Pakistan goes to polls amid fears about violence, manipulation

TEHRAN, Jul. 24 (MNA) – Tomorrow, Pakistan has a tryst with history. Despite heavy odds and pejorative conspiracy theories, the people of Pakistan will exercise their right of franchise to elect a new government.

Tight security arrangements have been made for the election, with the deployment of nearly 7.5 million security personnel and 1.6 million electoral officials. There is an electrifying buzz on the streets, as people animatedly discuss which party will have the last laugh and who will be the deposed former premier Nawaz Sharif’s successor to the throne of thorns.

Known for their exemplary courage and resilience, Pakistanis are eager to defeat bullets with ballots and replace despair and darkness of yesterday with hope and light of tomorrow. However, not everything is hunky-dory. There are many hurdles and stumbling stocks. The volatile political environment of Pakistan means the election will be bitterly contested and there would be overt and covert attempts to manipulate the result.

Some serious doubts have been expressed by top political parties – including Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) led by Bilawal Bhutto – about the fairness of the election process and the ability of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the caretaker government in Islamabad to provide a level playing field to all the parties. They have alleged that the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI) was being favored by the powerful military establishment. Interestingly, many senior leaders of PML-N and PPP have defected to PTI lately.

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), in a statement last week said, there were “ample grounds to doubt” the legitimacy of the elections and criticized “blatant, aggressive and unabashed attempts to manipulate the outcome of the upcoming elections.”

PML-N, which ruled the country until recently, has been hit badly after the three-time prime minister and the party’s lynchpin was sentenced to 10-year jail term in an anti-graft case, along with his daughter and heir apparent Maryam Nawaz. The verdict, which came less than a month before the election, is being seen as a smart ploy by the military establishment, which has great influence in judiciary, to prevent the party from retaining power.

However, the move might just prove a blessing in disguise for the beleaguered former premier and his party, considering the sympathy factor. Also, the party has strong hold on its traditional support base. Even if the party loses to PTI, it is most likely to win the Punjab province, which is extremely significant.

The intense political rivalry between PML-N and PTI is believed to be one of the reasons the military establishment in Pakistan decided to nail Sharif and leave his camp dispirited just before the election, which gives automatic advantage to PTI. Sharif, before going to Adiala jail in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, asserted that the elections did not remain credible and the results would not be acceptable.

So, unlike in the previous elections, when accusations of fraud, rigging and manipulation would be made after the exit poll, this time the judicial-military establishment has been accused of supporting Khan’s PTI even before the voting. In all likelihood, the post-election scenario doesn’t look too attractive. If there is a hung parliament, all parties would cry foul. If PTI wins the majority, other parties would claim manipulation. If PML-N races ahead, PTI would protest. The fault lines are deep.

Pakistan’s powerful military, which controls the country’s foreign policy, especially relations with neighboring countries, is believed to have been miffed with Sharif’s peace overtures to New Delhi and his endeavors to broker peace between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

In Pakistan, the democratically elected leaders cannot overstep the red line drawn by the military. Sharif did and he paid the heavy price. He was disqualified from elections and sent to jail, even when some candidates affiliated with outlawed organisations like ASWJ, who have blood of Shias on their hand, have been given tickets to contest the election. Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, the ASWJ leader, was taken off Pakistan government’s own black list last month as he prepared his candidature.
Khan, who is seen as the military’s blue-eyed boy, single-handedly led the crusade against Nawaz Sharif government, calling it corrupt and incompetent. When the verdict against Sharif was announced, Khan was addressing one of his election rallies. He broke the news and his supporters broke into celebration.

In his massive election rallies, he vowed to transform Pakistan in line with the vision of country’s founding fathers and root out corruption by strengthening institutions of governance. While his cozy relationship with the military and Taliban has raised a few eyebrows, he has great following among country’s burgeoning young population.

Even celebrities and former cricketers like Wasim Akram and Waqar Younus have backed their ‘skipper’ with one of the top trending hashtags #BehindYouSkipper. But, what must have given Khan a reason to cheer is a public opinion survey done by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) and Herald magazine that shows PTI in lead, followed by PML-N and PPP.

While according to most pundits, it will be a close fight between PTI and PML-N, the other party in the fray PPP is now a shadow of its past, with support base limited to southern Sindh province. The young party chief Bilawal Bhutto has been campaigning hard across the country but undeniably he lacks the charisma and mass appeal of his late mother Benazir Bhutto.

Meanwhile, the election is being held amidst a series of terror attacks across the country, which has created panic among the voters. Security has been beefed up to protect electoral booths and neutral observers have been appointed to ensure free and fair voting. But, as they say, the last word in Pakistan belongs to the military.


News Code 136026


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