POLITICS is a war of nerves and political battles can lead to terrible mistakes. What happened in the NA-75 by-election last week shows how one incident can destroy politics in this country.
It is obvious that the PTI has lost its temper trying to seize a seat in the National Assembly in the heart of the PML-N. The rigging evidence further reinforced opposition rhetoric challenging the credibility of Imran Khan’s government. Losing in a fair election would not have cost the ruling party as much as the damage now caused by the unsuccessful attempt to manipulate the election result.
It is now difficult for the PTI to defend itself against the assaults of the opposition. The damning indictment by the Pakistan Election Commission against the Punjab administration has put the latter in an indefensible position. There are very serious charges of kidnapping polling officials and stuffing ballots, making it difficult for the ECP to validate the election that the PTI claims to have won.
The Sialkot episode aggravated an already disorderly political situation. The ballot took place in an atmosphere of heightened animosity. The aggressive campaign on both sides had created a tense situation as the election approached. What happened on election day was predictable. The PML-N had previously won the seat by a large margin; the PTI made a question of prestige to defeat its rival in its fortress.
It is now difficult for the PTI to defend itself against the assaults of the opposition.
We saw the complete collapse of law and order in the region on election day, with gunmen wandering around with impunity, creating an atmosphere of fear as law enforcement stood by. difference. The shameful spectacle raised questions about the ability of civilian administrations to ensure peaceful, free and fair voting. The two sides accused each other of violence which left at least two dead. But it is the administration that must be blamed for the anarchy we have witnessed.
The Sialkot bypass was one of many by-elections that have taken place across the country over the past week. Although violence was reported in other ridings, it was far less than what was seen in NA-75. What does this say about the administration of Punjab? Indeed, there are accusations that the police inaction was deliberate.
The result of the by-elections was not favorable to the ruling coalition. Although Sialkot’s outcome has not yet been confirmed, the loss of a KP Assembly seat in its stronghold of Nowshera was a big setback for the PTI. It may have been an internal rupture that cost the ruling party this election, but it was nonetheless a serious political blow to the PTI, despite winning the National Assembly seat in Kurram which had been previously held by the JUI-F.
It is evident that the decision of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) not to boycott the elections has borne fruit. Electoral success may not have changed the power matrix, but it certainly came as a moral boost for the opposition alliance which seemed to have lost momentum.
The nervousness in the ranks of the PTI is quite evident as the senatorial elections approach, although the results of the by-elections are unlikely to affect the party’s position in the assemblies. It is perhaps the prospect of defections in the ranks that makes the party worried. The Prime Ministers’ lingering concerns over the perception of horse bargaining reveal growing nervousness within the ruling coalition.
While there is no likelihood of a major upheaval in provincial representations in the upcoming senatorial elections, the race for the siege of Islamabad appears to be a major challenge for the ruling coalition. The decision of the PDM to present former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani as a joint candidate made the competition more interesting.
Some political observers believe that PTI’s insistence on open voting reveals the leadership’s lack of confidence in its members. The presidential ordinance amending the secret ballot rule and the referral to the Supreme Court reflect the concerns of governments.
The government’s position seems more intriguing as the ruling party has a clear majority in the National Assembly which forms the electoral college for the seat of the capital’s Senate.
The power alliance led by the PTI has 181 seats in the House against 160 on the opposition benches. There may be some discontent within the ranks of the PTI and among allied parties, but there is no sign of open rebellion. It would take a large number of treasury banks to change sides in the event of upheaval.
The stakes are certainly high for both sides for a Senate seat on the Islamabads. For the opposition, Gilani’s victory would be a vote of no confidence against the Imran Khan government.
But it’s hard to understand the optimism of PDMs unless you have some sort of assurance from powerful circles. Interestingly, there has been a dramatic softening of the tone of opposition leaders towards the security establishment, with Prime Minister Imran Khan currently the sole target of the attacks.
A recent statement by Gilani that the establishment is neutral in the ongoing battle between the opposition and the government is quite significant in today’s political environment. It is not known what made the opposition believe in institutional neutrality today and how this could affect the Senate elections.
Surely anything is possible in this political chess game. But there is no evidence yet of a rift between civilian and military rulers that could change the existing power matrix. Staying neutral in Senate elections would not necessarily mean that the establishment would allow the opposition to overthrow the PTI government.
While any setback in the Senate elections would certainly weaken the legitimacy of the government, a defeat for Gilani could have serious consequences for the PDM as well. What happens on March 3 will also determine the future course of politics in the country. It is a war of nerves between a fragile government and a strident opposition coalition. It remains to be seen who wins the battle.
The writer is an author and journalist.
Posted in Dawn on February 24, 2021
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