The political jugglery has commenced. It's election time. As Saif Khosa joins the PPP and the Mahers join the PML-F in return, we can be sure that we are nearing the start of the horse trading process. Earlier, two PML-N MNAs from Jhelum joined the PPP. And prior to that were the three sons of the Punjab governor who jumped ship.
There will be many more such defections and somersaults ahead of the actual polls. Not only will horses be traded, we will see political alliances being formed or broken. Already we have been told that dates will be announced within a week. It goes to the credit of the Zardari government that despite everything, it has managed to hold onto its political allies one way or another. Maybe because other options for them were less palatable.
Even the PML-N, which broke away from the government, is somewhat of an ally, coming to the rescue of the government when democracy is challenged.
This is encouraging. We wait and see which way the smaller parties will go. Will the Jamaat-e-Islami come to some understanding with the Tehrik-e-Insaf?
How strong will the alliance between the Sindh nationalists and the PML-N be? Will the ANP and the MQM come to some understanding?
The political machinations have started. The change of the Governor Punjab and the move to have a new province by the name of Bahawalpur-South Punjab (BSP) seem more like moves geared more towards garnering votes and less towards reasons of good governance.
The proposed inclusion of Multan, D G Khan and Muzaffargarh divisions in the new province will create a headache as it may be an unnatural merging of constituencies. Instead of solving problems, we may end up creating bigger ones.
From what we understand, a caretaker government will be in place in March and elections will be held in May. The political parties will launch their campaigns in February or March. Money will flow.
Prior to the long march of Professor Tahirul Qadri, we were given the impression that two major political parties in the country – the PPP and the PML-N, have agreed on a number of key issues and with this in place, the entry of a third force will be blocked in the elections.
Possibly this was the very reason why the Qadri march had to happen. Now under a very unconstitutional sort of understanding, Dr Qadri will also have a say in the caretaker set up. For those who say that the long march was in vain, think again.
Dr Qadri may not be participating in the polls, but he has managed to get the government to agree to conditions that otherwise would make no sense. The new game will be disqualification. One wonders who will get disqualified and on what grounds.
In this, another question that comes to mind is whether this disqualification will be Qadri-inspired or ECP driven. As the chief election commissioner tries his best to make arrangements for free and fair polls, all other players seem to be working towards exactly the opposite.
Even within the ECP, there are several officials who seem to have another agenda. The easiest thing for Justice (Retd) Farkhurddin Ebrahim to do under the circumstances would be to hand in his resignation. The hardest would be to take the challenges head on. With his reputation, only he can stand up to those who come in the way of a free and fair election this year.
The good news is that taking a cue from the Indian election commission, the ECP has also strengthened itself by assigning itself the power of taking over the government machinery once the elections are announced. Already, the ECP has banned new recruitments and diversion of funds.
This has come a little late as the government has already moved funds for the political benefit of some of its heavyweights. Development funds have been moved to the PM's discretionary fund. It has also opened floodgates to employment ahead of the polls. In one instance, over 110,000 lady health workers saw their employment regularised just a few days before the ECP move. Some say this is a laudable move, others question the timing of this.
In a bid to pressurise the government which holds the undue advantage, the PML-N plans to protest for a stronger ECP. Let us see where this goes. Let the party begin.
The Express Tribune
The writer is Editor of The Express Tribune