Volatile landscape awaits new NA

ISLAMABAD  -  The 16th National Assem­bly will elect a new leader of the House tomorrow. Earlier on Wednesday, the newly-elected members of the House met in its inau­gural session amidst a heightened political temperature and uncer­tainty surrounding the life of the current leg­islature in the wake of alleged manipulation of election results.

The events in the run-up to the election wide­ly indicated a tense and deeply polarized po­litical landscape in the country. And with the PTI back in business, the future landscape is like­ly to be more volatile. The inaugural sitting of the House commenced with ex-speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf adminis­tering oath to lawmak­ers, including prominent fig­ures like former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif, ex-president Asif Ali Zardari, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Baloch nationalist Akhtar Mengal as Imran Khan lan­guishes in jail. However, the at­mosphere quickly turned cha­otic as Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC/ Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-backed) lawmakers started pro­testing against the alleged rig­ging in the polls, leading to early departure of Sharifs and Asif Ali Zardai from the House.

Imran Khan’s lawmakers were seen raising slogans in support of their jailed leader and against their political adversaries. In re­sponse, PML-N lawmakers also chanted in support of Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif, also ridiculing Imran Khan as a “watch thief”.

In response to the points raised by PTI chairman Gohar Ali Khan and Secretary General Omer Ayub Khan, Khawaja Asif of the PML-N took off his wrist watch and waved it in an appar­ent reference to the Toshakhana reference against Imran Khan. The scenes poorly reflected on the conduct of elected represen­tatives. Nonetheless, one would not be in any doubt about the mood of the opposition, espe­cially the PTI lawmakers in the House. After the recent leaks, including a video release fea­turing Mustafa Kamal and an audio leak of incumbent gover­nor Sindh Kamran Taisori, both from the MQM-P, the PTI has in­tensified its campaign against what it sees as rigged elections and insists that their grievances are addressed urgently. The first two sessions echoed PTI’s ques­tions about the legitimacy of the House as the party believed that certain victories were allegedly achieved through manipulation of Form-47, also setting tone for the future sittings.

The posture adopted after the Feb 8 polls suggests that PTI is quite different now from what it was before Feb 8 polls. The PTI resigned from the assem­blies and went voiceless. The state took action against the PTI workers and supporters in the wake of May 9 incidents which sparked a wave of sym­pathy for the Imran-led par­ty. Nonetheless, it got an over­whelming public mandate in the February 8 vote.

The public decision on Feb 8 was an expression of love, hate and revenge; love for Imran Khan, hate for erstwhile PDM parties and revenge against the ‘repression’ the PTI workers en­dured over the past two years after the ouster of Imran Khan from the prime minister office. It goes without saying that the PTI-backed independent candi­dates who succeeded in the Feb 8 polls are just a by-product of Imran-people love.

There remains no doubt that through the Feb 8 vote, the PTI workers have almost taken the party lawmakers ‘hostages as they are now even scrutiniz­ing the PTI legislators’ interac­tion with those of the PML-N, PPP and the MQM even at a par­liament session. The three par­ties are now part of the govern­ments in the Centre, Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan. The PTI workers even expressed dis­pleasure on the informal inter­action between the PTI legisla­tors and whom they consider their nemesis, on social media.

Imran Khan’s anti-establish­ment narrative gave the par­ty a boost among the public. Interestingly, some of the for­mer PDM parties including the JUI-F, ANP, BNP and JI have also jumped on Imran Khan’s band­wagon to criticize the powers that be. Subsequently, one can see new line-ups as the parties settle in.

It is clear that the PTI vot­ers, supporters, sympathiz­ers didn’t vote for the party candidates for development works rather they want Imran Khan and other workers out of jails. The aggressive mood of the party workers wouldn’t let the legislators sit until they get Imran and other workers released, it seems. Until Feb 8 polls, the PTI as a whole was on the run. But in a changed polit­ical scenario caused by a huge public mandate, the PTI mem­bers are likely to react more ag­gressively in the elected Hous­es, courts and field. The tone has already been set in the na­tional assembly. In such an in­dication, PTI’s Shoaib Shaheen has also sought chief justice Qazi Faez Isa recuses himself from the PTI cases ‘in the wake of a decision of a five-member bench in the recent past. An­other party leader Sher Afzal Marwat also spoke to media on Thursday to say that ‘enough is enough’ as he warned to name and shame all those who would try to oppress the party work­ers. Newly-elected Khyber-Pa­khtunkhwa Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur is also clear in his direction. In his maid­en address to the assembly, he warned the police to recti­fy the wrongs done to the par­ty workers within a week time or be ready to ‘face the justice’.

Background interaction with the PTI legislators suggests that the party has no option but to move aggressively in the future so as to achieve their goals. After passing through the post-May 9 test, they have emerged more robust, focused and politically mature. The par­ty’s decision to take out a ral­ly from the Rawalpindi Press Club near to Liaqat Bagh to the National Press Club Is­lamabad today (Saturday) ex­emplifies how the party is go­ing to play in the coming days. The rally would put the new­ly-born PML-N government in Punjab in a test as to how to deal with the potential protests in the wake of a coordinated campaign if their grievances regarding the alleged rigging are not addressed. The arrests of political workers especial­ly females and violence would politically benefit the PTI and other like-minded parties, if any, as has been proved by the events in the run-up to the Feb 8 polls.

So far, the PTI was involved in technicalities; getting noti­fied from the ECP, taking oaths and formation of government in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. The party now finds two major tasks ahead; re­versing the ‘stolen mandate’ and getting party leadership out of jails. The body language and posturing by the PTI leg­islatures suggests that they will not let the parliament and provincial assemblies run smoothly. 

So, the stakes are high as the PTI believes that manipulation of Form 47 could set a danger­ous precedent; eroding pub­lic trust and confidence in the electoral system as a whole. They are hoping that the Elec­tion Commission of Pakistan and the judiciary would take re­sponsibility to ensure the integ­rity of the electoral process and to impartially investigate the al­legations of rigging. Otherwise, political instability would con­tinue to mar the democracy, also cutting the life of the pres­ent legislature short and lead­ing to a fresh election.

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt