Written by Arhama Siddiqa.
Election season is almost here in Pakistan and the signs all point to one monumental election in the making. Now that a full term seems definite, the caretaker government will complete its tenure through June and July. And assuming the Election Commission utilises the days available to it before holding an election, we will all have a day to call ‘Election Day’ at the end of July
Elections are always chaotic, especially this one. This year, it promises to be even more passionate: the month of Ramazan followed by Eid break will likely mean a mad rush for votes immediately after. Plus, not to forget it will be burning peak summer season in full swing, which will entail load shedding and hence another topic for campaigners to talk about or woefully use as a vengeance card against the PML (N).
The proper campaign is usually short, passionate and intense, squeezed into the last six weeks before Election Day. However the real zeal and fandom can be witnessed after the candidates are finalised some three weeks before balloting.
As the Sharifs continue to storm the country, congregating huge crowds across Punjab and, more noticeably, in Peshawar (the foothold of Imran Khan’s PTI ), the legal noose in which Nawaz is caught has tightened. A lifetime disqualification by the Supreme Court in early April means an end to participation in electoral politics. This is certainly a setback to the political outlook for Nawaz. Keeping in mind his debarment in July 2017 and a statement that debarment under Article 62(1) is for life, this ineligibility is sanctioned not only by the incumbent chief justice but the judiciary as a whole.
Shahbaz Sharif has increased his efforts to fill the gaps in his party’s organisational edifice and to try to expand its base in constituencies that have been ignored for a long time in Sindh and Balochistan.
This does not mean that PML(N) has no chance in this election. On the contrary.
If a relatively open vote occurs, the PML(N) in all probability will secure another five year term. Despite setbacks (or as PTI would say, falling wickets), the former PM continues to hold a firm grip on his party. One of the main factors is Shahbaz Sharif. The younger brother is focused on party matters and putting its house in order. He enjoys a relatively free-hand in removing flaws and faults in the party network.
A few weeks after his nomination as President of the PML-N, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has increased his efforts to fill the gaps in his party’s organisational edifice and to try to expand its base in constituencies that have been ignored for a long time in Sindh and Balochistan. He has started working to form associations so that his party has a somewhat modest presence in these regions in the next general elections. The PML-N has customarily been weak in these areas. Whether or not such initiatives will pay off remains to be seen.
Another thing that goes in favour of the N League is that, as always, they target rural areas, something which the very urban based PTI has not done. The thing with having a vote bank in the rural areas is that get the chief of a family to vote for you, you may as well have the entire family vote for you. And that’s where the N League’s strength lies.
Moreover, although the PML-N lost the Faisalabad by-election, it is an open secret that Mr Sharif represents the business class of central Punjab. This will secure the PML-N a lot of votes.
Also clichéd as it sounds, seeing is believing and, despite all corruption charges, N-League has done wonders when it comes to infrastructure. Voters need something tangible. When those in rural settings see roads being constructed and metro buses doing their rounds, it’s what pulls them in at the end of the day. Plus not to forget the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the order of the day.
In the last election, PTI made major strides but public opinion turned negative mainly because month long sit-ins at the parliament did more damage than good. It should be mentioned here that while the PTI has a huge youth vote bank as evidenced by the rallies, these have never translated into actual votes. If PTI is to up its game it will have to rectify this. The reign of the MQM is over and the PPP is yet to secure any hold in Punjab. The fact of the matter is that it will take monumental efforts to overturn generational politics in Pakistan.While PTI may give PML-N a run for their money – in the end traditional politics will triumph.
Arhama Siddiqa is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad, Pakistan. She graduated from the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) in 2013 with a B.Sc. (Hons) in Political Science and Economics and went on to complete an MA in International Political Economy from the University of Warwick in 2014. Her research interests focus primarily on the Middle East, the role of major powers in South Asian politics, and the Kashmir dispute. She regularly contributes to publications such as The Pakistan Observer, Daily Times, and The Nation and has also written articles for HILAL. She was a 2017 Commonwealth Fellow at Conciliation Resources in the United Kingdom. Image credit: CC by Pixabay.