New Delhi: General elections in Pakistan will see four broad categories of contestants — dynasts, electables, deserters and the religious right.
Dynastic democracies have been a feature of the subcontinent for decades, except with regard to the number of dynasts that contest, win and hold vital positions.
When it comes to elections across the border, the old dictum “that he who rules Punjab is expected to rule Pakistan” almost always assumes significance.
Insofar as Punjab province is concerned, electables, dynasts and mullahs will matter.
Central Punjab (Faisalabad, Lahore, Jhang, Sargodha, Gujrat, Gujranwala and others constitute 82 seats and in a bastion of the Sharif family. They will have to win here substantially to have a chance at forming the government.
With Nawaz’s political fortunes in the doldrums, there have also been reports of friction between the brothers and there have been desertions, some of them have joined the PTI.
These desertions could boost the PTI’s performance in the Punjab and increase its tally from the present eight National Assembly seats.
The PPP will remain a poor third as it was in 2013, when it won a mere two National Assembly seats.
Despondency in the PPP ranks will not help the party improve its performance.
Southern Punjab has a mind of its own. It has never been a stronghold of any one party where a Janoobi Punjab Suba Mahaz has been formed seeking greater rights for southern Punjab.
This most certainly looks like a political ploy ahead of the elections.
Despite defections and uncertainties, the PML (N) could do well in Central Punjab, but it is still early days. Others are less sanguine about its prospects.
Hassan Javaid argues in the Herald Dawn that “powerful local ‘electables’ possessing considerable economic resources, social status and political connections to the state and other politicians, can use their influence to mobilise support based on kinship and other social ties and to cobble together vote blocs underpinned to their ability to provide patronage to their supporters.”
Thus, when an electable candidate defects, he takes his voters with him to the rival party. It is the candidate who is useful, not his party apparatus.
At the same time, the man making the crossover must be able to select the right party to join. On his own he may not win in the elections should he contest on his own as an independent.
There have been a number of ‘electables’ who have joined the PTI in Punjab but this still does not assure the party victory.
Members of political families won 121 seats (out of 274) in the National Assembly in the 2013 elections. Seventy five of these were from Punjab, 30 from Sindh, 11 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 2 from Balochistan and FATA each and one from Islamabad.
Although many new entrants had formed their own dynasties, the trend seems to be to move away, but these will matter in the current elections.
For the present the feudal dynasts like those from the Bhutto group will be contend with the new non-feudal dynasts like Maryam Nawaz and her cousin Hamza Shahbaz.
There are other dynasties that have ruled their own territories in Punjab like the Elahis, Ghulam Dastgir Khan; Shah Mahmood Qureshi and son control Multan for the PTI.
The Khosas, who wielded tremendous influence like the Tiwanas and Daultanas through the vast lands they controlled are now a shadow of their past.
Now one sees business barons also emerging.
The Bhattis control the industrial town of Hafizabad, the Cheemas have Bahawalpur, while the Pagaros, Magsis and Chandios have functioned more like warlords, often using their influence to bend or evade the law.
The other battleground will be Karachi, where for decades in the past, the MQM, PML (N) and PPP have been the major players.
However, in 2018, the PTI, having replaced the PPP in Punjab, is likely to be a major contender in Karachi. It is possible that the Pashtun of Karachi who had voted for Awami National Party or others may now vote for Imran Khan.
A factionalised MQM and a weakened PPP will give Imran Khan considerable advantage and it would be interesting how the Barelvi Sunni Tehreek-e-Labbaik fairs in Karachi.
The Milli Muslim League (MML) may not be contesting elections as it is linked with Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), but Saeed’s 265 candidates, including his son, Hafiz Talha Saeed and son-in-law, Hafiz Khalid Waleed, are contesting the elections under the banner of Allah-u-Akbar Tehrik, a little-known registered party.
This party may not win any seats, but will certainly act as a spoiler against PML (N), and if it succeeds, its purpose would have been served.
The stage has now set for Act II – one might call this Operation Noora Kushti – that is to stifle dissent and even disagreement and promote a new protege.
This will require curbing of the media, creating divisions within the PML (N) and denigrating politicians and democracy.
Pakistan’s Geo TV has had restrictions placed on it in 2014, there were penalties in 2017 and in March 2018, the channel went off the air mysteriously with politicians saying they had not ordered this.
Apparently, the military had ordered this. Apparently, Geo TV was keen to discuss the 18th Constitutional Amendment introduced in 2010 that restricted the military’s role in politics.
The military wants this abolished and Geo TV was opposed to this.
Besides, Geo TV was giving wide overage to Nawaz Sharif and the army found this unpalatable.
There were other prominent cases of harassment and intimidation of journalists Taha Siddiqui, a correspondent with France 24 and WIONTV, who had to flee to France after he escaped his kidnappers in January 2018.
In June, unidentified assailants abducted Gul Bukhari, an activist and a journalist in Lahore, but she was released later.
A few days ago, Marvi Sirmed, a journalist, had her house “burgled” and the “burglars” took away only the computers and cell phones, but nothing else after leaving enough evidence that they had ransacked the entire house.
The message was obvious. Pakistan’s oldest newspaper Dawn discovered one day that its circulation had been restricted, while all newspapers and TV channels became very circumspect about covering the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement.
Arrests of Pashtun leaders and their rallies have gone unreported in the mainstream media.
On the other hand, there was no restriction about revealing that more than 2700 out of about 21500 candidates were facing multiple criminal charges. There were many illustrious names from all the parties and the charges varied from corruption, rape, money laundering, human trafficking, extortion and murder.
The names that figure prominently are Asif Ali Zardari co-chairman PPP, faces a trial for alleged embezzlement of Rs.180 billion. PTI Chairman Imran Khan faces an NAB probe for illegal use of government helicopter and faces terror charges for attacking a PTV building during his protest movement. Nawaz’s brother and Chief Minister of Punjab Shahbaz Sharif faces multiple charges of embezzlement of billions of rupees. Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, MQM Pakistan chief Farooq Sattar, PSP president Mustafa Kamal, former federal ministers Khawaja Asif, Khawaja Saad Rafique, former Chief Ministers, Balochistan, Aslam Raisani and Sanaullah Zehri, are among those who faces various NAB enquiries. The list is endless.
Mr. Vikram Sood is a former Secretary, Research and Analysis Wing (R & AW).