Pakistan elections: what change?

Awami Workers Party election rally

The general elections in Pakistan have brought Imran Kahn to power with the slogan “a new Pakistan”. Farooq Tariq, a leading member of the Awami Workers Party, explains that little will change as the military and the IMF still have their hands around the necks of the people of Pakistan.


 

After his election victory on 26 July 2018, Imran Khan gave a sober speech contrary to his very violent language used throughout the election campaign. He had “won” 116 seats out of the 342 seats National Assembly, of which 278 seats are contested directly on First Past The Post (FPTP) system. He is short of the 137 seats needed for the majority in the parliament. However, there are plenty of parliamentarians elected as “independents” who will either join his party or vote for him.

Demonstrations in several cities are taking place against the post poll rigging. Several dozen candidates turned into minority votes overnight by “unknown hands”. These “unknowns” are known to everyone but if you publish their name, you may disappear for this crime. Almost all the commercial media is under control by these “unknowns”.

The media is instructed on daily basis by these “unknowns” to get a favourable mandate for their loved one, “the great Imran Khan”, who once was the captain of the most popular game in Pakistan, cricket, and won a world cup for the country in 1992. Imran Khan is a conservative politician, who has developed in recent years a magic love for army generals and a kind heart for religious fanatics.

These were the most rigged elections in the history of Pakistan. From the pre-poll period until the 28th July, all efforts were made for Imran Khan to get a simple majority. Prior to the elections, there were consistent attacks by the judiciary in the name of accountability on the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN), the former ruling party.

The PMLN fell out with the military and the judicial establishment on mainly two issues. The most important was the supremacy of civilians over the military. The second was the relationship with India. The PMLN wanted more trade with India and no war.

Mian Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister and a right wing politician, is paying a heavy price for his insistence that as PM, he rules Pakistan and not the army. He was ousted by the Supreme Court, disqualified for life and is now serving a ten years sentence along with his daughter at a Rawalpindi jail.

When the dates of the elections were announced, the media portrayed Imran Khan as the cleanest politician with a plan to curtail corruption. His main election slogans were “change” and “a new Pakistan”. The billionaire members of his party spent their wealth on advertising. The rich always smell the changing directions of power and they accordingly change their political affiliations. Most of these politicians are called “electable” as they can spend billions on elections to buy votes. Imran Khan’s Party, the Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI – Justice Movement), saw an influx of these “electable” who moved from PNLN to PTI without a hint of shame. They always do the same at the election times.

When the PMLN gave tickets (nominations) to their probable candidates, phone calls were made by these “unknowns” to those nominated and were asked to return the tickets at the eleventh hour and contest elections as independent. Those who refused were physically beaten up in their offices and homes. Threats and intimidations worked, and around 40 of those who were nominated by PMLN returned their tickets and announced that they would stand as independent.

During the election campaign, several PMLN nominees were arrested and some disqualified for life and sent to jail on the pretext of corruption. All these measures gave a general impression that the military and the judicial establishment want Imran Khan to win the general elections at any cost. Imran Khan has already created a myth among the youth that we need a change and a government free of corruption. There was euphoria among a large section of youth in Pakistan that Imran Khan is not corrupt and that he needs “electables” to win an overall majority.

The two banned outfits of religious fanatics were allowed to contest elections by the Election Commission. The strategy was if the extreme right would contest elections, they would reduce the PMLN votes that was favoured by these religious groups in the past. One religious group, the Tehreek Labaik, became the third largest party in terms of numbers candidates, after PTI and PMLN, that stood all around Pakistan.

Over 300,000 military men were deployed in all the polling stations with judicial power given to military officers at the “request” of the Election Commission to ensure complete security. This was aided by the religious terrorists who carried out suicide attacks on public meetings during election campaign, killing hundreds including some candidates. In one unfortunate incident, over 150, including the candidate, were killed in the Mastung district of Balochistan province.

Most of the human rights groups in Pakistan, including Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), criticized this gross pre-poll rigging in press conferences and characterised these as extraordinary measures to favour a certain political party.

On the Election Day, polling went smoothly and military presence was everywhere. However the rigging started after 10 pm, four hours after the counting started. Suddenly most of the count in constituencies where the difference was between 1000-5000 votes was stopped. Then, there was an almost blackout of the counting, which started again early in the morning. Those winning elections during the night were the PTI candidates. The final results were delayed for over 72 hours, never earlier.

The results showed the PTI with 116 seats, PMLN 63 and PPP with 43 seats in the national parliament. The PPP, under the young leadership of Bilawel Bhutto, improved from its previous devastating results of 28 seats. The PPP kept control of Sindh assembly with more seats than previously, Khaiber Pukhton Khwa saw the PTI “land slide”. In Punjab, the PMLN kept its majority with a drastic reduction of seats but the PTI is now vowing to form the government in that province with the help of the elected “independents”.

The two religious fanatic groups who contested failed to win any seat in the national assembly, but one of them, the Tehreek Labaik, got two Sindh assembly seats. They did not do badly as in almost every constituency, they got between 1 per cent and 10 per cent of the votes, and in some they got over 20 per cent votes. This is a quite alarming situation.

The Left contested almost 50 national and provincial seats all over Pakistan. However. Wazeer Ali from The Struggle group, which is part of Left Democratic Front, won a national assembly seat in the former federally administered area called FATA, an area dominated by religious fanatics.

Ali Wazeer’s comfortable majority of 16,000 votes has given a hope to the forces of the Left in Pakistan. Ali Wazeer stood as an independent candidate. He was leader of the Pashtun Tahafaz Movement which has organized this year mass public rallies across Pakistan for compensation of the victims of the “war on terror”.

In my home constituency of Toba Tek Singh, where I contested elections for Punjab Assembly in 2013 elections, the AWP candidate Mohammed Zubair came in third position with 4,586 votes ahead of the candidates of the religious fanatic parties and the Pakistan People’s Party.

Almost all political parties, except the PTI, have said this general election is the one with the most rigging, and have rejected the results. The PTI, which launched a three year long movement after the rigging during 2013 elections, was the only party to describe this election as the most free and fair in the history of Pakistan.

It is quite obvious that Imran Khan will become the prime minister of the new government. This new government will be a weak one and will have to face a severe economic crisis. The designated finance minister of the PTI has already hinted that he would approach the IMF for a new loan. One of the main issues that the PTI campaigned was the massive foreign loans from China obtained during the PMLN government. Now they have no shame to say even before taking power that they will turn to the IMF.

The government will try to improve the tax base in the initial period and that will bring them into contradiction with the strong traders lobby, which does not pay taxes. Imran Khan hinted at having friendly relationship with India, but without the open support of the army generals, it is out of question that there will be improved relationship between Pakistan and India.

Religious fundamentalism will grow in the next period as Imran Khan has already pledged to “negotiate” with Taliban and he has always had a soft attitude towards religious fanatics. He has supported some Madrasas known to be associated with Taliban with state subsidies while he controlled Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government during 2013-18.

The opposition parties have announced agitation against the election results and have demanded fresh elections, but are unlikely to succeed. Interesting times ahead.

 

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