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One cannot really claim with confidence that the storm of dust kicked up by the controversies surrounding Elections 2024 has completely settled. However, there is perhaps an abatement of the shrillness attending the political discourse. The main reason for this relative calm, occasional outbursts in ‘traditional’ style notwithstanding, is the realisation by the beleaguered Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) that its rude, insulting, militant and aggressive style will not reap dividends in the post-elections scenario.

This realisation seems to have sunk in despite their continuing complaints about the imprisonment of their leader Imran Khan as well as a host of other party leaders and cadres, as well as the denial of their claimed victory at the polls. How to explain this, for the PTI at least, ‘climbdown’? I would suggest that the fallout of the quixotic ‘insurrection’ of May 9, 2023 has induced this new-found wisdom.

That direct assault on the prestige and repute of the military was founded on the absurd notion that such a minor assault when compared to what the military, and indeed militaries in general, are trained to face in warfare would cause a disintegration of discipline and unity of command in favour of the PTI. Of such absurdities are the roads to perdition for foolish notions paved. The ‘attack’ has, however, raised hackles in the high command about PTI sympathies amongst the officer corps, which has been, and according to some sources still is, being dealt with through a ‘purge’ of all such elements.

The counterattack by the military establishment on the PTI seems to have knocked a considerable amount of wind out of the party’s sails. On the backfoot ever since, the party has been forced to pragmatically weigh the situation and trim its tactics accordingly. The absurdity of the PTI does not end there, however. The foolish notion that a less than credible intra-party election would suffice was rudely punctured when the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) rejected and disqualified the intra-party election as not conforming to any set of known and accepted rules.

This outcome was obviously beyond the arrogant notions of a PTI that is accustomed to seeing itself as a law-unto-itself. That unexpected shock resulted in the denial of the PTI’s prized election symbol ‘bat’ for the elections. The setback deprived the party of the emotional attachment of their followers to a symbol reflecting their leader’s cricketing hero status as well as arguably working against the mobilisation of the PTI’s electoral base amongst a largely illiterate electorate used to identifying its favourite party in any elections by the electoral symbol. An appeal against the ECP decision to the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) failed to convince the apex court.

Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa and the SCP came in for a lot of stick on this account on the PTI’s favoured social media, but to no avail. PTI candidates were forced to run as party-backed Independents. Despite all these unfavourable winds, the claimed (by the PTI) and officially accepted (by the ECP) vote surprised many. Nearly a hundred seats in the National Assembly (NA), a solid majority in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provincial Assembly, not a bad result in Punjab was difficult to understand and explain, given the hostility of the powers-that-be towards the PTI.

The only surmise that makes sense is that the ‘managers’ of the election process thought it prudent to reflect the widespread sympathy and support for the PTI under the cosh, to a certain extent in order to have the electoral outcome seem more genuine and acceptable. In the same process, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N), supposedly the establishment’s new favourite, was cut to size by being denied a simple majority in the Centre, and subjected to a reduced majority in its stronghold Punjab. The former dictated the necessity to form a coalition government with most of the allies in the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) coalition government of 2022-2023, headed again by Shehbaz Sharif, elder brother Nawaz Sharif deciding to turn down a fourth stint as Prime Minister.

The exception in the new coalition was the ‘dumping’ of Maulana Fazlur Rehman in his home constituency in D I Khan. It seems the Maulana’s days as an establishment favourite have already, or are in the process of, coming to an ignominious end. He seems to have outlived his long standing utility. In Punjab, dynastic politics’ continuing triumph was heralded by the anointing of Maryam Nawaz Sharif as the first female chief minister of Punjab. Hardly a ‘revolution’, one is constrained to comment.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has played its cards well under the direction of its master tactician Asif Ali Zardari. Not only has the PPP held on to its stronghold Sindh, it has garnered the largest number of seats in Balochistan, a circumstance that allows it to lead the coalition government in the offing in that province but it may or may not succeed in pushing for its recently recruited candidate, Sarfraz Bugti.

Despite a small number of seats in its once fortress Punjab, the PPP has successfully extracted its pound of flesh from the PML-N in the shape of Asif Ali Zardari once again returning to the Presidency, a possible gain of Speaker of the Senate and Deputy Speaker of the NA. So far, the PPP has not agreed to take ministries in the Centre but support what would then be a precarious minority PML-N government without actually joining the government. One explanation for this attitude could be holding out for more ripe plums for the taking.

The other could be the PPP’s safeguarding itself from the fallout waiting down the road for the incoming government when it attempts to deal with the mountain of problems confronting the country, first of all the economy, followed in close order by security and others. If the incoming government led by the PML-N fails to tackle these problems, an outcome not beyond the imagination, the PPP can simply pick up its skirts to avoid the muck that will be the ground the PML-N could be swimming in.

At the end, let us admit that despite all the hullabaloo about the results of the election, the declared results are being adhered to for government formation in the Centre and the provinces. PTI’s challenge may now be confined to parliament, the ECP or the courts, not so much the street.

That does not preclude the desire of the PTI to attempt to destabilise the Central and Punjab governments, of which a trailer is Imran Khan’s letter to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) not to agree to a necessary long-term programme with the incoming government without an audit of the election results. While domestically Imran Khan has been roundly denounced for the move, the IMF has maintained a diplomatic silence. The move does, however, reflect the by now well-known penchant of Imran Khan to put his own personal interests above everything else, even the country’s. Such egomania, which could be described as a ‘me or nothing’ attitude, requires little comment.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

Rashed Rahman

[email protected] , rashed-rahman.blogspot.com

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