) the PPP government in Sindh; 2) the bureaucracy in Punjab; and 3) seasonal forces of status quo within PTI. The PPP has demonstrated no desire to implement a “human development” agenda in Sindh (over the past 10 years), and the remnants of Fawad Hasan Fawad and Ahad Cheema continue to penetrate the bureaucratic structure of Punjab. Just as importantly, PTI government includes individuals who are likely to be a target of the ongoing accountability process (if it is carried through to a logical conclusion). How Imran Khan and his party break through these (powerful) forces, will determine the fate of his reform agenda. It will not be a simple job. In fact, it is likely to be much tougher than winning the election itself. And these issues, above all, will determine the legacy of Khan and his political party.
For now, we must wish Khan and his party the very best of luck. And in the same breath, let us say a prayer for Pakistan. A simple, but ageless prayer, which has been murmured by millions throughout our history… and has never been more important than it is today: Pakistan Zindabad!
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.