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Until a general election

Not everyone around here is too happy with the election tribunal verdicts in favour of the PTI. Bored by the dharna and sent into dizzying circles by Imran Khan’s about-turns, those looking for some peace and continuity had hoped that the judicial commission had clinched the issue for the PML-N. It is a tribute to the strength of both parties that the dispute has outlasted so many ‘endings’ including the supposed ‘final’ solution provided by the judges’ commission. If anything, the divided verdict by the commission may be viewed as further proof that the issue remained unsettled and by and large unaddressed.

There is little cause for revising the original remedy offered just when it had become clear that PTI had generated sufficient doubts about the conduct and outcome of the 2013 general election. Then it was thought that only another election could resolve the dispute. The contention here is the same, two and a quarter years down the road. Whether it is going to be a snap election or an election held at the completion of the term is open to debate. What is clear is that nothing short of a popular verdict obtained in a general election can decide the matter.

Reports say the PML-N is now thinking of trying out the by-elections to thwart PTI. Chances are there that the Sharif camp can get the better of the PTI in these by-elections. But if the pattern since the May 2013 polls is a guide, any relief that by-elections bring to the PML-N and to Pakistanis so wary of Imran Khan will be temporary. The conflict is spread far too wide and allies are too large a chunk of Pakistanis for any yielding to any half measures. If Imran Khan has to be defeated, he must be defeated fair and square in a general election. It can definitely not be decided by the law but by the principle of asking the people wherever doubts abound.

There are reasons to explain why there are so many still ready to listen to Imran Khan who has routinely been painted as a master of U-turns. Let’s face the truth. The space one occupies may be overwhelmed by those who do not like Imran Khan, yet the rule must prevail. It is the very nature of the law that it can provide loopholes for those we are not too fond of, so that the ones we like can be allowed relief when it is their turn.

The law in question here is the one that sustains democracy. Democratic order can only be built on the grounds of principles of fairness that are there to deal with people equally. The exercise through which democracy is sought to be established, such as an election, has to be fair. This basic argument has to be repeated time and again since no one is ready to respond to polite calls, based on logic as they might be.

The basic question that the recent election tribunal rulings bring back into the equation is: was there enough evidence of old agents having gone overboard with their ‘stop-Imran’ campaign in 2013? After suffering a setback in recent times when their case was dismissed by the judicial commission of the Supreme Court, the two recent verdicts and the one pertaining to NA-125 a while ago, all by the election tribunals, would indicate vindication to a PTI mind and to a mind that is able to retain some neutrality in this deeply polarised country.

The judicial commission was a PTI demand that evolved with time under pressure exerted by various sides, notwithstanding the cause of grief it later provided to Imran Khan and his charges. However, the original PTI call after the 2013 election was about the opening up of four constituencies for a quick analysis of whether or not the general election had been rigged.

Of these four constituencies, the PTI has been able to prove irregularities to the tribunal on three. Now only a most unreasonable soul can convince himself that being thrice vindicated is going to be evened out by a divided judicial commission rejection of the PTI claim.

There would be many reasons to explain why there are so many still ready to listen to Mr Imran Khan whereas he has routinely been painted as an unthinking master of U-turns. Not least significant of these is Mr Khan’s successful maintenance of the image where he appears to be fighting the system, under duress, having to use the tools available within the system to persevere with his struggle for ‘inqilab’. That is his appeal, a point he should stick to, his hope of winning over a majority at some stage.

The system every now and then does do something to betray that it didn’t want to treat the PTI and Mr Khan with the same magnanimity or the same disinterest as it treated some others.

Away from the blame game that is enacted to paint the kaptaan as the villain and the destroyer-in-chief of the national economy, an alternate argument would be that his well-entrenched opponents were guilty of not reacting fast enough to his demands: the government did finally concede to the judicial commission, after wasting 126 days denying the same to the PTI.

In recent days, the system’s unacceptability — contempt — of Mr Imran Khan was reflected in the snub he received from the election commission over some questions he had raised. This does help his victim narrative. Despite the reverses he has suffered in recent days — at the hands of the judicial commission, in by-elections — it is important to go out and try and gauge the public mood. It is important to find out whether these little victories at the tribunal resonate with the public against the background of Mr Khan’s appeal either side of the 2013 election and the discrimination he has been subjected to by those manning the system. They do appear to have an uplifting effect on PTI.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Asha’ar Rehman, "Until a general election," Dawn. 2015-08-28.
Keywords: Political science , Political aspects , Judicial process , Political parties , Political issues , Supreme court , Post elections-2013 , Judiciary-Pakistan , Democracy , Imran Khan , Pakistan , PMLN , PTI