Walking the tight rope

The defeat of some establishment stalwarts is not enough to prove that these elections were free and fair

Nobody expected these results. Most political pundits did not expect the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to win so many seats in both the National Assembly (NA) and in the Punjab. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)never expected such a decisive loss. Certain all-season politicians have also been thrown out — including some establishment favourites! This is all very unusual for Pakistan, yet some people did see it coming. These are the same people who termed these elections the most micromanaged in the country’s history.

One common complaint this year was that certain candidates’ polling agents were unceremoniously thrown out or removed from the polling station before the counting of the votes began. This complaint came from PML-N spokesperson Mariyam Aurangzeb a while after polling ended. The same allegations were made by some other parties as well.

Thus, another opportunity to hold truly free and fair elections has been lost, even after deploying army personnel at polling stations and spending over Rs 20 billion from the national exchequer. Unfortunately the trained staff and the army invigilators could not ensure timely counting of votes at the polling and their dissemination to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). Speaking of the ECP, it’s specially prepared technical system failed as well, causing the whole process to take far longer than it should have.

The PTI will now learn the hard way that politics is not all about speeches and promises of a glorious future. Neither is it all about making the best team or having the right backers. It’s also about surviving the wrath of the opposition

The defeat of some establishment stalwarts is not enough to prove that these elections were free and fair. Recounting of votes in six constituencies has proven this. PTI ‘winners’ from these constituencies ended up losing their NA seats. Strangely, the ECP is not allowing the recounting of votes in many other constituencies, despite repeated requests from the contesting candidates.

In many cases even the recounting won’t work. There are many videos up on social media showing ballots have been manipulated. Eligible votes have been found in garbage dumps. What does the ECP plan to do about this?

Regardless, this damaged democratic process will move on. After all, the general public is very happy about getting rid of some careerist politicians. Some of the losing parties have cried foul and tried to assemble themselves for joint protests. However, this is unlikely to be effective since they won’t be joined by the PML-N and PPP. This is a wise decision, as it will make the numbers game harder for PTI in the long run. The prime minister elect and his team will be walking a tight rope in the days to come as they try to secure a majority in the National Assembly.

The PTI will now learn the hard way that politics is not all about speeches and promises of a glorious future. Neither is it all about making the best team or having the right backers. It’s also about surviving the wrath of the opposition. The PTI will be facing a large opposition made up by the PML-N and PPP, which will be experienced, aggressive and won’t forgive any mistakes.

The writer is an Islamabad-based policy advocacy, strategic communication and outreach expert. He can be reached at devcom.pakistan@gmail.com. He tweets @EmmayeSyed

Published in Daily Times, July 31st 2018.