An election of independents?

The upcoming elections are being compared to the 1985 elections, which were non-party-based. The reason: the PTI has no bat symbol and thus PTI-affiliated candidates are contesting as independents. There are about 234 PTI-affiliated contestants while overall about 3,200 independent candidates are contesting the February 8 polls on National Assembly seats, leading to many speculations and an added complication to the entire electoral process. Before the bat symbol was taken away, many analysts were of the opinion that this election would be the PTI versus the PML-N. When the bat symbol was taken away, it looked like the coast was now clear for a PML-N win, especially in Punjab. Enter the independents. Political observers are already calling this election an election driven by the ‘independents’, questioning if the PML-N will be able to get a clear majority. Whoever these independents join will be able to help form the next government as per many electoral experts. It was not without reason that Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said only recently that the PPP is looking at independent candidates joining it post-election. Jahangir Khan Tareen’s Istihkam-e-Pakistan Party (IPP) is another factor in the mix. The thinking among some analysts is that, between the PPP and the IPP, independents will be made some lucrative offers. The Article 63A clause of party discipline is already not going to apply to PTI candidates. With this as background, it would be understandable for the PTI leadership to be worried.

This is possibly one of the reasons there has been talk of taking an oath from PTI-affiliated candidates that they will not change allegiance once they win the election. To be fair, these independents – from the PTI previously – will be looking to use the PTI clout for votes. But if even the PTI believes that these independents who will win due to Imran’s voters are up for grabs after the elections, then it is but natural for the other parties – PPP, PML-N, IPP – to view the independents as being up for grabs post-election. On the other hand, PTI founder Imran Khan told journalists that he is confident his independent candidates will remain loyal to him.

If they stay loyal to PTI, then of course all these calculations can be quite different. In that case, there are speculations that the PTI-affiliated candidates may form an independent bloc like the Senator Dilawar group. There are many possibilities and we have seen such games in the past, albeit on a smaller level. This time, the stakes are higher. And this is just one of the many contentious things that are happening in these elections. If these elections indeed turn out to be an election of the independents like the 1985 elections, then we have obviously gone back almost four decades to a party-less election where political parties will not have as much sway as party-less candidates. Unless a political party gets a simple majority, which seems difficult to many experts, independent candidates will be the key ingredient for the next government’s formation. These PTI-affiliated contestants and even those who didn’t get PTI tickets but were hopefuls and are still contesting can win and then switch loyalties without any repercussions since Article 63A doesn’t apply to them. All these speculations are also confusing the voters. This confusion will not end on February 8.

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