April is almost over which means that the country’s most anticipated political event is almost upon us. Yet, an ominous silence has replaced the traditional pre-election euphoria, where thousands gather to cheer on for their leaders; big promises are made in grand rallies and historic speeches are recorded in the weeks leading up to elections.
By:Aima Khosa How scared are our politicians? April is almost over which means that the country’s most anticipated political event is almost upon us. Yet, an ominous silence has replaced the traditional pre-election euphoria, where thousands gather to cheer on for their leaders; big promises are made in grand rallies and historic speeches are recorded in the weeks leading up to elections. The election of 2008, for example, was a grand political spectacle where Nawaz Sharif and late Benazir Bhutto raced from city to city to assert their political might. Perhaps it was Benazir’s brutal assassination that has subdued the politicians now, or perhaps it is Musharraf’s trial that has pushed the election from center stage – either way, one must admit the days leading up to the elections have been engulfed in a strange political tension between various political quarters. The roots of this tension can easily be traced to security woes of the country; in the last few weeks, almost all mainstream political parties have come under attack. The news of these attacks come in short spurts and then fades away, only to appear once more. Often these attacks are targeted towards high-profile politicians, as in the case of Bilour of ANP and Zehri of PML-N. Other times, these attacks target political workers, as in the case of various independent candidates and MQM workers. It is feared that these attacks will escalate in their nature and magnitude as the election date draws closer. The previous election was delayed by a few weeks because it was marred by a high-profile assassination. Will Pakistan’s weak caretaker government manage to restrain the public and hold the elections if there was, God forbid, another high profile targeting? And if not, if the conspiracy theories of elections getting delayed are to be believed, what kind of political violence will be required to manage the delay of the polls Khoso’s interim government is so determined to hold? The ANP leadership has categorically stated that the elections must not be delayed even by a second. This statement was issued even as Ghulam Ahmad Bilour was reeling from the attack on an ANP meeting. This is because the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa constituency, a waning ANP stronghold, can still get the party decisive votes in the province in the next government. Bilour has said that he would hold the COAS, the CEC, the president and the chief justice responsible if anything happened to him. It is almost reminiscent of Benazir’s statements after the October attack on her rally in Karachi where she feared for her life under Musharraf’s presidency – who, interestingly, is currently on trial for her assassination case. The PML-N leadership too, has sensed victory in the upcoming polls and will not stand for a delayed election only because it could have a lot to lose if the polls are not held on May 11. At the same time, Nawaz Sharif and his entourage are aware that Big Brother is watching and Big Brother is dangerous. For his security, Nawaz Sharif has hired a helicopter for his transport and may be gifted 20 bullet proof vehicles from his Saudi friends for the transportation of his senior leadership. Yet, he remains conspicuously missing from public eye – unless you count the television campaign ads and the sporadic appearances the former premier makes. PML-N has suffered damage in Balochistan with the president of the party’s chapter in that problematic province coming under an attack that left his son, nephew and brother dead. Zehri survived and fresh questions emerged: who targeted Zehri? Was it the usual ‘Baloch tribal rivalry’ that led to such a personal attack on the PML-N leader in Balochistan? The Baloch are, after all, not very fond of PML-N and Zehri is its immediate representative in the province. Or was the attack a part of some systematic targeting that is a part of the dark threat to politicians at this critical juncture? PPP, too, has come under attack and has beefed up security and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has had to make very few public appearances as the poster boy of the PPP campaign. However, political quarters were strangely silent in condemning the attack on ANP, while half-hearted statements stressing on ‘solutions to militancy’ were issued. So how nervous are Pakistan’s political leaders at this point, with elections so near? Will they get the votes they want while running silent campaigns? Interestingly, election campaigning begins at least three months before the elections. So far, a lot of candidates still have not been issued tickets or are not eligible to contest in elections – there can be no campaigning if there are no candidates. Another bad sign for the elections? The central question still remains; will the elections get delayed? Constitutionally, it is not a possibility unless a situation is created where the caretaker setup has no option but to delay the polls. The caretaker setup itself is not mandated beyond a stipulated period to remain in power and its main job is to watch over the elections. Even if it somehow manages to extend that period, it shall not be strong enough to sustain itself for long. Neither will political forces, largely led by Nawaz Sharif, stand for a delay in polls. The speed with which Nawaz Sharif handled the Qadri debacle earlier this year by unifying Punjab’s political forces in the face of an uncertain situation points to how badly Nawaz to regain his glory days. Nawaz’s biggest foe, however, is still in the President’s House and there is no knowing what tricks President Zardari may have up his sleeve to tip the political balance back in PPP’s favor. At the same time, there is always the Army factor. Seemingly, Pakistan’s armed forces are embroiled in four crucial situations: an operation in Tirah valley and Orakzai Agency, watching over the election process, its former COAS going through a public trial and the rehabilitation process of the affectees of earthquake. Would the GHQ be able to orchestrate a behind the scenes delay in the polls while it has its hands full with the other crises it has to handle? Simply put, May 11 and its political significance in Pakistan’s history still stands. It will take outright chaos for that date to be pushed back. So then, are delayed polls worth the damage? The writer is Web Editor at Pakistan Today and tweets @aimamk