What the Pakistan Army proposed the people disposed of. They showed their preference for a leader in jail whose party, stripped of its symbol and flag, was not eligible to put up candidates in the election. If not for blatant pre-poll fixing and massive post-vote rigging to tone down what could have been an overwhelming verdict in a sympathy vote for the incarcerated Imran Khan Niazi, his PTI party should have been back in power in Islamabad.
Whatever be the voice of the people and will of God, it is still the Army that rules the roost even in an economically diminished Pakistan that is on the verge of descending into chaos now that the polls have thrown up a result far different from what was a predetermined course. As the numbers game has been playing out elaborately for three days since the poll on February 8, Pakistan is once again in a familiar place of political uncertainty.
The Army may still have its way by bringing about the installation of a national or coalition government under Nawaz Sharif, now the favourite of the military brass. But, as an entity that called the shots, the Army stands discredited now with the people having shown that they will no longer tolerate its political machinations in fixing what are supposed to be free and fair polls for the voter to make his choice known.
For months those who have been in power in place of the displaced Imran Khan since April 2023 have been squabbling with the PML-N of Nawaz Sharif and PPP, led by the scion of the Bhutto family, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, in an acrimonious relationship. The PPP has been blamed for not supporting the decisions of the PML-N led PDM government of which it was a party and leaving Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif and co to face the music over rising inflation, scarcity of power and fuel and several other ills that have been plaguing Pakistan recently.
Just imagine the two bickering parties, PML-N and PPP, with 75 and 54 seats respectively of 265 results of 266 seats declared, still being in pole position to form a government at the centre as well as in Punjab and Balochistan. The constitution will not recognise independents as a party even if the 101 victorious candidates — “a century without a bat” as they were denied the willow as their symbol – backed by Imran’s PTI coalesce into a single power group. But they are free to join existing parties.
There is plenty of room for what is popularly termed “horse-trading” in subcontinental political lingo, though the term itself dates to the days of cavalry building in the princely states of India. Tabulation issues and announcement of the results in some seats may take days, or even weeks, which is why calls are even being heard in Pakistan of the need to deploy EVMs as in India. The Army may have manipulated the election process through proxies, but clearly not well enough to have suppressed the voice of the people, which is what the brass had been adept at for decades.
The former cricket captain, now getting a little more consideration from the judiciary and beginning to get bail in a few of a deluge of cases, might even emerge from Adila Jail someday. Pakistan will, however, remain even more embroiled in political and economic uncertainty with any hand on the rudder likely to be weakened by circumstances in a country where the voice of the people is subject to military control or even martial law as used to be the case not all that long ago.