Asif Haroon Raja |
The voters went to the allocated polling stations early in the morning of July 25 to take part in the 13th general elections. The voting started at 8 a.m. amidst sea of doubts, skepticism, hopes and high emotions. 85000 polling stations had been established all over the country and elaborate arrangements were made by the caretakers to ensure free and fair elections. For the first time, the Army spared 350,000 troops to ensure security and transparent elections. Extraordinary preparations had become essential in the wake of disturbed security situation, extreme political polarization, intense PML-N and PTI rivalry, and former’s anti-judiciary cum Establishment narrative.
Till the winding up of polling process at 6 pm, there were no complaints of rigging or mismanagement heard from any quarter. Over 55% voters polled their votes. Results of counting of votes of each candidate started appearing on TV screens from 7 pm onward. All went well till midnight after which all except PTI started complaining about poll rigging. President PML-N Shahbaz Sharif (SS) flanked by Mushahid Hussain, Maryam Aurangzeb and Musadiq Malik held a hurried press conference at 11 pm. They complained of lack of transparency and widespread irregularities in elections.
They alleged that at certain polling stations, Returning Officers refused to hand over Form-45 containing official results to their polling agents. Allegedly, they were maltreated and forcibly shunted out while counting of votes was going on. They alleged that results of their winning candidates were purposely withheld. Describing the elections as the worst ever held in the history of Pakistan, Shahbaz rejected the results. Rana Sanaullah termed the elections as electoral terrorism. Similar complaints were aired by PPP, MQM-P, PSP, MMA, BNP, JUI-F and TLP. Future stance of PML-N was to be announced on the following day after consultation with other grieving parties.
For the first time, the Army spared 350,000 troops to ensure security and transparent elections. Extraordinary preparations had become essential in the wake of disturbed security situation, extreme political polarization, intense PML-N and PTI rivalry, and former’s anti-judiciary cum Establishment narrative.
ECP Secretary Babar Yaqub vainly tried to cool down the tempers of the complainants. He admitted that failure of transmission system procured from abroad caused the delay in transmitting results. Another excuse given was that some polling agents had themselves left the rooms once they learnt that their candidates were losing. Earlier on, before and during the election campaign, Nawaz Sharif (NS) and his daughter Maryam kept the political temperature high by blaming the judiciary, NAB and the Establishment of pre-poll rigging and systematic demolition of PML-N aimed at giving a free run to PTI to win the elections. It was alleged that selective accountability, manipulation and coercion impelled 61 MNAs belonging to the ruling party to desert. They further alleged that BAP, PSP, GDA, and Jeep were the creations of Establishment to castrate PML-N.
After his disqualification by a 5-member Supreme Court Bench on July 28, 2017, NS was unseated from his seat of party head and then sentenced to 10-year imprisonment in a corruption reference by trial court concerning purchase of Avenfield apartments in London. Maryam was also awarded 7-year sentence and both are in Adiala jail. Several leading lights of PML-N were disqualified or punished by Election Commission (EC), judiciary and NAB. Over 16000 party workers were arrested in Lahore, and NAB has remained mainly focused on Punjab including Shahbaz. Guns of media also remained trained toward PML-N till last May. All these acts gave reasons to the leaders of PML-N to crib that a willful plan had been unleashed to emasculate the party. In their view, election-day rigging surpassed pre-poll rigging.
While the EC had promised to provide details of election results by 2 a.m. on the morning of 26 July, till 3 a.m. not a single result came out. Undue delay further heightened their anxieties. Counting process continued throughout the day and 95% results were announced by media channels during the night of 26th July. Some results are still trickling in. PTI is well ahead and has won the race with 122 National Assembly seats, followed by PML-N with 63 seats, PPP with 43 seats. Independents won 18 seats, while tally of MMA is 13 seats. MQM-P got 6, PML-Q got 4, GDA 4, PML-Q 3, JUI-F one, PFP one, MQM-H one, AML one, and TLP one, BNP-A one, and BAP one seat.
At the provincial level, in Sindh, PPP is in the lead with 75 seats followed by PTI with 22 seats, GDA 14, MQM-P 14 seats, PML-N 4, TLP 3 seats, MMA 3 seat, and MQM-H one. In KP, PTI with 57 seats in its bag will easily form a govt. MMA got 7 seats, ANP 5 seats, PML-N 4, PPP 4, QWP 1, TLP one and independents 5. In Baluchistan, BAP got 14 seats, MMA 10 seats and BNP 9 seats. Toughest contest was in Punjab where PML-N secured 131 seats followed by PTI acquiring 124 seats.
Rana Sanaullah termed the elections as electoral terrorism. Similar complaints were aired by PPP, MQM-P, PSP, MMA, BNP, JUI-F and TLP. Future stance of PML-N was to be announced on the following day after consultation with other grieving parties.
Several heavy weights such as SS, Khaqan Abbasi, Ch Nisar, Yusaf Raza Gilani, Asfand Wali, Bilour, Shahi Sayed, Mustafa Kamal, Farooq Sattar, Saad Rafique, Amir Muqam, Yasmin Rashid, Ashiq Firdous, Talal, Danyal, Abid Sher Ali, Ch Tariq, Jamshed Dasti, Tehmina Daultana were put out of the race. Most closely fought contests were between Khwaja Asif and Dar, and Imran Khan (IK) versus Saad Rafique. IK made history by contesting from five constituencies and winning all. Well done to the runner up PML-N, and heartiest congratulations to the winning party PTI. IK’s 22-year political struggle and his dream of becoming the PM of Pakistan has at last been fulfilled.
Thanks to the Caretakers and the Chief Justice for standing up to their pledges to hold timely and fair elections despite the pessimism of the naysayers. Hats off to the security forces, particularly the Army for undertaking this thankless job. Five soldiers performing election duties were martyred yesterday. People showered petals and presented flower bouquets to the men on duty to express their affections. It was nice to see security officials helping the aged.
TV channels did their job of reporting and keeping the viewers updated about the polling process and ups and downs in the unfolding election results throughout the night and even now proficiently. Surprisingly, Indian TV channels were equally enthusiastic in giving details of the vote count and also painting IK in poor light. The voters also deserve accolades for going to the polling stations to cast their votes in spite of hot and humid weather, security threats and waiting for their turn in long queues for hours. At some places, process of voting was slow. Few unfortunate incidents of terrorism, particularly in Quetta and lawlessness were deplorable but those incidents didn’t mar the enthusiasm of voters.
NS’s policy of defiance against the establishment and the judiciary, his effort to promote his development agenda and to garner sympathy vote failed to earn victory for PML-N. IK’s slogan of corruption by the PML-N and PPP leaders, his pledge to bring back the looted money stashed in foreign banks and to make New Pakistan appealed to the senses of the people and he emerged victorious. Surprisingly, most top electables of PML-N tumbled while the PTI’s electables including the defectors won. IK’s charisma worked and so did the magic spell of Peerni.
MMA got 7 seats, ANP 5 seats, PML-N 4, PPP 4, QWP 1, TLP one and independents 5. In Baluchistan, BAP got 14 seats, MMA 10 seats and BNP 9 seats. Toughest contest was in Punjab where PML-N secured 131 seats followed by PTI acquiring 124 seats.
Despite the unceremonious ouster of NS, judicial activism poised against PML-N and mass desertions, PML-N was somehow confident to win in the Centre as well as in Punjab because of its 5-year performance. Had it restricted its tirade against the PTI, judiciary and NAB, and avoided censuring the Army, it could have avoided cooking its goose. People didn’t like criticism of army, which is held in their highest esteem due to sacrifices rendered in the war on terror.
SS’s policy of conciliation as opposed to offensive posture of NS and Maryam, and his inability to arrange a rousing reception for NS at Lahore airport on July 13th smothered the flare-up of protests by the Leaguers, thereby putting no pressure on the caretakers to relent and grant concessions. He did little to bolster the simmering sympathy wave among the people of Punjab when NS and Maryam were interned. That is why he lost on all his seats.
Malicious propaganda campaign launched by PML-N media cell and international media, coupled with Gulalai and Reham Khan’s character assassination drive against IK to dishonor him failed to lessen his popularity. Spectacular results achieved by PTI catapulted the party from 3rd position in 2013 to leading party and stunned its opponents and also took the PTI by surprise. Results cast aside the widely held prophesy of the analysts of a hung parliament.
PTI is in a position to form federal govt by mustering support of the independents and smaller parties; KP govt without the crutches of others; a coalition govt in Punjab, and lead a strong opposition in Sindh. PTI emerged as the leading winning party in KP where it was generally opined that MMA, PML-N and ANP will give a tough fight and might form a govt. It is for the first time that people reposed trust confidence in one party for the second time consecutively. PTI is close to securing two-thirds majority (86 seats) with the help of 16 women reserved seats. If so, it will be the first time in KP.
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PML-N that had retained its unassailable hold over Lahore fortress was for the first time breached by four contestants of PTI. Rest of 10 seats were retained by PML-N. Although PML-N has a narrow edge over PTI in Punjab, the PTI can form a govt with the help of independents, PML-Q, AML, and BAP. PTI ended the winning streaks of MQM in their strongholds in Karachi and emerged as the 2nd largest party in Sindh, but it failed to trounce the monopoly of PPP over Sindh, a setback in the July 25 outcome.
PPP is in strong position to form a govt in Sindh at its own, but will have to face tough opposition led by PTI as well as the accountability of NAB which is likely to enter Sindh soon. Baluchistan is the only province where no mainstream party won any seat. BAP created in March this year over which PPP and PTI has influence, has made deep inroads in the province. Some are wondering whether PTI will reciprocate PML-N’s generosity it had shown in 2013 to let PTI form a coalition govt in KP by letting PML-N form Punjab govt or otherwise. PTI has decided to form a govt in Punjab to ensure better governance of the country.
It has now been learnt that despite his serious reservations and complaints, turning down the advice of his hawks, SS after consulting his core committee, has shown grace, magnanimity and maturity by letting PTI govern in Punjab. PML-N has decided to sit in opposition. Commenting over the elections results, the jailed NS lamented that PTI’s victory was engineered and PML-N’s victory was stolen. Hoax of much publicized ‘Jeep’ symbol given to the independents led by Ch Nisar and supported by the army stands punctured. Nisar lost from all his constituencies. Likewise the bogeys of PSP and GDA drummed up as Establishment backed to cut PPP to size also fizzled out.
PPP with 43 National Assembly seats has assumed the position of a kingmaker and is in good position to help PTI to form governments in the Centre and Punjab, or PML-N in Punjab, but PTI is least likely to muster its support. Opportunist Independents are in great demand of PTI and PML-N, but in case the latter pulls out of Punjab, independents would lose their power to extract rewards. After the prolonged black rule of MQM during which Karachi had plunged into darkness and Karachites suffered from acute insecurity, the port city saw the people voting freely for the first time and breaking the myth of terrorism.
Making his victory speech at his residence in Bani Gala after winning elections, IK showed his large heartedness by saying he will not indulge in political victimization. IK highlighted his future course of action. Unlike his rash and aggressive posturing, he appeared calm and composed and talked maturely. He renewed his pledges to make Pakistan a welfare state, set aside culture of ostentation and adopt austerity, start process of accountability from himself and his ministers, safeguard taxpayers money, promote culture of tax, strengthen anti-corruption systems, reinvigorate the slumping economy, spend more on human development and on poverty alleviation, accord preference to the deprived class and uplift their fortunes.
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He pledged to improve governance system and introduce a system never seen before. He intends to convert PM House, Governor Houses and State guest houses in Murree into public facilities. He spelled out his foreign policy by highlighting continued closeness with China, learning from China’s experience in taking 70 crore people out of poverty and dealing with menace of corruption. He expressed his keenness to restore peace in Afghanistan and to open the border, maintain best of relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia, and play a conciliatory role to end differences among Middle East countries.
SS’s policy of conciliation as opposed to offensive posture of NS and Maryam, and his inability to arrange a rousing reception for NS at Lahore airport on July 13th smothered the flare-up of protests by the Leaguers, thereby putting no pressure on the caretakers to relent and grant concessions.
He desired two-way friendly relations with India and resolution of core dispute of Kashmir through dialogue. He also stressed on maintaining balanced and mutually beneficial relations with USA. In the end, he talked of allegations of rigging made by political parties. He welcomed a probe and assured his full cooperation. This reconciliatory bluster was aimed at soothing the rising tempers of his political opponents and to prevent PML-N from resorting to sit-in. While his policy assertions are well meaning, what he must not forget is that that he has housed large numbers of turncoats who have joined PTI in search of greener pastures. Old habits don’t die. With turncoats and the types of Jahangir Tareen and Aleem Khan around him, one wonders how he will implement the desired austerity and make Pakistan corruption free. I reckon, Aleem Khan is tipped as CM Punjab.
With regard to the contours of his foreign policy, I see it similar to the one pursued by the last regime or the previous ones. Big question is, will he be able to bring a change in rigid stance of India and Afghanistan, and remove the mistrust of USA, and above all, adopt a pro-active policy?
His mention of open border with Afghanistan has raised many eyebrows. Already he was under severe criticism on account of his secret parleys with infamous Manzoor Pashteen and seat adjustments with him. After 70 years, Pakistan decided to fence the western border which is being done by the army at a heavy financial and human cost. Any reversal in this process will have serious implications. After NS, it’s now IK’s turn in the barrel. Let us see how he conducts himself and behaves under duress and takes timely and sanguine decisions.
But for the irregularities on part of the EC, elections were by and large fair and transparent. What is undesirable is the resentful mood of the opposition parties particularly the JUI-F that are trying to make the elections controversial and are bracing to start agitations. Maulana Fazlur Rehman has called an All Parties conference on 27th July. Hopefully, PML-N will not adopt disruptive politics to settle scores with PTI. Given the grave economic situation and troublesome security situation, resort to politics of agitation is least desirable, although some are of the view that PTI should be paid in the same coin. I wish IK and his party ocean of luck and pray that he lives up to his promises, rid Pakistan of its multiple ailments, make Pakistan prosperous and self-reliant, and restore the dignity of the nation.
Asif Haroon Raja is a retired Brig Gen, war veteran, defense and security analyst, columnist, author of five books, Vice Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre. email@example.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.