I shall allow the exquisite political and media culture of this nation to be my guiding light as I embark on this literary escapade. In keeping with the prevailing trend in Pakistani media, I shall generously indulge in the fine art of prophecy concerning the imminent general elections on February 8, 2024, and beyond. So, with an air of nonchalant confidence, let us commence by scribbling some personal musings and subsequently, because why not, make a few audacious predictions.
Here are my personal notes, if you'd like to take a look.
The elections! An event where all political factions and their esteemed leaders are anticipated to participate, except, of course, the PTI chairman, who has presumably booked a front-row seat for an exclusive viewing.
Brace yourselves for the establishment of election cells in television channels and newspapers, witnessing a flurry of activity akin to the media cells of political parties. Expect the roaring presence of Honda 70s and 125s, accompanied by an overwhelming aroma of biryani. Because nothing says democracy like the harmonious marriage of motorcycles and biryani.
Election surveys, predictions, and tall claims shall proliferate like dandelions in spring – a spectacle as predictable as politicians promising change and then conveniently forgetting what the word means. The Americans and the British are donning their political capes and joining the theatrical extravaganza that is Pakistani politics. Because who needs domestic drama when you can import it?
The whispers circulating make the final results so vivid: PML-N secures around 100 seats in the National Assembly – give or take a margin of 5, because precision is overrated. PPP claims a modest 50 (or was it 55? Who's keeping count?). PTI, in a cosmic alignment of improbable brilliance, might snag around 45 seats. Meanwhile, the independents, those mavericks of democracy, could muster anywhere between 40 and 50 seats, and the rest will be distributed according to the whims and caprices of various parties, including the ever-entertaining Maulana’s JUI-F.
Now, as it appears, the PML-N seems predestined to triumph in the polls. It matters not where the voters cast their sacred ballots; the outcome is as predetermined as a badly written soap opera on Pakistani screens. Sadly, there’s no room for suspense; the match is about as fixed as a poker game in a retirement home.
With the stage set and the chess pieces strategically placed, it's time to dive into the riveting task of forming the government – all under the sagacious leadership of the perennial contender for the prime ministerial throne, Nawaz Sharif. It is anybody’s guess that it will be a coalition government, comprising PML-N, MQM-Pakistan, BAP, loads of Independents, and of course, JUI-F. Again, depriving us of any entertainment that the element of suspense may have to offer.
But all is not lost. The real fun ensues in the aftermath – so, here are the prophecies.
The PML-N has already indicated the ‘changes’ it intends to make in the 18th Amendment, to the utter displeasure of the PPP. So, one can guess how things will look when this anticipated bill is placed on the floor of the National Assembly.
What is less discussed and calculated are the formations of the four provincial assemblies, the party strengths in them, as it would have a great bearing on how things work in the federal corridors of power. But let’s keep this matter aside for a while and keep our attention on the possible, rather much anticipated, challenges PML-N government is likely to face in Islamabad.
Remember, right after the elections, Ramzan begins, and the demand for electricity will go through the roof, alongside subsidies on food items. This means extra money. However, there is no money in the coffers, as the current caretaker Finance Minister has already indicated, to the pleasure of the next government, that they will have to negotiate an $8–10 billion program with the IMF for the next five years. This results in a bulging pressure on the treasury, and subsequent inflation. Here comes the deadly summer season, with even more demand for electricity, which would add more circular debt to the existing overhang of 2.5 trillion rupees.
When the economy tumbles further down, creating even more nauseating political hue and cry, and bulging pressures arise both on domestic and foreign fronts, with a precarious situation in the west – the Ukraine war rages on, and the outcome of the Gaza war is anything but predictable. So, the defence budget is likely to come under pressure. Therefore, it is not hard to predict that the Federal Budget in June 2024 will be a massive challenge for the predestined PML-N government. Tensions will arise as the establishment finds the economic situation pressing and frustrating, with hopes and efforts to make it better.
The best part is yet to come.
Amidst all these economic challenges, the National Assembly shall echo with the chants of 'selected' prime minister, a term coined by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, which he once used for former Prime Minister Imran Khan. It is certain that the same chant shall now be lashed at Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It will be interesting to see how the PTI’s members resonate with these chants alongside Bilawal Bhutto, while their leader enjoys his popcorn and Netflix in his gilded cage.
What is yet very hard to predict is how the dismayed and disenchanted voters of Pakistan shall react to this situation. But what is very predictable is that despite all the political management, the PML-N government is likely to climb the ladder of unpopularity very fast. And once it becomes evident to the national and international establishment – who are perhaps still hoping against hope – as the PML-N finds itself unable to meet the economic and political challenges – closed will probably be written with a triple C!
Think’st thou that duty shall have dread to speak when power to flattery bows?
To plainness honor’s bound when majesty falls to folly.
----- King Lear, Shakespeare