Why has there been so much outrage over the senate elections? Poor Raza Rabbani is a decent gentleman, but he could do little except shed tears and carry on with his vote for the setting up of military courts. Let’s get this straight, Pakistan is not going back to ‘guided’ or ‘controlled’ democracy. It always was one, except for a short interlude during 1972-1977. The pundits are now speculating about the next general elections and the possibility of a ‘hung’ parliament. What’s so new or novel about this? Fast rewind to 1970. Hasan Zaheer, then a senior civil servant who later served as a federal secretary for the establishment division, makes clear in his book, Separation of East Pakistan, that the top military command had little or no intention to transfer real power to the elected representatives: ‘The most optimistic situation forecast by all the intelligence agencies was that no single party would gain an absolute majority in the National Assembly. This would enable the regime to manage a coalition of reasonable parties and personalities. Second, if such a coalition did not emerge, or if it did prove recalcitrant, the President could exercise his powers to reject the Constitution framed by the National Assembly; the assembly would then stand dissolved and fresh elections could then be indefinitely postponed. Third, as a last resort, martial law could be revived with full force.’ In 2018, the options for the establishment are not identical to what they had in 1970, but the basic plot has not changed much. It is a sign of a weakening establishment that it has been forced to embrace someone it has long loathed and demonized; Asif Zardari. What Imran Khan and a motley array of bearded and un-bearded characters could not deliver, Zardari has; a broad political front against Nawaz Sharif I would like to believe, like some do, that a confluence of forces including a growing middle class, ‘independent’ media, ‘fiercely’ active judiciary and a ‘vibrant’ civil society has been leading to greater, albeit slow, democratisation of Pakistan. While there are grains of truth in this rather optimistic description of the political situation, evidence on the ground is mixed at best and contrary at worst. Imran Khan personifies the disdain of the urban middle class for democracy and politicians. The civil society (read a few hundred well-meaning men and women) is no match to the street power of the violent mobs that the establishment can assemble onshort notice. Now I don’t want to make too many enemies,and would leave the judgement of the ‘independent’ media (read TV channels) to the reader. The bottom line is that the deep state is getting stronger. The judiciary as an institution, has failed to check the widespread abuse of power by the civilian and military bureaucracy and deliver justice to the people —notwithstanding grand standing and playing to the gallery. A section of the media seems to be very excited (as it was about the judiciary’s role during 2008-13) about how the anti-terrorism court has issued directives to the federal government to proceed against Pervez Musharraf. Some have cited this as an example of justice being done to both Nawaz and Musharraf. They would do well to recall when, in April 2012, Prime Minister (PM) Yusuf Raza Gilani was sent home on contempt of court charges after a short trial. Later in October 2012, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry delivered a ‘landmark’ verdict against former army Chief Aslam Beg in the Mehrangate case and declared him to be in violation of the constitution. Justice was done and Chaudhry was widely praised but nothing ever happened to Aslam Beg. If there is a redeeming fact in the current scenario, it is one that some may hotly dispute. It is a sign of a weakening establishment that it has been forced to embrace someone it has long loathed and demonized; Asif Zardari. What Imran Khan and a motley array of bearded and un-bearded characters could not deliver, Mr Zardari has; a broad political front against Nawaz Sharif. So where are we headed in the near future? The establishment didn’t expect Nawaz Sharif to put up the fight he has so far. He might be convicted and end up in jail before the election campaign starts. Then there are other methods to prevent his party from carrying out an effective election campaign and gain a large majority in Punjab. Even if he is able to get a large number of seats in Punjab, other options would still be open for the establishment on the lines that Pervez Musharraf was able to secure a majority of one vote to get Zafarullah Jamali elected as prime minister. It’s another matter he has no shame in admitting how brazenly he used the intelligence agencies to achieve that majority. That sure went a long way in removing the sense of deprivation in Balochistan, did it not? Sarcasm aside, the senate elections do provide some indication of what might be pivotal in getting the ‘positive’ results: independents and smaller parties. Imran is unreliable and Zardari too crafty. So the best bet would be to get enough ‘independents’ elected to the parliament, just enough to form a coalition which would be manageable! Long live the independent parliament. The writer is an analyst and an independent consultant Published in Daily Times, March 20th 2018.