Pakistani election outcome, yet uncertain
24 July 2018

Pakistani election outcome, yet uncertain

TEHRAN, Jul. 24 (MNA) – A renowned Pakistani journalist told the Tehran Times that the general election off Wednesday in Pakistan is hotly contested and the outcome is still unknown. Mehr Tarar is a Pakistan-based senior journalist, political commentator and author. She was formerly op-ed editor of Daily Times. In her interview with Tehran Times, she spoke about the general election in Pakistan and why it will be bitterly contested. Following is the text of the interview: Pakistan goes to polls on Wednesday. Serious doubts have been expressed by some political parties about the fairness of these elections, especially in the context of military’s interference. Do you think the elections would be free and fair? While it would be absurd to deny that there is no influence of military on the elections in Pakistan, the allegation is greatly exaggerated as far as the perception goes. Allegations of pre-poll rigging and rigging during elections is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan; it is just that the noise has intensified now because the principal accuser is the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the biggest political party in Pakistan, and the one that finished its five-year term in government in May. The cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, in the cricketing jargon, is playing on the front foot, and is being tipped as the next Prime Minister of Pakistan. Is it because of his appeal among the country’s burgeoning young population or because of the powerful Pakistani military’s backing? The jailing of Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam on money-laundering charges has opened a Pandora’s Box of systematic flaws in Pakistan’s governmental and legal system. While not many people endorse the victimhood narrative of the PML-N, there are many questions about the authenticity of the legal verdict against them and the uncommon hurry the courts have shown to give a harsh sentence against the three-time prime minister, his daughter, and his son in law. The entire thing is said to be the work of the judicial-military nexus, which in turn is alleged to be supporting Imran Khan’s party to win the elections. That incidentally is also a repudiation of the huge popularity Khan enjoys all over Pakistan, in all sections of society that seem to have had enough of corrupt rulers. Khan despite his flaws is seen as someone who is not corrupt. There have been reports about the clampdown on media and intimidation of civil society by the military establishment in the run up to elections. Why is it so? While the Dawn newspaper, reportedly, have faced some issues regarding its distribution in certain areas, I can’t really say the accusation of a clampdown is application to media overall. Pakistan media has always had its invisible red lines, and those still exist; certain topics are either not talked about or are mentioned in an indirect manner. It is not an ideal situation, but those who wish to make a point manage to do so without caring for any “unwritten” restrictions, existing within the realm of freedom of speech that is relative and selective. While the former Pakistani prime minister has been incarcerated in an anti-graft case and disqualified from elections, some members of outlawed organizations have been allowed to contest elections. Are there different rules for different people? It is unfortunate that Pakistan despite its apparent resolve to curb activities of proscribed organizations has never been able to apply a complete ban. Militant orgs go incognito for a while, and remerge under a different name. Under the guise of working for religion, these organizations seem to get away with many things that a mainstream political party would never be allowed to. The election is being held amidst a series of terror attacks across the country. Even though tight security arrangements have been made to secure elections, is there anxiety among voters? The three recent horrific attacks that have targeted prominent politicians and workers from different parties have reconfirmed that the very real danger of terrorism in Pakistan is still there. It is an audacious and a very horrific way of destroying the process of establishment of peace in a country that is still waging a war against threats within and without. People, nevertheless, even in terror-affected areas are more resolute than ever to not be cowed down; they will go out and vote. Do you see any party winning a simple majority or do you see a hung parliament. And in case it’s a hung parliament, as many analysts have predicted, what will happen? While Imran Khan-led PTI is touted to bag a bigger chunk of popular vote than it did in 2013, there appears to be no certainty of any party gaining a simple majority. The recent setbacks to PML-N may have dented its vote bank, but it could have an opposite reaction: compel the people to vote for PML-N in defiance of what many see as the unfairness and severity of verdicts against the Sharifs and PML-N. In case of a hung parliament, a coalition government is never off the cards, which in turn is never a good idea in Pakistan where ideological differences between parties are too huge at any given time. Pakistan has recently been placed on the FATF grey list due to ‘strategic deficiencies’ in its anti-money laundering and terrorism financing regime. What should the next government do to be removed from the list? The new government must ensure that the entire process of banning and ending activities of proscribed organizations actually take place and is not mere lip-service while speaking in defense of Pakistan at FATF or any other international forum like the UN. Imran Khan, during his election campaigning said, if he is voted to power he would ensure Pakistan comes out of the U.S. shadow. Do you see that happening? It may not happen but Imran Khan has been consistent in his stance of labeling as America’s war what is seen as the almost two-decade long war that Pakistan has waged on its borders and even within Pakistan against its homegrown militants. Khan is an advocate of having a relationship with the U.S. in which Pakistan despite being a smaller country in terms of its power and resources is based on mutual respect, not on the need to use one as a proxy in a war against another superpower (the former USSR) or a terrorist organization like the al-Qaeda. Interview by Syed Zafar Mehdi