Election intrigue

A NEW period of uncertainty begins on Wednesday, Aug 9, 2023 the date when Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif will formally recommend to President Arif Alvi that he dissolve the 15th National Assembly. The president will have 48 hours to comply, failing which the Assembly will automatically stand dissolved. This would mean that, at most, the current Assembly will disband sometime this coming Friday a day before its five-year term expires on Aug 12. This premature dissolution will, if we go by the book, give the Election Commission 90 days to hold general elections, which will mean polls latest by Nov 9. However, with the ECP having once ignored the Constitution to delay elections for the KP and Punjab assemblies, the expectation is that anything could happen.

The government`s allies do not seem to be in agreement over their candidates for caretaker prime minister, and the decision still has to be taken in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, Raja Riaz, who has so far held his cards close to his chest. Shunned by his own party, it is no secret that Mr Riaz has been shopping for a ticket that may give him another term as MNA. However, other powers, too, have a lot riding on the decision he has to make, and he is likely to face pressure from both the government and unelected quarters over the choice he has been empowered to make. Due to these reasons, the appointment is being scrutinised from all angles and speculations are rife. Another question has risen after the PM said he would want to see the elections held on the basis of the latest census, even though his allies refuse to accept its findings. A decision to use the new census now could push the election back by months.

The perception that there are layers upon layers of intrigue at play is giving rise to a palpable sense of unease among the general public. The upcoming general elections were supposed to be a breakout point for the country a fresh start after months of turbulence triggered by the ouster of the PTI government.

Unfortunately, all signs right now indicate extensive pre-poll engineering is being done to avoid any `undesirable` outcome of the exercise. It is important that the stakeholders realise that denying the people their right to choose including by controlling the choices they have available will only cause the prevailing sense of disenfranchisement to become entrenched.

Disinvesting the public and blocking its participation in decisionmaking will not help turn Pakistan around. It is critical, given our fraught context, that Pakistanis be allowed to exercise their unfettered right to choose whatever candidates they feel are best suited to their needs.

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