Any attempt to defy the top court’s order will further destabilize Pakistan
Despite the announcement of election dates for Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies, it is still not certain whether the polls will take place on the stipulated date. Unsure about its fate, Pakistan’s beleaguered ruling coalition remains defiant and has given no indication yet that it will comply with the Supreme Court order to hold elections as per the requirement of the constitution. The ongoing political crisis is far from over, pushing the country close to anarchy.
It is not only about elections to the provincial assemblies being held as per the provisions of the constitution, it is also about the ruling coalition seeking a fresh mandate from the public to govern. There may be some weight to the argument that scattered elections may be extremely problematic but the issue can be resolved by calling early general elections. The term of the current national assembly ends in August this year.
But the government insists on completing the term despite its shrinking mandate. The situation reinforces the impression that it is all part of a greater political game to block the democratic process of change that is conducted through elections. A truncated National Assembly cannot claim to represent the entire electorate. The government is trying to hide behind excuses like the deteriorating financial situation and rising terrorist threat in the country.
It has strengthened the growing public perception of the ruling alliance trying to run away from elections thus further eroding its legitimacy and electoral prospects. The ongoing political confrontation has brought the democratic process to a dead-end, worsening our state of uncertainty.
With its weakening political position, the government is now increasingly dependent on the military to survive.
A fractured coalition beset by internal conflicts has completely failed to deal with the multiple challenges faced by the country. Its disastrous policies have brought the country close to an economic meltdown. Despite the government’s belated move to start implementing IMF loan conditionalities, there is no indication yet of the revival of the Fund’s bailout package.
Meanwhile, Imran Khan, the former prime minister has described the Supreme Court decision and announcement of election dates for the two provincial assemblies as a vindication of his demand for early elections. Both Punjab and KP governments were governed by the PTI before they were dissolved in January this year. The move was meant to increase the pressure on the central government to call early general elections.
Instead, both the government and the Election Commission dragged their feet on giving election dates for the two provincial assemblies in a blatant violation to the constitutional mandate of holding elections within 90 days of the dissolution of an assembly. A Supreme Court ruling last week led to the announcement of election dates for the two assemblies. But the government is still trying to find some way to wriggle out of its obligation.
But it will not be that easy to defy Supreme Court orders. Any move to subvert the elections would further intensify the political confrontation in the country. With its weakening political position, the government is now increasingly dependent on the military to survive. The footprints of the security establishment are evident, despite the latter’s claims of staying away from politics.
There is a growing apprehension about a new game plan being prepared for the installation of a longer-term interim set-up. This kind of military-backed arrangement has not worked in the past and there is no possibility of it delivering now. Any such attempt will further destabilize the country, with serious consequences for its unity.
What is more worrisome is that the unfolding political power game has sharpened the clash of institutions, resulting in a systemic collapse. There seems to be a complete breakdown of the state, with no sign of the political stand-off ending.
The ongoing crisis has shaken the entire system and pushed the country to complete chaos. There is a fear that worsening political confrontation and weakening of state institutions could create more space for extra-constitutional powers to act.
It is one of the most serious crises that the country has encountered in its turbulent political history. There is need for political reconciliation. Instead of trying to use extralegal means to perpetuate its rule, the government should try to defuse the deepening political polarisation. Running away from the elections is not a solution to the problems that the country is facing.
It’s now time for the government to go to the electorates for a new mandate. A weak administration with a diminishing mandate cannot take tough decisions and bring political and economic stability to the country. It is indeed, the hour of reckoning for the current dispensation.
- Zahid Hussain is an award-winning journalist and author. He is a former scholar at Woodrow Wilson Centre and a visiting fellow at Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, and at the Stimson Center in DC. He is author of Frontline Pakistan: The struggle with Militant Islam and The Scorpion’s tail: The relentless rise of Islamic militants in Pakistan. Frontline Pakistan was the book of the year (2007) by the WSJ. His latest book ‘No-Win War’ was published this year. Twitter: @hidhussain