2018 Elections: Caretaker Govt and Race for Electables

There is a myth that the electables need political parties; but the fact of the matter is that it is the other way round, as to form government, political parties need winning candidates.

By MOHAMMAD JAMIL: PRESENT government’s tenure ends on May 31, 2018, and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi will ask the President to dissolve the assemblies. Of course, the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition have to agree on the name of the caretaker prime minister; and Syed Khursheed Shah will consult other opposition parties in this regard. According to media reports, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi suggested to Leader of the Opposition Khursheed Shah that the caretaker prime minister should not be a retired judge; and that the opposition should nominate a bureaucrat or a technocrat for the position. Khursheed Shah met with PM Abbasi at the Prime Minister House to mull over the caretaker government, which will take over after PML-N completes its tenure by the end of May. The premier said that the caretaker PM’s appointment should not be left to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

Khursheed Shah assured PM Abbasi of complete cooperation to reach a consensus on the matter. The current government is expected to conclude its five-year term on May 31, after which the caretaker government will take over to hold the general elections (Election 2018), which are expected to be held in the last week of July or first week of August. As per the Constitution of Pakistan, the caretaker prime minister is appointed by the prime minister in consultation with the opposition leader in the National Assembly. The prime responsibility of the caretaker government is to ensure that the elections are held in a transparent manner. PTI has reportedly given three names for caretaker prime minister i.e. Justice Tassaduq Jilani (Retd) former Chief Justice of Pakistan, Abdul Razak Dawood and Dr Ishrat Hussain.

Meanwhile, race between the political parties to woo electables (winning candidates) has started. After disqualification of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, and with ongoing cases against the Sharif family in the Accountability Court some of the members have already left the PML-N. Quite a few of them are reportedly waiting in the wings, as the PML-N continues to be at loggerheads with the institutions, as these electables do not want to be the victims of clash between institutions.

In the event Nawaz Sharif is convicted, scores of these electables are likely to ditch the party, as they did after 12th October 1999 after Sharif’s government was overthrown by then COAS General Pervez Musharraf. Those deserters were taken back in PML-N’s fold before and after the 2013 elections, and compulsive deserters are likely to leave the party, participate in the elections as independents or join other parties. The electables are master political strategists; they sail along the waves and turn the surge to their advantage. There is a myth that the electables need political parties; but the fact of the matter is that it is the other way round, as to form government, political parties need winning candidates. Of course, independent winning candidates are elected without the support of a political party. After 2013 elections, scores of independents were wooed by the PML-N to show comfortable majority to form the government.

Of course, most electables have thousands of acres of agriculture land in their constituency and their peasants would vote as dictated by their masters. In fact, only the 1970 election was fought on ideological basis. It would indeed be a welcome development if participatory democracy along with good governance becomes a key issue in the upcoming general election. Political parties outline their commitment to the voters in their respective manifestos, which is not honored. The problem is that an ordinary person with middle-class background cannot afford to field himself as a candidate for a provincial or national assembly seat. Therefore, members of landed aristocracy and upstarts in business are likely to be elected. Theoretically, the system of electoral democracy empowers the voters to take away the powers of elected members, if they fall short of popular aspirations and/or grossly violate fundamental ideology.

While the system adequately provides procedure to impeach the public office holders, the elected representatives go scot-free because of their clout in the institutions. Unfortunately Pakistani democracy depicts different ground reality, as voters after having elected their representatives virtually become subjects of powerful elite, who ride a rough shod over the subjects and shatter all hopes of voters by neglecting their problems, financial difficulties and psychological distress. Promises made during election campaign are forgotten, while perks of public offices are fully enjoyed. Irony of the fate is that the same elite group gets elected over and over again and election campaigns are held as mere rituals. In rural areas, the electables – winning candidates – have tremendous influence in their constituencies because of land-holdings. Furthermore, they have a long experience of contesting elections; and furthermore they have developed nexus with local power brokers at union and village level rather than their voters.

—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.

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