Pakistan election 2018: Imran Khan’s shot at power under Army’s watch
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Pakistan election 2018: Imran Khan’s shot at power under Army’s watch

Most Pakistanis, when asked, seem to believe their next prime minister will be cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTU). While this excites some, others are disillusioned by the thought.

world Updated: Jul 25, 2018 08:34 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
Pakistan election 2018,Pakistan election results,Imran Khan
Workers, who set up the venue, sit under a wall with a billboard displaying photo of Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), political party, as they listen to him during a campaign rally ahead of general elections in Karachi, Pakistan.(Reuters File Photo)

Many have predicted a win for Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party when his country goes to polls on Wednesday on the back of, what many have alleged, unprecedented support and interference of the army in the electoral system. (live updates)

Most Pakistanis, when asked, seem to believe their next prime minister will be the cricketer-turned-politician. While this excites some, others are disillusioned by the thought.

There are others who argue that the PTI, which has seen the successive poor performance in the past elections, has finally come of age.

“We have three options. An untried party supported by the military and two parties which have ruled one after the other and have both been accused of corruption,” Zarar Khuhro, an analyst with a local TV channel, says.

Khan’s prospects are bright. Corruption seems to be the single agenda, say observers, and Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification is the rallying point for his opponents.

Read: Imran Khan, playboy Pakistan cricket hero turned reformist politician

Weak opponents

Nawaz has seen a dip in his popularity but his younger brother Shehbaz Sharif seems to retain a hold over his voters. The ousted prime minister is in a prison on corruption charges and suffering from heart and kidney problems.

Political analysts say the chances of PML-N president Shehbaz of becoming Pakistan’s next prime minister may be slim, but in the case of a hung parliament, he may well be the ideal choice for all quarters.

Unlike elder brother Nawaz, Shehbaz plays his cards close to his chest. He has not confronted or challenged any state institution in public and has always stayed on the right side of the military. In the past, he has acted as a go-between for his brother and the military high command. While not a favourite with the establishment, many believe he could be a good compromise candidate in case of a deadlock.

Bilawal Bhutto, who did some extensive campaigning, isn’t being seen as a serious challenger because his Pakistan People’s Party is in disarray. Bilawal’s chances of becoming the next prime minister may be slim, but his campaign has won him many admirers.

Imran Khan, chief of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, addresses supporters during an election campaign in Lahore on July 18, 2018. (AP)

As things stand, analysts say that the party--founded by Bilawal’s grandfather and former premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto--is possibly at its worst point. From a national party at the time of his mother Benazir Bhutto’s death in 2007, today the PPP has been reduced to support only in its home province - Sindh. The party is not expected to do much better in the coming elections.

External factors

It is possibly not the record of the parties involved that upsets some Pakistanis but the fact that the army continues to undermine the country’s democratic system.

Read: Why Pakistan needs a strong and independent civilian government

“Over the years, army influence continues to wax and wane. Right now it is at its highest ever short of a military government being in place,” says former senate chairman Raza Rabbani.

Many have called its a Generals’ election and not a general election and others refer to the polls as dirty. And yet, there are predictions of both high turnouts in most places as well as a relatively peaceful day on Wednesday.

“The rigging has already taken place. On Wednesday, we are seeing a staged and peaceful show,” says Khuhro.

The military has denied accusations of stage managing the general elections, calling on the Supreme Court to “initiate the appropriate process to ascertain the veracity of the allegations”.

The military’s statement on Sunday was in response to claims by Islamabad high court judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui on Saturday that the spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was forcing the judiciary into doing its bidding and manipulating judicial proceedings against the Sharif family.

Most major politicians – Sharif, Bilawal, Asfandyar Wali Khan and Altaf Hussain – have criticised the support the military appears to have given to Khan’s party. Several “electables” from different parties were forced to join the PTI by the intelligence set-up. Others who didn’t want to switch sides were disqualified by the Election Commission, allege politicians.

As things stand, the might of the judiciary and the bureaucracy also seems to be behind Khan.

The Taliban and other terror groups appear to have given their silent approval and stayed away from bombing rallies held by Khan’s party.

Khan’s party even has the backing of Fazlur Rehman Khalil, the terrorist organisation Harkat-ul-Mujahideen’s (HuM) founder and a US-designated global terrorist with links to al-Qaeda. Khalil said last Tuesday said he would support the PTI in the upcoming general elections.

Soldiers arrive at the polling station to provide security to its staff in Lahore on July 24, 2018. (AP)

Shadow of terror

International observers have complained of their work being obstructed by the caretaker government. A trickling of foreign journalists have made it into the country but most have been refused visas.

Terrorism has also cast a dark shadow and a number of strategic suicide attacks have scared leaders and their supporters from campaigns. There are fears of more attacks on Wednesday.

In Peshawar, a government official has made arrangements for over 1,000 dead bodies, just in case, there is any such attack.

Another worry is how the caretaker government has allowed members of banned organisations to participate.

Members of several terror groups, including the Jamaat-ud-Dawah, will be contesting the July 25 general elections. After the Election Commission refused to register the JuD’s political party, its candidates were fielded under the banner of the little known Allah-hu-Akbar Tehreek.

More than 370,000 soldiers and officers are being deployed at polling stations all over the country. Not only is this number unprecedented but also are the powers that have been given to them, which equates the military officer at par with the returning officer.

Silver lining

What is ironic in all this is how history repeats itself in Pakistan.

In the past too, politicians and the military dictators have either been voted in or earned legitimacy on the platform of eradicating corruption. In almost all the instances, they have left the country worse off at the time of their departure.

And yet, people are drawn by the slogan time and again.

Despite the circumstances, many are hopeful of better things to come.

Unlike the other parties, the PTI has support in all provinces, claim its supporters as the number of its flags on the streets have increased manifold.

“We will see an end to corruption,” insists one.

The silver lining, if any, is that the polls are taking place on time. What is also encouraging, say many, is that Pakistanis are gradually getting used to voting and of civilian governments.

“We are hopeful that if this system continues the way it is going, it will eventually bring forward the people who will be able to deliver,” media analyst Jawaid Iqbal says.

First Published: Jul 24, 2018 22:15 IST