What Is At Stake In Pakistan’s Upcoming Elections?

As Pakistan's general elections near, ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his party have adopted fiery rhetoric in efforts to combat the Judiciary. Raosen Taj Raisani examines what is at stake for the Pakistani electorate in this election cycle.


It is election year in Pakistan. In the time following the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif as Prime Minister after the Panama Leaks case, he is making inroads with the public through fiery speeches in huge assemblies of people with the slogan ‘Mujhay kiyon nikala?’ i.e.,”Why was I disqualified”. This line is the present political and electoral rhetoric of the ruling party with its ousted leader. The statements are directed explicitly towards another revisionist force in the country, the Supreme Judiciary.

On February 21, 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that the disqualified prime minister could not be the head of a political party. From the time of the first disqualification until the second one, Nawaz Sharif created and enlarged political rhetoric that pitted him against the Judiciary. The rhetoric is portraying the court as an opposing force against the ruling party. This is an alarming situation because it is an expositive point for the spheres of institutional working. First, it impacts the debate between the authority of legislature and judiciary. Second, the situation causes conflict in retaining control and independence by respective institutions and inter-institution coherence in running the state. As a result, public opinion and the media are divided. Finally, this situation is shaping an existential problem in Pakistan. Does the imperative lie with the state legislature and democratic forces or the other controlling institutions that challenge and undermine the supremacy of democratic ideals? In simpler words, can politicians and democracy survive in this country without being steered and controlled? The answer will be evident in the coming elections.

Meanwhile, the losing side in this altercation is neither the government nor the judiciary, but the opposition parties. In the aftermath of the disqualification, the role of other political parties is very dismal. The primary demand after the elections was the resignation of the prime minister. Several demonstrations were launched against the government but proved futile. The dismissal is a victory for the parties and used as a sympathy corner by the dismissed. In this scenario, the ruling party seems to transcend the dialogue of the opposition and policy competition. The opposition parties appear lost in the void. Lack of objectivity, policy reform, new political rhetoric and absence of recourse to a new reformative political agenda puts the political parties in a corner; a corner in which they lie dormant and ineffective. They seem to throw their weight around on the scale of court and to be a complementary sideline of a deficient main opposition.

What is the way forward? Nothing is clear. It is a complex relationship that prevails in the control of authority and decision making in Pakistan. The concept of de jure and de facto responsibility and control is not dependent on the constitutional meanings or normative understanding. Historically, it is a constant push and pull between the elected representatives and establishment, a military-bureaucratic consortium of interested minds. The lawyers’ movement introduced another actor in the domestic power balance. The judiciary, which is evolving and taking an active role in the politics of control in the country, is seeking its dominance through interpretation and sui-mottos. The cause of concern as underlined by media views and professional arguments is the battle-royale of institutions. Viewed in any legal, political or social framework, it is not the exception but the norm in Pakistani politics. Pakistan has always dealt with internal conflict. The nature of Pakistan resides in the raison d’étre of the state; it is the basis of the ideology of the nation, because it is the differences that count in Pakistan.

It is this basic deficiency that makes politics interesting in the country. The Machiavellian tactics in the background of political moves are the objects of speculation. This speculative reasoning involves doubting everything, breeding uncertainty and conspiracies. Nothing substantial exists in the program of election parties. There is no policy proposal, no reform program, and no innovative restructuring of ideas for the impoverished and fledgling state of the country. The most disturbing part is that not many, except for some marginal voices, are demanding that. The hope for advancement and prosperity of this nation must wait as for the time being the public needs to make a judgment on Nawaz Sharif and not its own dignity, future and, benevolence, which is at stake.

Raosen Taj Raisani is currently pursuing independent research in the constitutional and historical framework of Pakistani politics. He is a former research associate of LUMS and has a degree in Defence and Strategic Studies from QAU, Islamabad

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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