To bat or not to bat, that is the question

  • Aamer Ahmed Khan
  • Oct 20, 2023

A light, albeit dim, seems to have come to life in our dark constitutional void. Our election commission has cautiously leaked to the media that it is pretty confident of wrapping up the delimitation process by November end and may well be in a position to announce the election schedule come December.

From the day the election schedule is announced, the Commission has a minimum of 54 days (but no more than 90) to complete all procedural requirements. This will lead us to the ballot box. Though not yet a formal announcement, the confidence with which this piece of information was informally shared with the media hints at Pakistanis finally seeing a polling day anywhere in the month of February next year, if not a bit earlier.

Connected developments stoking our optimism include PMLN leader Mian Nawaz Sharif’s return from years of abscondment, and some reconciliatory noises, however tentative, from within what is left of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. A big dampener, of course, is the lack of clarity over whether these voices have the blessings of PTI’s incarcerated chairman or are they just another establishment-backed push towards what we are very fond of calling the “minus one formula”.

Either way, there is a discernible stir in the cauldron. And no matter which way one looks at it, it seems to have been caused by a realisation among our political chefs that if they don’t have the right flavour on the table come polling day, so much of their hard work could go down the drain.

To their distaste, or perhaps one can even call it discomfort, the key ingredient that seems to be giving them the most grief is the need for a symbol of a bat on the ballot paper. So far, here is how we see the electoral playing field, level or not, on the eve of the big battle.

The PPP will struggle to hold its own in Sindh with its chances of extending its presence to other provinces looking nothing short of dismal. Punjab’s main attraction will be a two-way contest between Jehangir Tareen’s Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party (IPP) and the PMLN, with some side shows featuring smaller entities, mostly religious ones. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s most active pehlwan, of course, will be Pervez Khattak’s PTI Parliamentarians, with our maulanas and a hyperactive ANP scrambling for a crumb here, a morsel there. Balochistan, of course, like always, will go to polls with its real electoral mood securely obscure from the rest of the country.

Even in this fleeting bird’s eye view, something seems amiss, doesn’t it? How come a party that has, for whatever reasons, been commanding the passion of millions of voters for the last 10 years is not even a part of this gladiatorial mix? Of course that won’t do. The bat has to be there, or the election may risk a turnout closer to local polls than a parliament-forming general election. Given the long list of critically important tasks that awaits it, a government voted in by, let’s say, one share of a mere one-third of the electorate is unlikely to have the confidence or the authority that it will need.

So, should the murmurs currently emanating from the ever-murmuring Islamabad, about a possible rapprochement between PTI and the establishment, be given a serious think? It depends, really. If the intent is merely to make the ballot paper look credible with a bat on it, then that credibility is likely to be no more weighty than the allegations being hurled at the PTI chairman by “resurfacing dissidents” in the party.

However, if the intent is to genuinely afford the PTI chairman, however loose a cannon he may be, an opportunity to reorganise and field his party in the next elections – even if it comes at a negotiated cost of him staying away – the electoral field immediately starts to look more promising, despite the PPP’s concerns about its levelness.

If the past two years are any indication of our future, even this much leeway to our causeless rebel may sound like a miracle. But our political history is replete with even more incredible miracles: the PPP’s rout in 1990, Sharif’s self-serving exile deal with General Musharraf leaving his political future unscathed, the rise of a constituency-less private banker to the office of the prime minister, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain’s brief stint as PM, and Imran Khan’s own subversive journey from atop a container to the highest office in the country.

Many, many smart people, in and out of uniform, had to work very, very hard to make all these miracles happen. In this case, the job may actually be much simpler. All it may take is for our establishment to trust Pakistanis. Why not, for once, let them boot out someone who seems to have done just about everything to earn their wrath? Unless, of course, that is too miraculous a proposition to wish for.

Aamer Ahmad Khan

Aamer Ahmed Khan

The author is senior Pakistani journalist who posts on 'X' as @Aak0

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