The July 25 elections now bear the stains of blatant coercion, engineering and other tactics meant to deny a level playing field to candidates who aren’t a part of the ‘favoured party’.
Instead of an election — a pre-requisite to establishing a democratically elected dispensation — these polls have turned into a war of survival between the anti-democratic forces and proponents of civilian supremacy. The adage ‘everything is fair in love and war’ is being applied literally. Apparently, civilian supremacy is under attack because, seemingly it has refused to compromise and continue to play second fiddle to the establishment in the power game.
However, the employment of brute force and coercion by the establishment without bothering maintain any veneer indicates that the anti-democratic forces are bearing the brunt of the ongoing fighting.
Despite Nawaz Sharif’s ouster through a questionable verdict, his supporters’ love for the three times elected prime minister could not be dimmed as they marched defiantly on the streets of Lahore to support him upon his return from London, a decision placing him on the right side of history.
The Lahore rally by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) on July 13 proved to be much more than the simple act of receiving Nawaz Sharif from the airport, it was an act of resistance. The extraordinary measures taken by the caretaker government of Punjab to seal Lahore to prevent entry from outside, the imposition of Section 144 and placing of barricades in the city to deny right to free movement and assembly in the pre-election days failed to achieve the intended outcome.
Notwithstanding the crackdown on PML-N’s workers, according to statistics released by the police, roughly 16,000 PML-N workers were among those arrested with the overwhelming majority hailing from Lahore. Yet, PML-N workers only thronged to the streets in a more defiant and charged mood, virtually impinging the city with their presence from afternoon to midnight.
So far Nawaz’ greater success is getting through his narrative of ‘respect the vote’ and naming the forces behind his ouster. On July 13 ‘vote koi izzat do’ was the most chanted slogan on the streets of Lahore.
Any observer can tell that in such a challenging situation only committed political workers and die hard followers dare to come out on the streets. By that account, PML-N demonstrated its power impressively and wisely. Taking the charged crowd to the airport would certainly have ended in a confrontation that could have, in all probability, further provoked the anti-democratic forces against the PML-N and use it as a pretext to postpone the elections.
Perhaps, the July 25 election is unique, though not in a positive sense, in the political history of the country to constantly remain in a limbo. For the democratic forces it is a dilemma of take it or leave it. In case of tough resistance or confrontation, the postponement of the election might be a cherished option applied indefinitely by the establishment. And in case the elections take place they will have to follow the format set by it.
Another aberration from the past is that the nitty-gritty of political engineering and pre poll rigging is common knowledge before the election. For the first time the politicians, starting from Nawaz Sharif followed by the PPP leaders, named those involved in pre-poll rigging.
Analysts also indicate that the recent sudden spike in terrorist attacks in Peshawar, Bannu and Mastung are a threatening signal meant for some political elements and to put the overall political atmosphere under pressure.
Unfortunately, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), a constitutional body responsible for conducting free and fair elections outsourced its responsibilities to other institutions that reduced its status to a toothless and servile entity.