It is the season of elections and a reason for leaking videos. That’s the way it is on this side of the border, how about you people? But some fights can’t be won even after leaking videos. Test case: the critical upset by Pakistan’s opposition on an Islamabad Senate seat, where Pakistan Democratic Alliance’s Yousaf Raza Gilani beat Finance Minister Hafeez Sheikh by five votes. The win is being looked at as a vote of no-confidence against the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan and its policies.
Springing into action after the election debacle, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf announced that the prime minister will seek a vote of confidence in parliament, with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi calling it “a sorrowful day for democracy in Pakistan.” This is a moment where you are either with Khan or against Khan, we are told.
Even though the ruling PTI became the majority party in the Upper House of Parliament with 18 new seats on Wednesday, it was worrisome that the 180 votes the government was confident it had in hand to win the Islamabad seat were not of the government anymore. The call by the PM to take a confidence vote could also end up in his ouster. If he survives, he will be weaker than he currently is. And that’s with or without the support of the establishment. Imran Khan is now playing on a sticky wicket.
Opposition shows up
This is a win of political narrative for the opposition alliance. Called out as chor, corrupt mafia, ghaddar, incarcerated and rebuked for being a ‘hindrance’ in making Naya Pakistan. The win of former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and now a senator from Pakistan Peoples’ Party signals a new dawn. The dawn where the establishment is now ‘perceived’ as neutral and the opposition thinks it has plenty of space to do its politics. The win also cements former president Asif Zardari’s idea of bringing change from within the assembly — change of government through no-confidence — rather than taking to streets, resigning from assemblies and calling for fresh polls, all of which was considered former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s strategy to oust Imran Khan. So, the long march in March won’t be needed after all?
Now we understand the jitteriness of the Imran Khan government over the Senate election from the get-go. It all began with feelers that disgruntled PTI members in provincial and national assemblies were contemplating ‘tabdeeli’ (change). And there is no better remedy against sorrow than trading votes for hefty sums of money. It wouldn’t have been the first time nor the last time when parliamentarians voted against party lines. Every ruling party is an equal opportunity offender, and Imran Khan’s PTI is no different. But this time it wanted to stop people from jumping to the other side and so began the operation.
First came an ordinance from the government to hold the Senate election through open vote and not secret ballot, which President Arif Alvi cleared. A video of paying bribes to buy votes for a Senator by PTI leaders from two years ago was leaked – PTI leaders then used the video to highlight the menace of secret ballot. PM Imran Khan, whose own party was caught in the act, was now speaking against the vices of buying votes, as if he knew nothing two years ago. However, the ordinance was contested in the Supreme Court, which upheld the secret ballot, thus washing away hopes of the government. The secret shalt be kept.
All that effort for what
Gilani eventually defeated finance minister Hafeez Sheikh. Now, Sheikh is commonly known as ‘the IMF man’ (for dealing with the International Monetary Fund on Pakistan’s behalf), But we remember him most as the man who gave us tomatoes for Rs 17 per kg when they were as high as Rs 320 per kg. If Sheikh can’t be minister anymore, he could become an adviser to the PM. No defeat can be bigger than the IMF, after all.
Before all was lost, never say never was the order of the day, as another video was leaked on the election eve. This one intended to get an opposition nominee – Gilani – disqualified. In the leaked video, Gilani’s son was seen suggesting a PTI member to waste his vote. PTI went to the election commission demanding Gilani’s disqualification, but to no avail. The election commission hasn’t been much of a government fan of late, especially after last month’s by-election in Daska, where 23 polling officers went missing when the time came to count the ballot.
Yes, history has enough record of votes going missing but here, officers with ballots went missing – only to return the following day with the excuse that they got lost in dhund (fog). This is the stuff dreams are made up of. Re-election was announced in Daska. Some thought the election commission was showing spine; others felt the establishment had become neutral. What is life and politics, after all, without some hope.
PTI was marred with infighting over the selection of candidates. One prominent member was federal minister Faisal Vawda, who is facing a dual nationality case. The same minister had showed up with a boot on a news show. Then on Wednesday, he showed up without the boot, cast his vote, resigned from the National Assembly — all within 15 minutes and was crowned senator in the evening. However, the Islamabad High Court didn’t seem much elated and held him responsible for submitting a false affidavit in the dual nationality case, directing the election commission to take action against him.
Success or not?
It was said that PM Imran Khan himself would oversee the progress of the Senate election preparations. How? Don’t ask. On the election day, Shehryar Afridi, the Kashmir Committee Chairman, ended up getting his vote rejected because he signed off his name on the ballot paper. His request to cast his vote again was denied. Such was the preparation that Afridi thought he was giving an autograph. Imagine the government trusts him with the jugular-ly important Kashmir cause? And according to the opposition grapevine, PM Khan’s vote was wasted too, along with Environment Minister Zartaj Gul’s vote. Shocking, if untrue. This shows how well Imran Khan had trained his flock to bowl no-ball in the super over. No wonder one PTI insisted that if Imran Khan had told them to vote for a khotta (donkey), they would have done that too.
Only time can tell what is in store for Imran Khan after the confidence vote. If the last 24 hours tell us anything, it is that the winds of tabdeeli have started blowing from the other end. If Khan survives, we would understand how it all happened — no, not what First Lady Bushra Imran told us that behind every successful man is his wife’s hand. To be kamyab now, Imran Khan needs the hands of his selectors.
The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.