The plans of men

Pakistani Senate electionsThe political cauldron is on the boil again, some may say prematurely, for there is still some time to go between now and the hustings – early to mid 2013, if everything goes according to the PPP’s best laid plans.

But firstly, all the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes do go awry and second, in the political calendar a year and a half is an eternity.The bone of contention is obviously the Senate elections, due in March 2012. Fifty four senators have completed their tenures and are to be replaced with new elected ones.

At present, the PPP is well set to bag the highest proportion of these seats which would give it a simple majority in the upper house. The likelihood of this turning into reality has sent shivers down the spine of its old arch-rival, the PML(N) leadership, which is now gearing up its efforts to rock, and preferably sink the boat.

The PML(N) intends to do everything in its power – and that includes the ploy of dissolving the Punjab Assembly to throw a spanner in the works – to thwart the PPP from getting a majority in the upper house, which would also impact the next parliament.This would mean the PPP and its allies having total sway over legislation. And that is something the PML(N) is not willing to grant, come what may. But is that the only reason why it is agitating so stridently? Apparently not.

Having definitely improved on his spoiler’s visage with big crowds in Gujranwala and Faisalabad, and wooing and being wooed by winnable candidates of all hues, Imran Khan has risen as a potent threat to the Mian Citadel – the central and north Punjab, the bastion which has kept the PML(N) relevant as a major political force.

The threat of a split in the rightist vote bank, the PML(N) monopoly for so long in the Punjab, had been there all along in the last few years. But with Imran Khan breathing down the PML(N)’s neck, and a substantive part of the Q-League having aligned itself with the PPP, the odds have assumed alarming proportions and the prospect of getting marginalised at the next polls for the first time since the mid 1980s is a clear and present danger.

This has made Mian Sahib come down from his high horse, and make an attempt to open negotiations with the Musharraf clones, all factions of the ‘Q’, and spread his influence far towards the south as well. Last year’s floods had not made him move beyond Punjab, but this year he set up a camp in the interior Sindh to commiserate with the hapless victims, and bad mouth the PPP in its own backyard. To garner the vanishing voters another bitter pill, which was formerly an anathema, has been swallowed is by conceding the possibility of carving provinces in the Southern Punjab.

Whether these endeavours and manoeuvres which have a ring of desperation around them end up galvanising the PML(N) and turning it into a party that not just holds on to its base in Punjab but finds broader appeal (even if it is obtained through the ‘Q’ Likeminded safe seats in Sindh and the KP), remains to be seen.

One thing though is clear. Imran Khan’s Tehreek-i-Insaaf is now making waves, nowhere more so than in the Punjab and KP. Whether his party is ready for the elections right now is at best a point of conjecture, though the realistic answer would be in the negative. But he has been relentless in his campaigning, and somehow he has managed the resources to finance it.

The more exposure he gets, the bigger the crowds get, and his appeal for those on the margins in every party increases. The immediate litmus test of the party’s popularity will, however, come on October 30 when it holds its much publicised mass meeting in Lahore – the PML(N) has accepted the challenge by holding its own rally of the faithful two days earlier.

Also now that he is not averse to get into a hug with characters some of whom have antecedents as dubious, if not more so, as the ones he regularly castigates, the onus being on ‘winnable’ and not ‘credible’, the number of seats under the PTI banner might be far in excess of the blob that he has scored barring once – and that too only marginally.

That said there are too many variables: the economic mess heightened by hostility with the US and the IMF, on the back of security issues, and things could be unpredictable between now and the Senate elections scheduled for March 2012.One thing however, should make the PPP leadership pause and ponder, and that is its rather insipid record of governance. The skyrocketing utility bills, loadshedding, rampant inflation, the bleeding of the public corporations and the high cost of living hide a seething mass discontent that may well threaten a backlash. This is something it must beware of. – PT