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Analysis: High turnout may invalidate Nawaz’s narrative

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz narrative appears to have been swallowed by the international electronic media hook, line and sinker with frequent reference to ‘celestial beings’, the ubiquitous establishment, and pre-poll rigging through targeting electables, yet a high enough turnout may invalidate this narrative, political pundits argue.

Turnout in 2018 elections is being projected at higher than the 55 percent in 2013 elections, against 44 percent in 2008 – indicative of rising public perception that it must exert its right to vote to bring about change in the existing appalling socio-economic conditions. This is supported by frequent challenge to potential candidates while campaigning in their constituencies in the run up to the elections.

Election-day rigging is no longer possible on a large enough scale to make a difference. Several major PML-N, PTI and Pakistan Peoples Party leaders were asked by journalists outside polling stations after they cast their votes whether they had received any complaints of rigging and their answers were in the negative.

However there is evidence that pre-poll rigging, a usual practice in Pakistan reflective of the desire of the electables to join the ‘winning’ party, did take place in favour of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI). But targeting electables a few months before elections, consisting of around 30 percent of those awarded the PTI ticket, may give the party first place in parliament but unless PTI can deliver to these electables in the manner they are used to (through granting portfolios and/or awarding lucrative contracts) Imran Khan would be unable to retain their loyalty for long. Any such targeting therefore would be for a limited duration and make for a weak central government.

The elections were marred by two attacks, both in Balochistan – one in Quetta where 31 were killed, and 36 injured, and another in Buleda (near the Iran border) where 3 security personnel and a civilian were killed while escorting polling staff in NA 271 the night before elections. In the rest of the country elections were largely peaceful with some fights breaking out among rival party supporters though no casualties were reported. Two parties are widely believed to have received powerful patronage – the Pakistan Sarzameen Party, a splinter group from the MQM, whose relevance declined dramatically after MQM Pakistan publicly delinked itself from MQM London; and Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), consisting of electables, that succeeded in getting its own candidate as Senate Chairman through what was considered impossible – getting Imran Khan’s PTI and Asif Ali Zardari’s PPP to vote for the same candidate. BAT is expected to play a major role in strengthening the party that eventually forms the government in the centre. Guardian newspaper, UK, reported that a Pakistani senator from the Balochistan National Party stated that “elections are being rigged in NA 270, 271, and 272 because people are not allowed to cast their vote and security officers, presiding officers, have banned people from entering. The security officers are supporting the candidates of the BAP in Makran.” No independent verification of this charge is possible and it can be dismissed on lack of evidence.

In the event that no political party wins an outright majority a coalition with other parties and/or independents would have to be forged/negotiated to form a government – the more support the lead party would require to form the government the weaker it would be. However what is a source of satisfaction for Pakistan’s nascent democracy is that an increasing number are engaging in the exercise of voting and demanding performance from those who seek their vote.

Anjum Ibrahim, "Analysis: High turnout may invalidate Nawaz’s narrative," Business Recorder. 2018-07-26.
Keywords: Electronic media , Celestial beings , Central government , National party , Powerful patronage , Nascent democracy , Pakistan , PPP , MQM , PTI , BAP , 2008