The politics that shaped Pakistan in 2018 could impact its future this year too
Pakistan demonstrated its commitment to democracy by holding general elections at the federal and provincial levels on July 25. At the federal level, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party could not retain its majority and, thereby, the political power was transferred to a coalition led by Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI). A similar peaceful transfer of power took place in the province of Punjab where a PTI-led coalition was installed. In Balochistan, the PTI supported the coalition government led by the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP).
There was a continuity of ruling parties in Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provinces as well as the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the PTI respectively renewed their electoral mandate.
However, 2018 exhibited some major deficiencies in the political process, too, with confrontational politics characterizing the interaction between major political parties.
Prior to the general elections, the PTI targeted the ruling PML-N for poor governance, corruption, and its partisan use of state machinery and resources. Imran Khan held packed public rallies in different cities and towns in order to build political pressure on the government. The PML-N was on the defensive. In the post-election period these roles were reversed. Now, the PML-N leadership bitterly criticizes the PTI for policy lapses and mis-governance.
The PPP declined to support either the PTI or the PML-N permanently and shifted its target of criticism from one party to the other. It adopted an extremely angry posture toward the PTI and the military establishment after the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) — established by the Supreme Court — issued its report in December, accusing some of the top PPP leaders of corruption, fake bank accounts, and money laundering.
Pakistan is the only parliamentary democracy that installs non-partisan caretaker governments at the federal and provincial level for holding fair and free elections.
Dr. Hasan Askari Rizvi
These charges were vehemently denied by the PPP which warned of dangerous political consequences if any punitive actions were taken against the PPP leadership on the basis of the JIT report. The PTI launched a counter- propaganda offensive against the PPP leadership and began to explore the options of dislodging the PPP-led provincial government in Sindh.
It was a difficult year for the PML-N, too. It faced defections in the party, in Balochistan, in January which resulted in the collapse of the PML-N-led provincial government. Similarly, it faced a setback in the Senate elections in March when it failed to get an absolute majority there and its candidates lost out on the posts of Chairman and Deputy Chairman.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s troubles can be traced back to July 2017, when he lost his premiership after the Supreme Court disqualified him from the membership of the National Assembly in the Panama case and ordered the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to file three corruption references against him and his family in the Accountability Court.
Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, a Nawaz loyalist, replaced him as the prime minister. In November 2017, the PML-N used its voting strength in the parliament to get a law passed which enabled Nawaz to continue heading the PML-N. This law was turned down by the Supreme Court and later, in a judgment, the Supreme Court ruled that Nawaz’s disqualification was for life. The PML-N gave Nawaz an informal and ceremonial title of Supreme Guide-Leader.
The fall-out of the protest by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan — led by Maulana Khadam Hussain Rizvi in November 2007 on the “Khatam-i-Nabowat” issue — came back to haunt the PML-N government in 2018. After the PTI assumed power, the Maulana embarrassed the PTI government by staging a sit-in in Lahore and some other cities. When he planned another sit-in, the PTI government preempted it by arresting him and a large number of his loyalists.
– Dr. Hasan Askari Rizvi is a Pakistan-based political analyst.