By Aamir Latif
KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) - As campaigning for the July 25 elections picks up steam, mainstream political parties see orchestrated “ maneuvering” on the part of the country’s powerful military establishment to keep them out of power.
They believe the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party led by former cricket star Imran Khan is being favored thanks to a calculated pre-poll manipulation, a charge Khan and his supporters rebuff.
“Unfortunately, electoral engineering aimed at bringing a particular party to power is underway,” Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, head of the media cell of the Pakistan Muslim League's (Nawaz) (PML-N), told Anadolu Agency without naming the PTI.
Three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's right-wing Pakistan Muslim League, but also left-wing Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of former President Asif Ali Zardari, have launched these latest allegations.
A string of recent events, ranging from Nawaz Sharif’s conviction in a corruption case to law enforcement agencies reportedly presssuring several candidates not to take part in the elections as part of the PML-N ticket.
Sharif was sentenced last Friday to 10 years in jail for corruption in the capital Islamabad Friday -- a verdict that immediately saw outcries of “injustice” by his party supporters.
Scores of PML-N members have reportedly chosen to contest independently, a move that party leaders, including Sharif, see as the result of “pressure from the establishment" -- a term usually used to designate the powerful Pakistani army.
- 'A silent coup''
Sharif, who has announced he would return to Pakistan from London on July 13 to face his jail sentence, has time and again said that his party was going to contest elections against “Khalaee Makhlooq” (Aliens), a term he has recently coined to designate the army and the judiciary, which according to him, were responsible for his three ousters since 1992.
His first government was dismissed in 1992 on corruption charges, whereas, former military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf toppled his second governmnet in a bloodless military coup in 1999.
“This kind of maneuvering has been used several times in the past but it never worked. It should be stopped now, and let the people’s will prevail,” said Mushahid Hussain Syed, who served as information minister under Sharif from 1997 to 1999.
From the left, Farhatullah Babar, a former senator and a PPP leader, said the upcoming elections had already been “rigged” and “manipulated”.
“It’s just a formality to hold the polling on July 25,” Babar told Anadolu Agency.
“The invisible political engineers seem desperate for a fragmented and divided parliament that is easier to manipulate. A silent coup has taken place, far softer and subtler than any previous coups,” Babar was also quoted as saying by local English daily Dawn last week.
Former President Asif Ali Zardari, the party co-chairman and widower of the slain premier Benazir Bhutto, has also cast doubts on the fairness of the elections following the arrests of his close aides, including a prominent banker, on money laundering charges.
- 'Preemptive' step
Banker Hussain Lawai was taken into custody last week over his alleged involvement in money laundering operations for Zardari, his sister and 18 others.
“This is a message for me,” Zardari said in an interview with the local Geo TV. “I do not know about others but the PPP candidates are feeling the pressure.”
Imran Khan's PTI rejects the allegations, calling them a “preemptive” step to hide behind what he believes will be their defeat in the upcoming elections.
“They have read what is written on the wall. That’s why they are crying as a preemptive tactic to cast doubts on the expected election results,” Iftikhar Durrani, the head of the PTI media wing, told Anadolu Agency.
“Nawaz is not the only one who is convicted. Our general secretary [Jahangir Tareen] has also been disqualified for life by the same Supreme Court. The same court has also set aside the disqualification of Sharif’s close aide and former Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif,” said Iftikhar Durrani, rejecting Sharif’s criticism on the apex court.
Tareen was disqualified in December 2017 for failing to disclose certain assets. Asif saw his disqualification declared null and void last month.
Local analysts appear to be wary about the contentions of "maneuvering".
“The two [Zardari and Sharif] are already tainted by corruption charges,” Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, an Islamabad-based analyst, told Anadolu Agency. “ They know it is hard to win the upcoming elections.”
“Election engineering is not new in Pakistan politics. But this time, things are so obvious and being done in a careless way propelling the common people to doubt the fairness of the elections,” Sajjad Mir, a Lahore-based political analyst told Anadolu Agency.
“Many believe that a level-playing field is not being provided to all the political players,” he thought.
Jaspal concedes that Khan constitutes a “natural favorite” for the military.
“One does not need an Einstein to understand that. Sharif and Zardari have continuously been targeting the army. Therefore there will be a natural reaction from the other side,” he said.