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Photo Source: Dawn

Pakistan Reader# 690, 10 November 2023

Pakistan Elections: The debate on a Level Playing Field



Political parties expressed their grievances regarding the political field of Pakistan currently.

Shamini Velayutham

On 9 November, the editorial in The Friday Times titled “Elections 2024: In Search of Level Playing Field" stated that after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) finally announced the date of the country's general elections and addressed a major concern raised by all major political parties. Regarding the intervention of the Supreme Court, the political parties pointed to an issue of lack of a "level playing field" for all parties before the elections. They warned that if the allies do not maintain their neutrality, they will not be able to ensure that the country's elections are truly free, fair, and transparent.

The current political situation in Pakistan
Ever since Nawaz returned to Pakistan there has been a political shift in the region. PML-N believes that Nawaz's return would create a great impact in the forthcoming polls. However, he has ceased contesting elections. PTI has been displeased with his return and has accused him of Pakistan’s downfall over the past three years linking the high debt crisis and inflation of the country. The political arena has been in a rough situation post Imran Khan’s arrest. Additionally, the economy of Pakistan is at survival mode with the surge in inflation and terrorism, Pakistan has been tested by various challenges. The disparity and the deliberations involved in announcing the polling dates have sparked political tensions among the major political parties. With the ECP’s announcement of the election dates, the parties and their allies are contesting for a level playing field to exhibit fair polls in the forthcoming elections.

Level playing field: What is the debate all about?
With the concurrent political situation in Pakistan, the political parties have raised concerns over the forthcoming polls. There has been a polarization among the political parties regarding the polling dates. And undoubtedly, this has engendered as a topic of discussion. According to PPP, pre-poll manipulation is being used to benefit only one party in preparation for the upcoming elections. PPP Secretary-General former senator Syed Nayyar Hussain Bukhari stated, "The welcome granted to a political leader, biometric arrangements at the airport, and other facilities are all examples of providing extra care to one party.” Therefore, the debate is all about the biased rules that has been facilitated to one particular party, the fluctuating poll dates.

Political parties expressed their grievances regarding the political field of Pakistan currently. PML-N claims that Nawaz has restored the level playing field of PML-N and perhaps the party is set to face the upcoming elections. The allegation that has been put forth before the elections is not new for Pakistan. Two significant political parties, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), have claimed ahead of the 2024 elections that they are not receiving a "level playing field" from the ruling class, in contrast to one party. PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has been pleading for the "old way" of governing the nation to change for months, citing the absence of fair campaigning conditions for political parties.

On 8 November, Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar received a message from President Arif Alvi, member of the PTI who was elected to the National Assembly on the party's platform before winning the presidency, about the "erosion of fundamental rights" and the lack of a level playing field for all political parties. The PTI has requested that all political parties be given equal treatment during the run-up to elections and has called for free, fair, and transparent conduct during the upcoming polls. According to PM Kakar, lawmakers who have supported PTI Chairman Imran Khan, who is now serving a jail sentence for the cipher case and were found guilty in the Toshakhana case, will be permitted to run in future elections. It's not just the PTI that is displeased over the fairness in the run-up to the elections. The PPP has claimed that the PML-N has a covert partnership with the present caretaker administration, which has intensified their antagonism. To defeat the PML-N, the PPP also declared lately that it was amenable to partnering with the PTI to create an electoral alliance. In the previous government, the PML-N and the PPP formed a coalition and worked together to oust PTI Chairman Imran Khan from office.

Meanwhile, on the same day, during a press conference, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari stated that the PPP is shortlisting candidates for the general elections of 2024 and that the announcement of the selected candidates would follow the release of the final delimitations. He further added, “PPP has never gotten a level playing field in any elections. Despite difficulties, the PPP won the 2008 general elections. PPP would win general polls with or without a level-playing field.” PPP leaders and workers were urged by Bilawal to give up on their demands for fair play. The PPP chairman made a statement regarding a new electoral alliance, stating that the alliance between Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P) and Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) would harm their reputations in the future. Since the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) had also issued directives for general elections on 8 February, Bilawal expressed hope that no one would be able to avoid elections going forward.

Senior Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P) leader Zahid Malik reaffirmed to The Friday Times that they have complained to the ECP about the deputation of impartial staff on election day. Malik has previously brought up the issue of equal playing fields but in a different context. Balochistan, a province in southwest Pakistan, held a different perspective on fair play. Sardar Akhtar Mengal, the chief of the Balochistan National Party (BNP), criticized the lack of equal opportunities for political parties, particularly in Balochistan.

Why is there a debate?  
The redressal for a “level playing field” came as the parties criticised against the discriminatory advantages given to one party, PML-N. The lack of level play has questioned the future credibility of the democratic election process. The critiques question how can the election be far and free if not all have the same equitability. The debate has two sides where one believes the political climate in Pakistan is at a level playing field especially PML-N, while the others allege that there is pre-poll rigging. PPP time and again has expressed its concerns regarding the unfair advantage enjoyed by PML-N, by who was recently any ally of PML-N to form the collation government. There has been a paradigm shift in the party polices as they started to disengage from each other and expressed to contest in elections separately. PTI sounded its grievances regarding unfair elections and political landscape since there has been a systemic crackdown against its party members. They believe that they were not provided any field to contest, forget level playing field. The return of PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif has sparked further controversy with the special provisions to aid his and the party’s return to power. A veil of dismay and controversy has overshowed the General Polls of 2024 as each party scramble to establish its footing.

References
“Elections 2024: In Search Of Level Playing Field,” The Friday Times, 9 November 2023
“In a letter to PM, President Alvi raises PTI’s concerns on a level playing field for political parties,” Dawn, 8 November 2023
“Bilawal says will win polls with or without a level playing field,” Business Recorder, 9 November 2023

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