Change Of Sorts

As a Pakistani who exercised his right to change, my gratitude goes to all those who contributed to the successful conduct of Election 2013. To start with, President Zardari should be commended for giving up not only his party post but also for abandoning his partisan posture. There is no evidence of any manipulation on his part to influence the polls. Some may say that this good behaviour was motivated by a desire to retain chances of his re-election as president later this year. The PML-N’s clear victory may have dashed his prospects but if some good has come out of Zardari’s personal ambition, let us not regret that and rather celebrate his role in making the election fair and credible.
The whole nation owes gratitude to the man who ran the mammoth election operation with determination, confidence and courage. Fakhruddin G Ibrahim will be remembered for seeing through the democratic transition in the country with minimum interference from the establishment. The Election Commission played the role of a good midwife despite myriad challenges. Acknowledgement is also due to another octogenarian and his team for not taking their eye off the ball and single-mindedly pursuing their one point agenda, that of conducting the elections. All those suggesting a longer transition to fix things before holding elections should learn a lesson from this and revert to whatever they can do better rather than fantasising about how to save this country.
Acknowledgements will not be complete without a word of praise for the media for ‘playing up’ the election. If their revenues benefited from the hype, it is obvious that the voter turnout would not have been as high without it. Simply put, a great many young and old, rich and poor among us might not have made it to the polling booths without the media’s round the clock exhortations.
The media also played a big role in establishing the need for change. The politicians grabbed on to the idea and change became the most repeated word of this election. Finally, acknowledgements are in order for the unprecedented faith of the people in the worth of the election and their belief that their opinion could very well change the course of events.
Should we also thank the armed forces, paramilitary units and the police for providing security cover to a great extent? It is not obvious in a cocooned place like Islamabad but to give people the confidence to go out to vote is easier said than done when terrorists are threatening to blow up themselves and everyone else along with them.
So let us have a quick round of applause and self-congratulations and get down to the serious business of figuring out the impact of the election result. My first reaction is that Bhuttoism has suffered a big blow, as bad as in the 1997 election. The difference being that the said election was helped by the establishment to produce a lopsided result against a demoralised PPP. Nobody has made that kind of charge about the May 11 polls. It is common knowledge that the drubbing the PPP has received is largely on account of its worst-ever performance while in power. This is what you get by appointing prime/chief ministers and high officials for loyalty or having no spine, rather than any claim to merit or performance.
When the PPP returned to power in 2008, their primary instinct was to make money because a civilian government’s average tenure was two to three years. By the time they were out of the woods and looking at completing their full term, there was hardly anything left to milk. This avarice was most obvious when they granted themselves life-long extra benefits. The new government must reverse such blatant corruption.
I wrote last week that Ziaul Haq’s political heirs were poised to return to power in this election. It should not be forgotten that the Sharif family’s entry into politics was a brainchild of Zia, to bring up a Punjabi counterpoise to Bhutto’s descendants, like inspiring the MQM as a check on the PPP in Karachi. The PML-N dynasty still carries Zia’s ideological baggage, which was abandoned by the MQM when it decided to join Pervez Musharraf.
PML-N’s credentials as a centre-right party in matters economic may not create problems in its early days in government. However, Mian Sahib’s weakness for things tablighi and softer attitude towards militant outfits carry implications from the outset. The foremost being his position on the Taliban and allied sectarian outfits. How are Zia’s political heirs going to grapple with the struggle against his spiritual jihadi heirs? In his last two tenures, Nawaz feigned a lack of understanding of the potential jihadi threat to Pakistan’s integrity. It is true that he inherited the Afghan Taliban policy of Benazir but she or her party did not bat an eyelid in declaring the Taliban on both sides of the border public enemies and aligning with the US. Nawaz continues to show a basic lack of appreciation for this threat. Will Nawaz Sharif’s third premiership mark a departure from that ambiguity?
No review of the election can be complete without taking into account the PTI’s rout of the ANP in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and its emergence at the national level as a rival to the PPP, for claiming leadership of the opposition in the National Assembly. The outcome is the exact opposite of the plot some attributed to Zardari for using the PTI to deprive the PML-N of seats. It is the PPP-PML-Q combination that has been obliterated by Imran Khan’s success. It would be wiser on Khan’s part to let the PPP lead the opposition in the National Assembly, freeing him to keep up the attack on the old guard!