he result of the elections in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) last Wednesday are a forerunner of what to expect from the PTI-Miltablishment regime going forward on the fate of democratic and constitutional rights. Consider.
Until now, for obvious reasons of incumbency, every such election in GB has returned the party in office in Islamabad. When the PPP was in office, it won a majority of seats in the GB elections. When the PMLN was in power, it likewise formed the government in GB. But now the PTI has managed only 9 out of 23 seats, far short of a majority. This is a poor show for a ruling party. But no matter, the Independents form the second big bloc with seven seats and it is a foregone conclusion that they will join the PTI after suitable inducements. But there are serious reservations about the way the whole exercise was conducted by Election Commission officials.
Contrary to election rules, the “prime minister”, Imran Khan, was allowed to enter the fray and sway voters with promises of delivering a separate province for them, a long agitated popular demand, despite the fact that no such constitutional amendment is on the cards, and all the political parties are on record as having pledged in the presence of no less than the most powerful man in Pakistan that any discussion on the complex subject will only take place after the GB elections are over. A clutch of federal ministers was also in action, violating election commission codes with impunity. In fact, the exercise started with the installation of an “interim government” to oversee the elections without any debate or discussion with the opposition – let alone a consensus – as required by law. In the same cavalier manner, the election commissioner was appointed unilaterally and the elections were postponed to gain more time to seal their outcome – at least eight PMLN “electables” were induced by the usual suspects to switch sides as happened with dozens of similar “electables” in the 2018 general elections – and after the elections almost all independents were cajoled to join the PTI and help it form governments in Punjab and Islamabad. Now the PMLN’s Ahsan Iqbal is threatening a march on the CEC’s office in Islamabad, and the PPP’s Bilawal Bhutto is insisting the election has been “stolen” because the PPP got more votes (25%) than the PTI (24%).
Elsewhere, the PTI-Miltablishment is preparing the ground to stamp out any possibility of opposition rallies and long marches to Islamabad in the next two months. The Punjab Anti-Corruption Department has suddenly woken up to approve “probes” against dozens of PMLN politicians, including sitting MNAs and MPAs, for alleged corruption during the tenure of the last PMLN regime. In other words, we can be sure that those who are readying to lend support to PMLN rallies in December and January may be arrested on the pretext of “accountability”. We are also informed that the “court has indicted Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Miftah Ismael et al” in the LNG case. The media campaign against Shahbaz Sharif is in full flow and it is only a matter of time before the biggest crowd puller of them all, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, is restricted in one way or another, leaving only Maulana Fazal ur Rahman to bear the brunt of the challenge.
The government’s latest move is to spread the fear of a gathering covid-19 (or covid-18) storm, leading it to suddenly impose bans on rallies and jalsas while leaving most other economic activity in bazaars and markets with throngs of shoppers unchanged. The farcical element in this bluff is the permission to go ahead with marriage ceremonies of less than 300 people, as if the local government is in any position to stop many more than 300 people from attending festivities in full swing, indeed as if Covid-19 only becomes an unstoppable menace beyond the red line of 300 guests!
In the midst of all this, Maryam Nawaz Sharif is being hauled over the coals by both fascist detractors and political liberals for suggesting that her party is open to talks with the Miltablishment to resolve the ongoing political crisis on the condition that it pledge not to stray beyond its defined constitutional boundaries and respect the sanctity of the vote and its implications for the rights of a freely elected government. The fascists were screaming blue murder when Nawaz Sharif targeted the two pillars of this government for selecting and sustaining the unpopular and incompetent PTI regime. Now they are incensed because Maryam is suspected of taking a leaf from their book on the exigencies of structural realism. The liberals said Nawaz Sharif was a fool to bait the Miltablishment. Now they say any attempt to negotiate with the same Miltablishment to regain democratic space is unacceptable. Never mind that these same liberals voted en masse for the Miltablishment’s latest blue-eyed selection.
Pride and prejudice, fear and loathing, prevail. We are all losers.