It’s that time of the electoral cycle again – the Senate election – when the unfortunate tradition of wheeling and dealing and also greasing of palms is at its peak in the race for seats in the Upper House of Parliament, but this time the Senate poll is effectively a contest between the politics of Imran Khan and the politics of all the others. Surely it’s a bit rich of the two main opposition parties that also dominate the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), to present themselves as so called defenders of democracy because even those with very short memories remember very well how they spent much of the last three decades indulging in some of the most undemocratic practices to undermine each other. The politics of victimisation, which they blame the ruling Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI) of indulging in, is in fact their creation and anybody that uses the garb of accountability to hunt down and punish political rivals actually takes a leaf out of their book. And now that not just their interests but their very survival is put in question, they have very conveniently ‘reconciled’ and in fact become the patrons of so called politics of reconciliation whereas the only element of reconciliation in their alliance is agreeing to stop fighting among themselves at least as long as the wolf is at the door. Those with slightly longer memories will remind you that Nawaz Sharif the politician, who is now supposedly the paragon of anti-establishment, pro-people democracy, was midwifed by the brutal dictatorial regime of General Zia ul Haq. It was the most straight forward, old-fashioned deal. Zia got a compliant nobody to do his work in the most important province and the Sharifs got a business empire in return. After Zia the very establishment that Nawaz now opposes catapulted him to the highest office in the land and the following decade, till General Musharraf upset the apple cart all over again, was dominated by a fierce political battle between PPP and PML-N, the cost of which was very literally borne by the people of Pakistan. Now they have joined forces to use all their power, might, outreach and resources to discredit the administration of Prime Minister Imran Khan. That is a little strange for seasoned observers of Pakistan’s politics because it seems like only yesterday that Nawaz donned a black coat and headed to the Supreme Court to plead the memogate case against Yousaf Gilani’s government in person. Yousaf was of course the prime minister who was drowned in controversy and ultimately disqualified for contempt of court. Now he’s the opposition’s aspirant for of Senate chairman. Those were the days when these parties accused each other of the kind of corruption and victimisation that these days both accuse PTI of; and even then they were at loggerheads about something or the other to do with Senate elections. Since then they’ve also formed a pattern of appreciating court decisions that suit them and reacting quite defiantly to those that hurt them. When the honourable courts find against PTI’s Jahangir Tareen, for example, they deliver plain justice but when they disqualify Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz they are immediately reduced to mere puppets in PML-N’s rhetoric. Bureaucrats that happily became yes men were routinely rewarded with the best transfers and postings and those that were troubled by conscience found themselves pushed to the sidelines in an instant. That way, over the years, they not only blunted the country’s once very potent civil service but also hurt the credibility of the judiciary. Now their most obvious target is Imran Khan and the changes, like the open vote in the Senate, that he is trying to bring to Pakistan’s political system. Being very old players at the game with their claws buried deep in the soil of the country over the years, they sense division in PTI’s ranks and are bent upon bulldozing the reforms that PTI is trying to introduce, even though both of them agreed when they signed the Charter of Democracy in London during General Musharraf’s time to make the Senate poll transparent, that is go the way Imran Khan is pushing for right now. That is why this year’s Senate vote is in fact nothing but a contest between the old way of playing politics in Pakistan and what is being seen as the new way. If protecting the element of secrecy in the voting process directly encourages and enables corruption and betrayal, then those fighting to keep it can only do so to further both practices in our politics. That is why this poll is effectively a fight between Imran’s politics and that of the old school.