Fresh polls are the only remedy

PML-N LE ADER Nawaz Sharif has announced he is homeward-bound early next week and is likely to arrive in Lahore as planned on Oct 21, triggering optimism that general elections could be held within the first few weeks of the New Year.

Although the Election Commission of Pakistan stated that elections will be held towards the end of January, it failed to announce a date. This was bound to, and did indeed, create misgivings as commentators started expressing doubts, interpreting the missing date as a sign that the ECP was giving itself wriggle room to walk away from elections in January.

For several months now, Nawaz Sharif`s return has been seen as linked to the conduct of the elections in the country, as it was clear that without him at the helm of the PML-N`s campaign, the party`s sagging popularity would not be boosted and its chances would be significantly reduced.

It is not clear what he can say or what, to use every commentator`s favourite word, `narrative` he can develop to bring back droves of PML-N voters to the party who now seem disillusioned, even angry, because of their economic hardship, given the rampant food inflation and sharply rising energy bills.

His new friends and backers might be working day and night to put him in front of the race.

However, given that these very backers ran a years-long smear campaign to demonise him and his party, making words such as `chor, daku` synonymous with PML-N leaders, it won`t be easy to bring around voters to their new point of view.

Not just that. The PTI and its leader were forcefully projected, using 5GW weaponry, as the saviours with impeccable credentials who could do nothing wrong. Then, in the 2018 elections where this campaign didn`t work, other means were deployed to make sure that the `saviours` got into the corridors of power.

Now in the popular perception that clean, competent leader has not only been ousted from office wrongly; he is also being persecuted solely for questioning powerful quarters. Quarters that without doubt paved his path to power and ensured his opponents were jailed, disqualified and were likened to boxers in a ring with onehand tied behind their backs.

That is not relevant to legions of PTI supporters whether among the millions of new, young voters or urban elites including ex-servicemen who have served in senior positions in the defence establishment, as all of them believe every word being pulsated with lethal efficiency and effect on social media by the party.

Somehow, that cutting edge, sophisticated and subtle 5GW waged by the establishment, seems to have disappeared without a trace. It has been replaced by a more direct sledgehammer approach which, albeit terribly intimidating to those having the misfortune to fall under it, means nothing to, and has no effect on, the larger public.

In the 21st century, where social media platforms have challenged the primacy of tradi-tional media and carved out large chunks of the audience for themselves from the latter, putting a `turned` party leader on a TV `news` channel in an orchestrated interview seems pointless, even self-defeating.

During the nearly hour-long interview, the subject shunned his own aggressive, militant tendencies which were on display for long years till the recent past and pointed the finger of blame towards the jailed great leader as being the instigator of all evil, upheaval, etc, etc.

The problem is that even the worst critics of the PTI leader, who did not approve of his authoritarian tendencies, had trouble believing what was said and put it down to intimidation.

This was simply so because this man`s `change of heart`happened duringhis`enforced disappearance` of several weeks. It would be foolhardy to think this fact would be lost on any fair-minded person.Then we hear of another outspoken PTI leader who was reportedly brought to a TV channel for an `interview`. The truth is if this interview is ever aired, its impact would be near-zero as who would believe a single word of a person who was featuring in it on his first moments back after having been disappeared for weeks.

Coupled with the failure of this sledgehammer policy to influence hearts and minds and more important voting intentions, the handpicked protégés of the establishment in the caretaker government are also floundering and unable to deliver.

If foreign junkets on prime ministerial jets could deliver economic and political stability, I`d back endless travel, even refuelling in flight.

Tragically, those have delivered very little, if that. The outgoing parliament may have been wimpish in authorising the caretakers to carry out root and branch reform.

Nonetheless, this blanket authorisation generated hope that not having to face the wrath of voters, the caretaker government would embark on economic reforms including slashing subsidies and taxing real estate, retail and agricultural sectors. But no. Nothing like that is remotely evident as we speak. The elite capture of the economy continues in the same manner it has since the1960s.

There seems to be hope among those who rule us that somehow miraculously investments totalling dozens of billions of dollars would flow in and all will be well. Any student of Economics 101 will tell you that we spend more than we earn in revenue and import more than we export.

Our budget and the current account dencit aren`t sustainable. If we don`t sort this out urgently we will end up selling the family silver such as mineral rights for peanuts in our desperation. Sadly, even that won`t pull us out of the morass our nation of nearly a quarter of a billion people finds itself in.

Only credible elections will empower a new government with the mandate to take the necessary decisions. The sooner all decision-makers see this, the better. • The wnter is a former editor or Dawn.


Read more