The judgement and after
BY Z A H I D H US S A I N | 7/29/2015

IT may be too early to write off the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) after the crushing blow dealt by the judicial commission report. Yet the prognosis is not promising. Despite the humiliation there is no sign of Imran Khan coming out of his delusional self.

He says he accepts the verdict, but not really.

He laments that the commission is `leaving the verdict half-finished.` What he refuses to accept is that the commission has conclusively rejected his basic plea of systematic rigging in the 2013 elections. One can`t stop being amazed at his stubbornness, which may prove his biggest undoing.

The deep fissures and demoralisation within the party in the aftermath of the report was quite predictable. For the past one year, the PTPs politics have been driven by the single-point agenda of forcing mid-term polls. And with that hope shattered, it needs a fresh approach to stay politically relevant and maintain unity in the ranks. This should not be hard for a party with such a strong and popular mass base. But can its leadership move out of its one dimensional outlook? There was hardly any surprise in the judicial commission verdict. It was clear from the outset that there was no evidence to substantiate the PTPs allegations of planned and organised election-rigging and a conspiracy to bring Nawaz Sharif into power.

Surely there was nothing wrong in raising the issue of selective electoral manipulations and irregularities. But the argument about the entire election being stolen was ridiculous. The most shocking was the PTPs naming of those who it said were involved in the alleged conspiracy. The party had virtually made the entire nation hostage to its paranoia and delusion. Unsurprisingly, the PTI could not substantiate those allegations before the commission. Imran Khan and his party certainly owe at least an apology. But instead, he has rather amusingly demanded an apology from Sharif.

For sure, the PTI remains a major political force in the country despite this setback. Its greateststrength has been the support from the younger generation and the educated middle classes who rallied around the party on the slogan of change despite all its ambiguity. The spectacular rise of the party to the centre-stage of the country`s politics also owes to the decline of the PPP as a major challenger to the domination of the PML-N in Punjab.

However, with a confused ideological identity the mixed slogan of change combined with right-wing conservative political values has led the party to become a prisoner of its own paradox. Imran Khan`s sympathy for the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan comes into direct conflict with the modern values of his urban middle-class supporters. What probably united such diverse elements was Imran Khan`s personal charisma and a fanatical belief in him as a saviour. That loyalty will now be put to the test.

Another important development that has sharpened the contradiction within the party is its fast changing complexion over the last one year, since the launch of the dharna. The ambition for power has resulted in the party opening the doors for political opportunists who it once slammed as agents of the status quo. It remains to be seen how Imran Khan manages the balancing act reconciling the twain.

Imran`s perpetual agitation and single-track politics have already cost the party hugely in terms of organisation. The long-promised grass root party organisation through internal elections has been put on the backburner with the focus shifting entirely on luring the so-called `electables`. To many of its old guard, the PTI does not look any different now from the other parties except for Imran Khan`s ignorance of traditional political gamesmanship.

For sure, the commission`s verdict has boosted Nawaz Sharif`s confidence whereby he looks much more politically stable than a year ago. The success of the PML-N in most of the by-elections in Punjab has further strengthened the government`s position. The economy, too, appears to have stabilised, even if it is yet to take of f. Over 4pc economic growth rate is the highest in the last six years and inflation is down to an eight-year low.

But it will be a grave mistake if his government takes things for granted. Weak governance remains a major issue for the Sharif government. Its failure to deal with the energy crisis and lack of progress on fundamental structural reforms make the long-term economic outlook not so promising. Sharif`s obsession with big infrastructure projects such as motorways and metro-buses, mainly concentrated in Punjab, has come at the cost of the much more important but deeply neglected social sector.

So, all is not lost for the PTI, which remains the most formidable challenge to the domination of the PML-N in Punjab with little hope of the PPP regaining its political foothold in the province. The PTI can easily recover if Imran Khan has learned his lesson from the setback and manages extricate himself from the groove of a single-track approach and self-righteousness. And for a party for change, there is also need for a clear policy direction.

While the entire focus of the media and analysts has been on the rejection of the PTI allegation of planned rigging, there has been little to no discussion on the other important point highlighted in the judicial commission`s report. This was not the first time that allegations of election manipulation came up. The legitimacy of almost every election in Pakistan has been disputed.

It certainly was the right decision to set up a judicial commission to probe into the rigging charges raised by almost all the political parties. The commission`s report makes it even more imperative to reform our electoral system to make it more transparent. One can only hope that the PTI will move on and work seriously with other political parties on electoral reforms. •
The writer is an author and journalist.

Published in Dawn