The just-concluded elections in Pakistan are a watershed moment. The people have openly defied the powerful military establishment to vote for Imran Khan even though he has been jailed, his party’s election symbol taken away and his candidates forced to contest as independents. Common people facing untold suffering with the prices of essential food items, power and cooking gas spiraling through the roof in a country where headline inflation is touching 30 per cent, have spoken against the all-pervasive military and its political co-conspirators.
Despite the fear and intimidation, people turned the elections into a moment of resistance to cast their vote for independents backed by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf (PTI). They now form the largest bloc of 101 seats in Pakistan’s National Assembly. Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N could secure 75 seats while the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of the Bhutto-Zardari clan has won 54 seats. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has got 17 seats. It was, as the social media have termed it, a “century scored without a bat”, the reference being to Khan’s election symbol, the cricket bat, that was denied to its candidates. The election has started a popular discourse where even the pro-establishment media channels and outfits are openly discussing the military’s pernicious role in public life.
But such is the military’s stranglehold over the Pakistani State that despite the voters’ clear preference for Imran Khan’s candidates, they may end up being the only bloc that would be kept out of government formation. Emerging from the ignominy of exile and multiple corruption charges which the military helped him ward off, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has called all parties, except the independent bloc, to come together to form a coalition government. Negotiations have begun with the PPP, which has apparently demanded the PM’s post for Bilawal Bhutto and major ministerial portfolios in exchange for their support. With the MQM, the PML-N already seems to have reached an “in-principle agreement” to work together in the future government. These efforts have the backing of the Army Chief General Asif Munir who has issued an open call supporting the formation of a “unified government of all democratic forces imbibed with national purpose”.
Simultaneously, attempts are afoot to scatter the independent bloc with Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) allowing them three days’ time to join a party post issuance of a notification. The idea is that the lure of ministerial portfolios and other perks besides other pressures being brought on them would cause disarray in the largest block of independents. The wiser course for the ECP is to allow the PTI independents to hold internal elections and regain their symbol so that they can enter the Assembly as a unit. Subverting a popular mandate by blocking the largest elected bloc is hardly the way towards future political stability in a country wrecked by economic crisis.