The levels of cynicism and disillusionment surrounding the upcoming parliamentary elections in Pakistan – due to take place tomorrow – are remarkable, even for a country with a chequered democratic tradition. Few people believe the vote will be free or fair, with widespread speculation that the country’s all-powerful military has already decided the result and will stop at nothing to get its way. Put simply, the election is a charade.
This is how things stand. The country’s former prime minister, Imran Khan, is in jail. More on him later. Another former leader, Nawaz Sharif, who was in exile after his own spell in jail, has returned home, and all outstanding cases against him have been dropped. How so? Because the generals want Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to triumph on polling day.
It is a remarkable turnaround in political fortunes for Sharif, who fell out badly with the army the last time he was in office. Sharif was ousted from power in 2017, and just a matter of days before the 2018 elections he was sentenced to jail for ten years on corruption charges. He was allowed to go abroad for medical treatment in 2019 and chose to remain in exile. All that appears forgotten now, in Pakistan’s back-to-the-future election. Sharif is seen by the military establishment as a safe bet, a way of ensuring that the army retains power behind the scenes.
The only problem with this cunning plan is that voters don’t seem to be buying into it. Why vote for Sharif, who lacks any discernible programme for power and didn’t make much progress in solving the country’s deep-rooted problems the last time he was in office? This uncomfortable reality has left even Pakistan’s generals a little nervous. What if, even after carefully preparing the ground, the result still doesn’t go their way?
That is why the authorities are doing everything possible to crush the only real political alternative to Sharif, which is the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and its leader Imran Khan.