The Post-Election Phase

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Dr Qaisar Rashid

After passing through all hic­cups, Pakistan has entered the post-election phase. The ma­jor threat hovering over the general elections was its credibility. On the electoral board, however, the presence of a number of successful independent can­didates validates the much sought-after reliability.
In Lahore, on the elections’ day of February 8, the internet services remained blocked (and de­nied to subscribers) for more than 18 hours (from 12pm to 6am next day). This was a perfect example of display­ing how a government, be it an inter­im one, representing the state, tended to interfere in the daily lives of people. Similarly, the same point also shows how the state yearned for a controlled system refuting blatantly all concepts of constitutionally stipulated legitimate freedom of the citizenry.
Despite being chastened or dis­tant, independent candidates (de­void of a unified electoral symbol) be­longing to the Pakistan Tehreke Insaf (PTI) contested the general elections. The party’s committed voters, appar­ently withdrawn, did not disappoint them. In fact, way before February 8, the electoral contest had been boiled down to the PTI versus the state. On February 8, Pakistan’s Election Com­mission might have endeavored to make the elections credible, but the real credit to do so goes to the voters, who came out in droves to cast their votes. February 8 remained a day of retribution. Scores were levelled. The state’s crackdown on the PTI workers ahead of the elections was answered pitilessly even by the general public, who happened to be the neutral vot­ers. Even proselytes had joined their ranks. In brief, the spring-back move of the PTI was supported sufficiently by the general public.
February 8 proved two points: first, Pakistanis were fond of democracy; and second, the Pakistanis yearned for as­serting their rights against all odds. The obverse side of the argument was that the Pakistanis in general had decided not to submit to the dictate of the state – expressed through its oppressive in­stitutions. The same also meant that, on February 8, the Pakistanis ditched any plan emulating the much bruited about Bangladesh model to rule over the country (under any kind of hybrid re­gime) for a certain period of time. The dictate of February 8 was that, in Paki­stan, not any model but only the Consti­tution of 1973 could prevail.
Though credible elections were im­portant for the political and economic stability of the country, the post-elec­tion phase proclaims its own set of challenges.
First, both in provinces and at the Center, the presence of successfully elected independent candidates would unleash an effort to entice and coerce (carrot and stick) them into joining a political party. The carrot aspect of the effort would open possibilities for broadening the cabinet size with min­isters and sub-ministers enjoying perks and privileges drawn from the public money, costing the economy adversely.
Second, there are chances of the emergence of a coalition government at the Center. As per the verdict of his­tory, a coalition government struggles for finding stability in its existence and consensus in its decisions. The same also means that fragility may become the hallmark of the government, ren­dering its life span short of the stip­ulated time. Even the perceived frail­ty would militate against international commitments which the government would make in the sphere of economy. For instance, a coalition government beset with fault lines may be able to se­cure the third tranche of loans amount­ing to $ 1.1 billion from the Internation­al Monetary Fund (IMF) in March this year, but the government would face problems in seeking the next long-term (supposedly for three years) IMF finan­cial assistance program.
Third, whereas the presence of a broad-based coalition government may show a reconciled face of politics, the same hotchpotch would keep inves­tors (both local and foreigners) skeptic about the government’s future. Without seeing local investors taking a lead, for­eign investors may remain tentative to have an economic stake in the system. For instance, Pakistan’s effort to project a civil-military mix (called the hybrid model) to guarantee the security of in­vestment and financial return is so far otiose – barren to the core. The expect­ed post-election struggle to employ car­rot and stick would accentuate vulner­abilities of the political system – to the horrors of investors.
Fourth, reflected in various nation­al surveys and international rankings, the past decade showed the world Pak­istan’s decrepit higher judiciary, on which even local investors were un­willing to rely. This is also a reason of the cold shoulder given by even friend­ly opulent countries. For instance, the Middle Eastern countries includ­ing Saudi Arabia are interested in in­vesting in Pakistan but not under Pak­istan’s law. They want an extension of either the law of their land or the law of a third country to govern mutual agree­ments with Pakistan.
Fifth, the mere emergence of indepen­dent candidates, whether or not they remained successful electorally, indi­cates simmering socio-political restive­ness in the country. The number of vot­ers who voted for the PTI’s sponsored independent candidates can be count­ed, which would indicate the fester­ing unidentified yet countable dissatis­fied populace that have been seething with anger at the state’s acts. Without calming them down to satisfaction, the country would remain on the verge of an upheaval, especially when the elec­torate has issued its democratic verdict. Pakistan has to change it attire from a police state to a democratic state.
In short, the rise of a number of in­dependent public representatives is bound to go against the health of both politics and economy. They are bound to raise a voice against their incarcer­ated leader, weighed down by trumped up cases. Against any consequential mayhem, it may be difficult for the IMF to get a green signal from its lenders to support Pakistan favourably in the next financial year (2024-25).

The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at qaisarrashid@yahoo.com